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Europe 2019 Day 7

Good morning les enfants! As you can tell by the greeting, we are now in France. Dave is rather chipper this morning; I got some sleep! Okay, let’s be clear though, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows, but I definitely feel decent. Maybe I’m finally finding my travel stride. In any case, we do haves one bus  time again, so I can always have a little nap if I need a recharge.

So, what’s on the agenda for today? Well, we’re about to leave the hotel for the 30 minute drive to Vimy Ridge. We will linger there for a while, visiting the trenches and memorial before we hit the road again. The next stop will be Beaumont Hamel, in the Somme area. After that, we have about a 4 hour drive to Normandy and our hotel in Caen.

“🎶…Here I am, rock me like a Hurricane!” Alright, so we’re on the bus for the hour ride to Beaumont Hamel and the Newfoundland Memorial Park. If you’re wondering why I’m quoting the classic 1980s song by the Scorpions, I’ll tell you. It’s not raining today, which is fantastic, but it is a tad windy. Like how windy Dave? Well, bowl you over tornado force winds windy. People like me with aerodynamic hairdos don’t have to worry, but many of the girls are now rocking the messy hair look. But hey, it’s not pouring rain, so I will not complain.

We had a great visit. The broke us up by school, with each group doing a separate tour. Our guide took us first into the subway system, tunnels dug by engineers through the soft chalk. They were used to move troops and equipment to the forward trenches away from observation and fire from the Germans on the ridge. This one was known as the “Grange Subway” and is an amazing piece of Canadian history. Unfortunately, and I’m not sure why, maybe because of flooding, our tour of the subway wasn’t as long as it was in 2014. Regardless, it was neat for the kids to see.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

After exiting the subway, we made our way through the preserved Canadian and German trenches. When they were constructing the monument, they decided to keep portions of the front line trenches in the park. To retain their shape. Sandbags filled with cement were stacked along the trench wall, which later deteriorated, but left the cement like stone pillows. They are amazing in the sense that it gives the kids an idea of what it would have been like to live and fight in the these glorified ditches.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

From the trenches, we hopped on the bus for a short ride to the monument, located on the summit of Hill 145. From there, it becomes very apparent why the ridge was so important. Looking east, one can see the Douai Plain stretching out in front you, with the city of Lens and the immense slag heaps being prominent features. On bright, clear days, you can see the Belgian border.

We had a brief prayer service on the back side of the memorial, before proceeding to the front for a group photo. Then the kids had some time to wander around, explore and take photos. This is where we were able to experience the full-force of the “light breeze” that was blowing. It was crazy how windy it was on the top of the hill, but it certainly didn’t dampen our spirits. I think it was important for them to see it, and I think that every Canadian should visit this hallowed ground if they can. The sacrifice of these and other soldiers will not be forgotten if we keep the history alive.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Mother Canada weeping for her fallen sons, Vimy Canadian Memorial, March 2019.

Back on the bus again after another stop. Whew, we made it! Pardon the language, but holy crap it windy! I just checked the weather and it says the wind is out of the west at 54km/h gusting to 74km/h. I’m not a sailor, but isn’t that like gale force wind? I have no idea how Tish is keeping the bus on the road.

Anyway, we were just at Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park. This commemorates the action of the Newfoundland Regiment on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st, 1916. Unfortunately, the entire regiment was wiped out in the course of the 20 minute attack. Of the 600+ men who started the assault, only 60 men were left unscathed. It was an unprecedented tragedy for Newfoundland, and after the war it was decided that it would be turned into a memorial park, complete with trenches, monuments and cemeteries.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Beaumont Hamel Memorial, March 2019.

Alright, we’re on the bus to our hotel for the evening. After a 300+km journey, we’re now in Normandy, in the city of Caen. We had a chance to walk around the city a bit before dinner; I especially liked the Norman castle, which apparently belonged to William the Conqueror. Dinner today was at Le Cafe, where we had ham with some type of sauce, and potatoes. Dessert was a chocolate brownie with whip cream. There was some disagreement amongst the chaperones as to the rating of the meal; I thought it was good.

Caen, March 2019.

Caen. March 2019.

So tomorrow we have a bit earlier morning, heading first to the Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery before our 10:00 appointment at Juno Beach Centre. We will visit a few other spots before we leave for Paris in the afternoon. Anyway, there is things to do before we go to bed. Until then…

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Posted by on March 15, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 6

Day 6 everyone. Yep, no smart@ss remarks this morning. Tired. Very tired. Too tired to think of clever adjectives or metaphors to describe the tired. I feel, and probably look, like an extra from the walking dead. Why you ask? I think I was still feeling the effects from yesterday’s ordeal in the sun, which has left me with nice burns around my neck (from the camera strap) and right behind my knees (the direct result of going in shorts yesterday). My roommate, who shall remain nameless, can also rouse said undead from miles away with their snoring. Oops, sorry, almost fell asleep trying to write the next sentence.

Alright, so we’re now on the bus toward Albert and rendezvous with the Basilica for mass. It’s about an hour away, so it gives me some time to reflect on our day yesterday. After sleeping on it, I still feel that there was more of a festive feel to Vimy 100. To me, I would equate it to Canada Day than to Remembrance Day. I think that the solemnity was somewhat missing, but that is going to happen with big events such as this. However, there was some semblance of what occurred at Vimy. We were sitting beside a group from Halifax and had a chance to chat with them. There were so many Canadians from all over the country, it was a real representation of the spirit of Vimy.

We’re back on the bus after mass at Notre Dame des Brebieres. What a beautiful church. The parish priest was very friendly and appreciative of our visit. Unfortunately he did not speak good English, so we had to put some of our French Immersion students to work. The mass was quaint even though many of us could only vaguely follow along. St. Ignatius students Madison and Brooklyn, along with our student Braeden, helped with the readings. Afterwards, the priest thanked us for coming to mass and we were able to grab photos of the church. On my way out, I had a interesting conversation with a few French ladies in my broken French. My Italian instincts kept kicking in and instead of “oui,” I kept answering “si.” Oh well, I think they got the idea.

Notre Dame des Brebieres, April 2017.

Notre Dame des Brebieres, April 2017.

A short drive later, we were at the Beaumont Hamel National Monument. It honours the sacrifice of the Newfoundland Regiment on July 1, 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. Their contribution to the battle lasted mere minutes, with the unit suffering 85% casualties in an attempt to capture the German trenches. After the war, it was decided to preserve a portion of the battlefield in honour of the Newfoundlanders contribution to the war. One can walk through parts of the trenches, see other trench remains, visit a number of cemeteries and take in the memorial. Even though there were quite a number of groups at the site, it gave our students a much more intimate tour of a battlefield.

Newfoundland Memorial, April 2017.

Newfoundland fallen, Paril 2017.

We’re on our way back to the hotel in Lille after spending quite a bit of time in Arras. What a gorgeous city! The kids had several hours to walk around the city centre, shop and grab some food. I really enjoyed the architecture; I sent photos to my brother, who is an architect, as I thought he would appreciate the designs of the various buildings. Afterwards, we walked a short distance to the Artois Expo, which was run by EF. They had all kinds of displays and interactive booths for travellers to explore regarding WWI. It was a well put together exhibit. Kudos to EF!

Arras City Centre, April 2017.

After dinner, which was in the hotel again, we decided to take a little walk into downtown Lille. It was a nice way to end the day and keep the kids busy. Our Tour Director Jason indicated to us that Lille would be different from places like Ypres and Arras, much more cosmopolitan. It certainly was, but also had much of that old European cultural charm. We were able to see some great architecture and a bit of the nightlife of the city. I think everyone enjoyed the evening out.

Lille City Centre, April 2017.

Well, I think it’s time to retire for the evening. We have another busy day tomorrow. The bus leaves early as we are making our way to the Normandy region, which is about 4 hours away. We will visit Arromanches on the coast and then the Bretteville-sur-Laize Cemetery. I better turn it before it gets too late-back tomorrow. Until then…

 

 

http://www.worldwar1.com/heritage/leaningv.htm

 

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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