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Europe 2014: Reflections

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
Benjamin Franklin

I’m not sure if Benjamin Franklin actually said these words, or if it’s just one of those internet knock-offs, but whoever said it knew what they were talking about. This very much sums up the essence of the entire trip; history is real and tangible and it is through “hands” on experiences that we come to truly understand how these events shape our lives.

So I had pretty much all of this blog done during the flights home from Europe, but unfortunately I lost it all. Too bad…from what I remember it was pretty good! Anyway, this is my attempt to replicate all those thoughts I had put down while in the moment. Hopefully I do it justice.

It’s been roughly a week and a half since we returned from Europe…I can’t believe it’s been that long! Many of us have been in this position before; experience a remarkable journey and then struggle a short time later to recall everything that happened. Thankfully there are many things to jog our memories. This blog is one example. It wasn’t always easy to chronicle the events of each day, especially when you’re exhausted and sleepy, but I’m glad I did it. I know the parents appreciated reading about our adventures though, which made it worthwhile (not to mention the fact that I can look back too). Also, the 1600 photos and nearly 40gb of video I shot will help us to remember.

From a personal point of view, I had an amazing time. Even though I had visited some of the places we saw before, it was still exciting nonetheless. I think I was also feeding off of the excitement of the kids. My exuberance probably stems from my passion for history and my desire to learn more about the past, and I definitely became more enlightened on this journey. It was a great honour for me to lead and be part of this experience.

On the steps of the Vimy Memorial, March 2014.

On the steps of the Vimy Memorial, March 2014.

As I mentioned in previous blogs, things were tempered by the solemnity of parts of the trip. I’ve spent the last few evenings posting photos to Facebook and it really brought me back to those walks through the cemeteries. I wrote a lot about the flood of emotions I experienced on those visits…the mix of pride and immense sadness. It really helps one to understand the sacrifice that was made by this generation of Canadians. Reading the inscriptions on the headstones gives you an insight into the personal pain and anguish felt by the families of those who fell.

Cross of Sacrifice, Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian war Cemetery, march 2014.

Cross of Sacrifice, Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian war Cemetery, march 2014.

Grave of Private Wilson, Beny-sur-Mer, March 2014.

Grave of Private Wilson, Beny-sur-Mer, March 2014.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, March 2014.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, March 2014.

Grave of Rifleman Adamson, Beny-sur-Mer, March 2014.

Grave of Rifleman Adamson, Beny-sur-Mer, March 2014.

Grave of Private Barrett, Beny-sur-Mer, March 2014.

Grave of Private Barrett, Beny-sur-Mer, March 2014.

If I have any regrets the only one would be the fact that I had to leave the boys behind for 11 days. It certainly does not compare to the sacrifice made by the parents of our war dead, but it was the longest Jo-Anne and I have ever been away from them. They did enjoy the time they spent with the grandparents and the weekday activities at the museum. Maybe we missed them more than they missed us; I know it was particularly hard on Jo-Anne (things are always tougher for moms). It’s good to be back with them though (even with all the spats that siblings experience). I am hoping that we will have the opportunity to take them to Europe to visit all of these places when they are older.

I guess this goes to the philosophy that I (and I assume all teachers) subscribe to; school isn’t always Monday to Friday, 8:00-3:00. There is so much learning that happens outside the classroom, and we as teachers sometimes need to sacrifice a bit of our personal time/lives to make that happen. This is the essence of teaching. Most students will not remember what they learned in the classroom in 10 years, but they will remember the memories they made on the football field, on the stage or in Europe. That makes all the planning, effort and time worth it.

So we’ve already started looking ahead to our next trip to Europe. The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge is coming up in 2017 and we’d really like to be there for it. I’m sure it will be a fantastic experience for everyone involved, and maybe it won’t pour rain like it did the last time. EF does an awesome job looking after things and the celebrations in 2012 were amazing to be part of. Hopefully we can make it work within the school year since it falls at a rather awkward time before Easter. Fingers crossed!

Alas, it is time to close the book on this journey…but only a little bit. The reality of returning to things like work and family dictate that life must move on. The experience will live on though, as long as we who lived it choose to remember what we saw and did…hopefully memories do last a lifetime! I’ll be back in a few weeks with more of my usual posts. Until then…

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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Well, if it wasn’t for the black flies and ticks…

“Why did God make yucky things like black flies and ticks?” asked my four-year son old Noah. “Not sure buddy, there must be a reason” was my reply (the standard answer…I am only a history teacher).

If you have no clue what I am referring to, a black fly (sometimes called a buffalo gnat, turkey gnat, or white socks) is any member of the family Simuliidae of the Culicomorpha infraorder. Ticks are small arachnids in the order Ixodida. Along with mites, they constitute the subclass Acarina. I hate both of them! (thanks to Wikipedia for the long, hard to understand scientific descriptions)

Living in northern Ontario, I’ve had to put up with black flies all my life. Most people in Canada and the northern US know what I’m talking about. They are usually most active in the spring, before things start to dry out and get too warm for them. They like to feed particularly on human blood, leaving one with small, red itchy dots at the bite location. Their most annoying trait is the swarming they do around their victim, flying into your hair (I don’t have that problem), up your nose, in your ears, eyes, wherever! Even in your mouth if it’s open…mmmmmm, tasty black fly! Unfortunately they are one of the few things that I hate about where I live.

Ticks on the other hand are a completely different story. A few years ago, no one had ever heard of a tick. There were very few of them, if any, around this area. Then things changed. It might have been the movement of more deer into this area, or more likely attributed to global warming. In any case, we now have ticks. Lots of them. My first run in with a tick happened about 5 years ago and every year it gets worse. This year is predicted to be a bad year for them, since the winter and spring were so mild. If the past few days is any indication, the forecasts are correct…I picked so many off the dog I’ve lost count.

So this weekend is the Victoria Day long weekend, which I mentioned in last week’s post is the traditional beginning of the summer season here in Canada. In my profession, it also means that summer vacation is right around the corner. And it could not come soon enough! Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but at this time of the year everyone is a little burnt out and is in need of a refresher. I read somewhere this week (might have been on Twitter) that the old debate of re-vamping the school year is back in the spotlight. For those of you who don’t know, the school calendar was originally designed to accommodate a farming society with the months of July and August off. Yes times have changed, but the need for those two months has not.

As I already mentioned, after nine months of school (including several breaks), teachers and students are in need of a disengagement from the stress and routine of the learning environment. Time to re-charge the batteries if you like. That doesn’t mean however that all is forgotten; my gears are always turning about the next year, football, etc. Sometimes I feel like I’m not really on vacation. Weeks before the return I’m already working on things, so I don’t think I ever fully relax. So be it I guess.

So the long weekend usually means my first real hike of the season. I had been anticipating this for some time, and I was hoping that the weather would cooperate. My first order of business was to make a trip to my in-laws camp to grab the boat and motor. The camp is located about 65km east of home, and I wasn’t relishing the drive in my old truck. When I bought a new truck last year, I decided to keep the old one for trips into the bush. However, I have become a bit spoiled with the crew cab interior and leather seats!

The boys were very excited about the visit to camp; too bad the water is too cold at this time of the year! After our delicious Subway dinner (the boys would rather go to Subway than McD’s), I proceeded to load up the boat. In a precursor to the next day’s hike, I was assaulted by swarms of black flies. They made my life miserable as I tried to strap down the boat…gotta love May in the north!

Narrows between North and Little North Lakes, with Ontario on the right and Minnesota on the left.

The drive to North Lake is about 105km, of which only just over two-thirds is paved. The drive becomes rather bumpy after leaving Highway 588 for the final 9km into the lake directly on the old grade. After unloading the boat, we began our ride to Little North Lake. Since I was only working with a 6hp motor, it took about 40 minutes to reach our destination.

This part of the railway is only accessible by boat from Canada. Mile 75 of the railway at North Lake was the location of a 1000 foot trestle that burned in 1909. The bay was originally called Goose Bay, but it is referred to as Trestle Bay in more recent times. I first visited the area west of Trestle Bay back in 1991-1992 (I can’t remember which year) after the rail bed was cleared all the way to the end of Gunflint by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs. I guess the old grade made a perfect trail for them and all it needed was the removal of the forest growth. It was such a pristine area, as no one had been on that part of the railway in a very long time.

Besides spending some time with the boys, my main objective for this hike was to locate some old telegraph poles along the grade. These poles were put up in 1903, even after the railway (owned by Canadian Northern at the time) had decided to stop running passenger trains to Gunflint Lake. The only business past North Lake was the Pigeon River Lumber Company logging camp at the east end of Gunflint. They built their own line, the Gunflint and Lake Superior, 4.5 miles from the PAD&W at Little Gunflint Lake across the border to Crab Lake to haul logs to Port Arthur. The operation lasted until the trestle burned in 1909. The only reason to put up the telegraph line this far must have been the importance of the logging business; I wanted to confirm that it had indeed been done.

If memory serves me, I located the first pole back in 1995. I returned in 1997 to photograph and record this and another pole I located. They were in fairly decent shape. Last year I found a large coil of telegraph wire along North Lake near Trestle Bay and re-discovered the second pole on Little North, but unfortunately the cross beam had fallen off. I was determined to find that first pole, as well as a pile of discarded rails that had been left near the same spot.

Rail, Little North Lake.

Immediately after starting the hike, my son Ethan found a pile of rails north of the grade in the bush. I`d never seen these before (if I remember correctly) since they would have been obscured by the summer growth. Another short distance ahead I located a small pile of coal that had been dropped by a passing train sometime before 1909. Then five minutes later I found the rails I was looking for, but no pole (the rails are stamped M.B.H.I & S Co. 1890). The pole had obviously disintegrated in the last 12 years.

While the boys snacked on their lunch in the boat, I quickly recorded the first rails and then ran back to the

Insulator, Little North Lake.

second rails to take one last look for the pole. When I got there, I just happened to glance up from where the rails were lying and noticed something green in the background. My first thought was “no way!” Making my way over, my assumption was correct; I had found a glass insulator from a telegraph pole! In all my years of hiking I had only seen maybe a dozen poles and only found 3 insulators. The wire was still attached and examining closely I could see remains of the pole. After removing the insulator, I tried following the wire in both directions but came up empty.

Holding telegraph pole cross beam, Little North Lake.

Our second stop was a short 900m boat ride west to a second telegraph site. I saw it on two occasions last year, but I just wanted to take a quick poke around to see if I could find anything else. Unfortunately there was nothing else to see, but I did get some good pictures!

From Little North, we headed back 5km to North Lake and a visit to the Height of Land Portage. This strip of land separates North and South Lakes, as well-being the border and the Laurentian Divide (water from North flows into Hudson Bay and South flows to Lake Superior). I’ve been there many times, and there’s something to be said about wandering back and forth across the Canada-US border. In case you’re wondering, the Webster–Ashburton Treaty that finalized the imaginary delineation allows people to cross the border on the portages. So I even visited another country this weekend…all in a day’s work!

Boundary Monument. US on left, Canada on right.

Anyway, I babbled on way too long. I guess there’s a lot to say when you actually get out and do something fun. And we all look like we have chicken pox as a momento!Until then…

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Hiking, Miscellaneous, Research, Writing

 

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Vimy Day Eight

Well, we’ve started the journey home. I am sitting here at Charles de Gaulle airport waiting for our flight to Toronto listening to some classic rock. Our wake up call was at 4:00 today…thank God this is the last early morning we have. That obviously means though that our trip is over. The past 7 days have been a whirlwind of events, but it was such an awesome experience.

The streets of Paris were amazing, filled with great European culture and architecture. I wish there was more time to explore and take pictures. Two days are not enough in such a great city, but we were on a schedule. I never did see the inside of the Notre Dame Basilica, but the cathedral in Rouen was very impressive as well. I must get back someday, maybe with the family.

Having this time before our flight gives me some time to reflect on the past week, especially on our visits to the battlefields. I think that this was tremendous trip for the students that they won’t soon forget. I am glad that I decided to lead this journey/pilgrimage to France. It took me away from my family for a week, so I too had to sacrifice. However what I gave up pales in comparison to the blood several generations of young Canadians spilled for their country.

We’re in the air now; in the beauty above the clouds my reflection continues. It’s funny how you always think of things after the fact, like how I am right now remembering a few things that occurred yesterday that did not make it into my blog. The one I want to mention was probably the most poignant, which took place during our silent march from Givenchy to Vimy. As our group passed by the Vimy Memorial, we were jolted by a sudden gust of wind from our right. It was almost as if some force was trying to direct our attention to the left, towards the memorial. I’m not sure if everyone else was struck by this occurrence, but it certainly had me looking to the heavens. Someone wanted us to remember.

Now my thoughts drift to our first visit to a Canadian war cemetery, the one at Dieppe. Since the bodies were originally buried by the Germans, the headstones are laid out in German style, back to back and close together. Probably because of the close internment of the dead and because it was our first, the visit was so moving. We had a lot more time to spend there, so you really had a chance to read the names and inscriptions. I won’t soon forget how overcome I was.

After some lunch and a much-needed nap, I am a bit more refreshed. While I was dozing, I thought of our visit to Juno Beach. It was another occasion that needed way more time to fully absorb and explore, but we did our best. I was glad that we got to Bernieres sur Mer where the Queen’s Own Rifles landed at Nan White Sector. Seeing that bunker that I’d taught my students about so many times and walking those blood stained beaches was amazing. The bag of sand I brought home is not some sand from a French beach; it is a piece of Canadian history, purchased with the blood of our youth.

On the last leg now after a hectic connection stop in Toronto. It will feel good to be at home; I know my wife and boys will be waiting for me at the airport. I am excited to see them as this is the longest I’ve ever been away from them. Maybe my homecoming is part of this journey. We get to go home while there are those who never got that opportunity. I should mention this to the kids, that our ability to go back to our families and loved ones is part of their sacrifice. We definitely take our freedom for granted.

Well, I need to wrap things up as I’ve been awake for the better part of 24 hours. I need to get some sleep as I am back to work tomorrow…with a new perspective on what I teach. I will definitely have some great stories for the kids. I know I will enjoy relating my experiences to them and hopefully this has made me a better teacher. And hopefully it will teach them the importance of remembrance. I will end today with one of my favourite poems from the war, written by A.E. Housman. I will be back in a week after a much needed break. Until then…

HERE DEAD WE LIE

Cross of Sacrifice, Bretteville sur Laize Canadian Cemetery.

Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.

Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
 

But young men think it is,
And we were young.


 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing

 

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Vimy Day Six

Happy Easter! This is the first time I’ve spent a major holiday away from home, so I’m really missing my wife and kids. I’m sure they went to mass in the morning and then enjoyed the goodies the Easter bunny brought.

Right now we’re on our way to the Nine Elms Cemetery in Thelus for our cemetery visit. Each student was assigned a soldier to research at a specific cemetery as part of the tour. Should be an interesting event. 

While I have a moment, I thought I would comment on the experience of eating breakfast in France. I normally eat a bowl of cereal in the morning, so this is quite novel for me. Breakfast has been buffet style, with the usual fair of cereal, fruit and yogurt. What is interesting is all of the cheeses, meats and various breads available. Not a good meal if you’re watching your carbs!

After a two hour drive, we arrived at the Nine Elms Cemetery (which is about a 10 minute walk from the Arras Road Cemetery where we parked). It is a pretty little cemetery right beside the highway. Before we visited the graves we held a small service by the cross of remembrance to pay tribute to those that fell. 

Grave of Private Ecobichon, 15th Battalion, CEF.

We were given enough soldiers that I also had one to research. Sidney Ecobichon was born on Jersey in the Channel Islands in 1897. He lived with his parents in Peterborough before enlisting and being assigned to the 15th Battalion. Ecobichon was killed in action on April 18, 1917. I believe he was originally buried in the Arras Road Cemetery, but was transfer to Nine Elms and rests in an area called the Arras Road Memorial.


While we waited for the bus, I decided to look in the adjacent farmers field to see if I could find anything. Almost instantly I found a shrapnel ball; very quickly I was joined by several other treasure seekers. It was the most excited I’d seen the kids! We turned up many more shrapnel balls, bits of metal, a German cartridge and I found the base of an artillery shell. Sadly we had to retire to the bus! 

An hour drive later we arrived at the Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery near Ypres, Belgium (or Ieper). It holds 30,000 burials! The size of this cemetery is just staggering…it almost beyond comprehension. The headstones stretch on and on. It really gives you an idea of how massive the loss of life was during World War One.

On the ride to the cemetery my fellow chaperones Riley, Kerry and I decided that we would do

Grave of Lieutenant Drummond, 13th Battalion, CEF.

a little investigation. We wanted to look up some Canadians who were buried there. Our collective brainstorming recalled that two prominent Canadians we interred there, Drummond and Norsworthy. Lieutenant Guy Drummond and Major Edward Norsworthy were both members of the 13th Battalion, the Black Watch. They were both killed on April 22, 1915 at the Second Battle of Ypres when the Germans first used chlorine gas. The gas devastated the Algerian troops beside the Canadians, and both officers realized that their entire left flank and the road to Ypres was wide open. They charged into the gap with members of the Watch and surviving Algerians; they were killed holding the line.


Grave of Major Norsworthy, 13th Battalion, CEF.

Supper was in Ypres, at a place called Gasthof Zweerd. There were many other Vimy travellers there, and the square was a sea of black and red jackets. For the first time I left a restaurant full, after our meal of meat salad? and chicken/sausage pastry with fries. We then had a bit of free time, so I headed across the square to buy my wife Jo-Anne some Belgian chocolates. I know she’d rather have something from Tiffany’s but, I did my best.


As I walked around, I noticed a sign with the name of the Governor General on it. I then noticed a large Canadian military presence in the square…something was up. Soon a military honour guard assembled, made up of what seemed like infantry reserve members from many units (including the LSSR). I had to leave as we had to head to the Menin Gate for the Last Post…in retrospect I wish I had left earlier. The area around the Gate, which is a Commonwealth Memorial was already filling with people. The Menin Gate is inscribed with the names of nearly 55,000 men who are missing around Ypres, more than 6,000 of whom are Canadian.

Since 1928 they have held a Last Post ceremony everyday at 8:00 at the Gate (with the exception of WWII). The Governor General, His Excellency David Johnston arrived at the Gate preceded by the band of the Royal 22é Regiment and the honour guard. The ceremony was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed, well other than my wedding and the birth of my children. I spent the entire time taping the ceremony; when I have time I’ll make a highlight video and post it to YouTube.

Anyway, I have to get rolling since tomorrow we have to get up at 5:00 and it will be a very busy day. I will leave you with another poignant photo…the age of this young boy from Newfoundland will shock you. Until then…

Grave of Private Barter, RNR.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing

 

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Vimy Day Five

7:53, on the bus and ready to roll.

I didn’t think I could any more tired, but I am! I had some girls from another school in the room beside me playing music past 12:30 this morning. I was up at 6:00, so my eyes are rather heavy. I’m sure I’ll perk up at Juno Beach and the cemeteries we visit; should be another amazing and emotional day.

The graves of the Branton brothers.

Our first stop today was the Canadian War Cemetery at Beny sur Mer. There are over 2000 Canadians buried there and it was a very emotional experience again. I find it interesting that Beny, like Dieppe, is tucked away in a very quiet location. It is probably better that way. Unlike Dieppe, I did have a mission today, which was to find the graves of Gordon and Ronald Branton. Brothers from Lethbridge, Alberta, they are just one of several sets of brothers buried in Beny. Their inscription reads, “We left with a jest our home in the west. Now here with the best we lie at rest.”


A very short drive later we arrived at the Juno Beach Centre, which was built almost 10 years ago as a museum not only for D-Day, but for all of Canada’s WWII involvement. The Centre was interesting to see, but I really wanted to get to the beaches. The part of Juno Beach in front of the Centre was known as Mike Red sector, and it was where the Winnipeg Rifles came ashore. There was an observation post located just behind the beach, but our Tour Director Hugo was going to take us farther east where there was more to see.

It was very fitting that today was cold, misty and windy, much like it was on June 6, 1944.

German bunker, Nan White Sector, Juno Beach.

Our next destination was Bernieres-sur-Mer, where the  Queen’s Own Rifles came ashore at sector Nan White. The first house they captured is called Canada House and just down the beach is a preserved bunker adorned with the QOR logo. The Queen’s Own suffered the highest casualties of all the assault units, and looking from the bunker tells you why. Designed to enfilade the beach, it and others killed and wounded half of the QOR in minutes. I made a point of picking up some sand and rocks…almost like I’m taking pieces of Canadian history.


We spent our lunch in the town of Arromaches, which is in the Gold Beach area. After eating a baguette with jambon and frites, I wandered the immediate area for a while. There is a museum there, along with several vehicle and artillery displays. In the sea off Arromaches you can see the remains of the Mulberry artifical harbour system. I think the kids were more excited about the gift shops that sold WWII relics, like shrapnel and shell casings.

On our way back to Rouen, we made a detour to the Canadian cemetery at Bretteville sur Laize. It was quite the adventure getting there, driving all the back roads from Arromaches to Cintheaux. At one point we had to cross a two bridges right by each other with a wicked curve in the middle. Our driver had to get out and size things up; he figured we could make it. After a few tense moments, some skillful driving and a little scrape, we made it through. It earned him a well-deserved round of applause. 

The cemetery at Bretteville has almost 2800 burials and is absolutely huge. It was too bad we were pressed for time as the 30 minutes we had was way to short, but I really wanted to visit this cemetery and was glad that we made it. Our first order of business was to hold a short service in honour of those who gave their lives for Canada. Kudos goes out to our friends at St. Ignatius for organizing these little ceremonies…I think it makes it that much more significant for the students. 

Grave of Major Griffin, Black Watch.

For many years I have taught my Gr. 10 students about the fighting in Normandy, and in particular the Battle of Verrières Ridge . This battle was part of a larger, unsuccessful series of attacks called Operation Spring. More than 800 Canadians were killed in Spring, and they are all buried at Bretteville. In particular, I teach them about what happened to the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment of Canada) at Verrieres and how the entire regiment was wiped out. The commander of the Black Watch (who was an acting commander after everyone above him became casualties), Major Phil Griffin, was blamed for the failure of the attack; I wanted to pay my respects to him.I think that it will mean more to me now that I’ve visited his grave and saw the area that was fought over.


There was one more thing I had to do before we left. Prior to becoming a teacher, my career goal was to attend military college and enter the army. When I was 17 I

Grave of Major Styffe, Lake Superior Regiment.

joined the local infantry reserve unit, the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment. The LSSR perpetuates the Lake Superior Regiment, which fought in Normandy as part of the 4th Armoured Division. Forty-two members of the LSR are buried at Bretteville and I thought it was my duty to try and honour them. However due to our time constraints, I was only able to visit the grave of Major Edward Styffe, who was killed in action August 14, 1944. I did pledge to myself that I would return some day and do the fallen members of the Regiment proud.


On our return to Rouen we went to dinner, which was an okay meal of pasta with chicken in a sort of Alfredo sauce. We did take some time to celebrate the birthdays of Matt J. and Cassie who were both turning 16 during the trip. After dinner we had a bit of free time, so the kids could relax, look around the square a bit and unwind. Tomorrow is Easter, so we are heading off to mass at 9:30; I’ve never been to church in another country so I am looking forward to the experience. I’ll finish this off after we return.

The church was locked, so I guess there wasn’t mass. Can you cancel church?

Tonight I had the chance to speak to my wife Jo-Anne and the boys for a bit. Although I am enjoying myself immensely, I do miss them very much. I really want to take my boys here one day to see this for themselves…I think it is something that all Canadians should do. It really makes you thankful for the life we enjoy. After to speaking to my boys tonight and experiencing all the history over the last few days I wanted to leave you with this. I thought it would be a fitting way to end given the purpose of this trip. It was pointed out to me by my colleague Sara at Bretteville. Please click on the photo and read the inscription at the bottom; I became so choked up I had trouble taking the picture. Until then…

Grave of Rifleman Janson, Regina Rifles.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing

 

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Vimy Day Four

7:15am. Showered. Packed. Fed. Ready to roll for the day.
Today is Good Friday, the most solemn holiday in the Christian calendar; somewhat fitting that we are headed to Dieppe, scene of Canada’s worst military defeat. Visiting the graves of Canadians killed on the beach is probably a good way to remember the crucifixion of Jesus. Sacrifice.
I am a bit tired today; I was up to midnight finishing yesterday’s blog. Then it was an unending parade of people, conversations, door knocks and door clicks in the hallway. I don’t know which school these kids were from, but it was very annoying since my alarm was set for 5:50. The 2:00am phone hang up was the coup de grace (I thought it was the wake up call). Needless to say I’m a bit tired. Probably why I started off the day in fine form. As I finished my first helping of food at breakfast I then remembered it was Good Friday…as a practicing Catholic, today is one of the few days of abstinence left on the calendar. So I guess I blew it with the sausages I ate; I think God will understand.
While we drive to Dieppe I wanted to comment on one of those curiosities of Europe that I experienced yesterday. I’d never been in a “unisex” washroom before, so I shall explain. Basically guys and girls enter through the same door; the guys go to the urinals one way and the girls have stalls the other. However, the girls walk by the guys who are only covered by a chest high wall. Kinda awkward watching ladies walk by and vice versa while you do your business. Interesting.
So we were almost an hour and a half late getting to Dieppe because of the traffic in Paris, but we were all excited go be there nonetheless. I’ve taught Gr. 10 students about the Dieppe Raid  for almost 10 years now, but it was an amazing experience to actually walk the beaches. Standing on the shore you are just awestruck by the huge headlands to the east and west. You can feel the shingle underfoot that disabled the tanks. You’re amazed at the distance the soldiers had to run to get off the beach. It was just an experience to walk on a beach that so many Canadians died on. I picked up a few rocks for myself and my boys.
The city of Dieppe itself is quite pretty and I wish we had more time to explore it. I didn’t eat lunch today, choosing rather to spend some time by myself. I went back to the beach and walked around a bit more, just soaking in the experience.

Beach at Dieppe from the West Headlands.

From the beaches we visited the castle on the west headlands; from there it really gives you an idea of how difficult the landing was. I wish we had more time to explore the castle, but we were pressed for time. There were some bunkers on the cliff we looked at and it gave you a view from the German perspective. We couldn’t dwell though, as we needed to visit the cemetery before heading to our hotel in Rouen.

The Dieppe Cemetery is tucked in a quiet little corner away from the city; maybe it was better that way. I’d never been to a Canadian war cemetery before and it was an eye-opening experience. There are over 700 burials in the cemetery and I was proud to be there. After taking some pictures and video, I began to walk around and look at the graves; there were

Unknown Canadian burial, Dieppe Cemetery.

so many names. As I circulated, I started to read the inscriptions on the headstones (families could add text to them for a fee). Overwhelmed, I tried to do it again and I had to walk away…it was way too emotional. So I sat down on a bench and played with my phone to distract myself. The best part of the experience was watching the kids…watching, reading, crying…I was proud.

On the bus again, we drove to Rouen and our hotel. There wasn’t time to check in, so we walked to our restaurant for dinner. Tonight our restaurant was called “69,” which solicited laughs and smirks from everyone on the bus. The meal was roast pork and potatoes (again), which was good, but the portions were to small! The creme brulee desert was awesome!
After eating we made our way to the hotel, visiting a few places along the way. The best by far was the Rouen Cathedral…Gothic architecture at its finest! We went inside the church, trying not to disturb mass. What a spectacular interior! We didn’t make mass for Good Friday, but at least we got into a church.
So it’s already past midnight and we have an early morning again to go to Normandy.
Until then…
 
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Posted by on April 6, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing

 

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