Tag Archives: cemetery

Italy 2023 Day 7

Ciao, ragazzi! Oggi è una mattina molto bella (today is a beautiful morning)! It doesn’t get better than this I must say. While the folks back home are dealing with snow, I am sitting in my room overlooking the Adriatic Sea while the sun shines brightly in the clear blue sky. I was even able to capture the sunrise this morning as it rays first illuminated the buildings here just south of Ortona.

It’s now 4:30 and we’ve just left a roadside stop on our way to the next hotel in Rimini. Our day began with an early morning visit to the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery. This site contains the graves of over 1500 Canadian and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the battles to approach or take the city of Ortona. This cemetery had a different feel that yesterday, maybe because the majority of the burials are Canadians. I also think the stillness and the crisp morning air added to somber tone. After a brief prayer service, the students had a short time to wander amongst the whitewashed headstones adorned with maple leafs.

We could not linger as we had to meet our guide in Ortona at 9:30. Angela was extremely knowledgeable about the battle and the Canadian involvement in it. She first took us through the museum before we proceeded to walk part of the city to see where significant events had taken place. Personally, I found it neat to be able to match photos that I had seen of the battle to what they look like today. It is such a beautiful town and it’s a shame that much of it was destroyed trying to wrestle it from the Germans. 

The fight for Ortona was some of the most difficult urban combat of the entire war, and people took to calling it “Little Stalingrad,” after the famous urban battle on the Eastern Front. Although I was a soldier myself for a short period of time, and I did FIBUA (Fighting In Built-up Areas) training, it is something to see the actual terrain that the Canadian soldiers to had fight through. I will definitely be using some of the information and photos in my lessons.

After some time for lunch, we were back on the bus for the three hour ride north to Rimini. Everyone was in great spirits, and we also had some fun during the drive. Our Tour Director or TD, Kent, had everyone on the bus, chaperones included, put the title of their favourite song on a sheet of paper. He then would play the songs randomly and the person who picked it had to come to the front of the bus and give their name, what school they were at and why they picked it. They then had to answer some questions from the rest of the bus. It was a great way to bring the group together through music. The kids area really starting to gel, and you do see a number of new friendships being formed which is fantastic.

Before arriving in Rimini, we did a slight detour to the Tavullia Monument, which honours the Canadian Army breakthrough of the Gothic Line in the spring of 1944. It was rather interesting to hear the story of what occurred there, as I personally was not familiar with it, and the entire Italian Campaign is often overshadowed by the fighting in Northern Europe.

Our hotel in Rimini is known as the Hotel Venere, and is one of many hotels near the beach in this area. It is much smaller than the other hotels we have been at and the students unfortunately have to share much “cosier” accommodations. Fortunately supper, which was at the hotel, was very good. We had three courses, the first being vegetables, small pizzas and bread served buffet style. They later brought pasta for the second course and finally veal with mushrooms for the third. Dessert was another helping of Tiramisu…I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much tiramisu in my life.

Anyway, I better wrap up. We do have a later start tomorrow morning, but it is already after midnight. Our travels on Saturday will take us into Rimini and Sean Marino. Until then…


Posted by on March 17, 2023 in History, Travel


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Italy 2023 Day 6

Buongiorno ragazzi, oggi è una bella mattinata! In case you didn’t get that, it is a good morning. I’m slowly catching up, though I was so deep in sleep when the alarm went off, it scared the you know what out of me (we have to keep things PG here)! Anywho, it is another beautiful sunny morning as prepare to leave Rome behind for the east coast of Italy. It’s supposed to be 17C here, but only 12C when we arrive in Ortona, so hopefully we don’t freeze our derrières off when we get there. I know, I shouldn’t be complaining as it’s snowy and cold back home, but we were sort of getting used to the high teen temperatures!

It’s close to 8:30 now and we’re on the road to Cassino. The drive here is beautiful, with the hills and mountains of the Apennines lining our route. I keep pulling out the GoPro to record the scenery…it is something to see! So when we arrive, we’ll proceed first to the top of Monte Cassino itself, where we will tour the abbey and the nearby Polish monument. Afterwards it will be down to the base to the Cassino War Cemetery and Memorial where we will have a prayer service and visit the graves of the soldiers buried there.

 🎶On the road again!🎶 We have now left Cassino behind and are on our way to Ortona. There was certainly a lot to see in the area. The tour of the abbey was fantastic and sad all at the same time. I knew a little of its history, including that it dated back to medieval times, but I definitely learned a great deal more. The sadness comes when you see what remains and what had to be rebuilt after the war. The reconstruction is beautiful and the original must have been more so. Before we left, we also visited the nearby Polish cemetery, which is very visible from the abbey itself. 

The only issue we had was getting up to it. The mountain is high, and the road as you can imagine twists and turns its way up the side. It was spectacular and nauseating all at the same time. There were a few instances on the way up that I had to close my eyes as I am not great with heights and it looked like we were going to drive right off the edge of the road. However, our bus driver, Salvatore, is a real pro and handled it with ease. I know I would have been pooping my pants, but then again I would have not been driving a 57-seat bus either.

Immediately after our decent, we moved on to the Cassino War Cemetery, where over 8000 Commonwealth dead are buried or commemorated, including 1045 Canadians. These visits are never easy, especially if you have never been to a war cemetery. Cemeteries are not happy places, but when they are filled with the graves of young men cut down in their prime, it is even more somber. At the Cross of Sacrifice, we held a brief prayer service before the students proceeded to visit pre-determined graves of Canadian soldiers. I was very emotional when I left, as I normally am, but there students who were very overwhelmed by the experience. I certainly felt for them, but I think that every Canadian needs to visit a war cemetery at least once in their lives to truly understand what freedom means and the price our country has paid with our youth for that freedom.

After lunch in Cassino, we left for the 2.5 hour drive to Ortona. Many slept, but I didn’t want to miss any of the scenery along the way. Working our way through the Apennine Mountains was amazing, and it was so interesting to see all the towns and villages along the way. I took a lot of photos and videos, so much so that I am running out of room on the SD card in my GoPro. I do have another one, but I think I can only get another hour of footage on it. If worse comes to worse, I’ll see if I can get another one somewhere.

It’s now 10:45 and I’m trying to get this post finished so I can get to sleep in preparation for another early day tomorrow. We arrived at our hotel, La Chiave dei Trabocchi, around 6:00 and had dinner at the ground floor restaurant. We were supposed to have salad and risotto, but ended up with some great bruschetta, gnocchi and gelato. Not complaining! Everyone, especially those of us who have been on EF tours before, have been very impressed with the food we have been served. Our next two suppers are in the hotel in Rimini, so hopefully the trend continues.

Anyway, I should head off to bed. Maybe I’ll get something close to a normal sleep tonight. Following another cemetery visit and museum tour here in Ortona, we have a long drive to Rimini. Until then…

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Posted by on March 16, 2023 in History, Travel


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Vimy 2017 Day 4

Oy vey. It’s a sleepy morning today kids. I did not have a very good sleep last night. I’m not sure how much sleep I actually got, but it wasn’t much. I really feel like I’m running on fumes. In any case, I’m a big boy, so I’ll have to suck it up and get in my rear in gear. Today we’re leaving our hotel and heading first to Anne Frank House for a short visit. I’ll check in again once we’re back on the bus.

Amsterdam selfies, April 2017.

Amsterdam canal, April 2017.

Okay, so we’re back on the bus. A visit to the Anne Frank House is something one does not easily forget. It certainly puts a real human face on the price of conflict and in particular hatred. All of the kids are familiar with the story of Anne Frank and they were all very quiet as they left. No one should ever forget war, but particularly instances of genocide than have left an indelible mark on history. Fittingly, there’s a beautiful church next to Anne Frank House, the Westerkerk. It would have been nice to go inside and say a little prayer; the incongruity wasn’t lost on me. A Catholic, in a Dutch Reform Church praying for those lost in the Holocaust.

Westerkerk, April 2017.

So we’re on the road now, heading toward Belgium and the Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery outside of Passchendaele. I guess it has been and will be an emotional day for the kids. First Anne Frank, and now their first cemetery. Tyne Cot is a very large cemetery, larger than most. Many of the Commonwealth cemeteries from WWI were created were the men were initially buried, so there are many small cemeteries scattered around a wide area. This is what makes Tyne Cot and it’s 11,000 burials so unique.

In addition to the graves, there are many names (over 33,000 in fact) recognized on the Tyne Cot Memorial. The Commonwealth Graves Commission, which oversees all of these cemeteries, originally intended the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres to hold the names of all the missing in the area. Unfortunately, when they began to add the names, they realized it would not be able to contain the vast number of names of the missing. They used an arbitrary cut-off date of August 15, 1917; everyone after that date would be remembered at a memorial at the Tyne Cot Cemetery.

After a stop for lunch, we are back on the road. I feel much better now that I have some food in my belly. You won’t believe where some of the kids ate at. We’re currently passing through the Belgian city of Antwerp. I really wish I could see more of Belgium; it looks like such a beautiful country. I love the countryside, with the rolling hills, farms and gorgeous scenery. It will take us another 1.5 hours to reach Tyne Cot, so I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy the view.

McDoanld’s, Belgian-Dutch border, April 2017.

Whew, back on the bus. What a busy last few hours of the day. The visit to Tyne Cot was solemn and everything we expected. I think it made a big impression on the kids, none whom I imagine have ever been to a military cemetery. After a brief prayer service, the students visited the graves of their assigned soldiers. I did not visit a specific grave, but rather followed some of the students as they walked around the cemetery.

Tyne Cot prayer service, April 2017.

Tyne Cot Cemetery, April 2017.

Grave of Private McMillan, 52nd Battalion, April 2017.

From there, we took a short 10 minute ride into Ypres. With all of the groups visiting the area (there are 250+ EF groups expected to be at Vimy alone), we had to park outside of the city centre and walk in through the Menin Gate. I’ve already mentioned that I love the city of Ypres as it such a beautiful place. Even though much of it was destroyed during WWI, and was rebuilt, it is still breathtaking. I think many of the kids actually gasped when they got to the main square, the Grote Market and saw the Cloth Hall.

Everyone had just over an hour to walk around and explore, which unfortunately is nowhere near enough to see the city. I grabbed some frites, the national food of Belgium, just to say that I did. Afterwards, I joined the hordes of Canadians who descended on the chocolate stores to pick up some genuine Belgian product. The Leonidas Store had a “Canadian” special, which I partook in like all the other sheep. Twenty Euro got me a bag full of chocolate and since I’m an adult, a neat bottle of beer (I’m not much of a drinker, but the bottle was certainly a collectable).

After we reconvened, albeit a bit late, we headed to the Menin Gate for the Last Post Ceremony. There were a lot of people, mainly due to all the tourist groups in the city. Since we needed to be on the other side of the gate, we hiked around to the eastern side. We didn’t have the best spot to see the ceremony, but we were all glad that we did. There was an honour guard from the Queen’s Own Rifles, which added a Canadian flare to this solemn event which takes place everyday at 2000. I’ll post some video once I get back home.

Cloth Hall, April 2017.

    Menin Gate, April 2017.

Alright, it’s now 2300 and we’re preparing for bed. It was a late check in after the Menin Gate Ceremony and dinner at the hotel in Lille, France. Tomorrow is the big day and a long day. We need to leave the hotel by 0745 and arrive by 0900. Today was very warm and tomorrow’s supposed to be hotter, upwards of 22C! I think all might melt..thankfully I have a hat to protect my shiny dome and I believe we have enough sunscreen to go around. On that note, I better turn it as I have to be up very early. There will be lots of news from the ceremony. Until then…

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Posted by on April 8, 2017 in History, Travel


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Europe 2014 Day 6

Good morning Day six! We’re on the bus waiting to leave for Vimy. There is a bit of fog this morning, but mind you it is before 8am and maybe it hasn’t had a chance to burn off. Our journey should take us about an hour and a half. Can’t wait to get there!

So it’s hard to believe that we’ve already arrived at the halfway point of the tour already. Where does time go? It has been an awesome time so far, and there is so much more yet to come. Today is the transition from the WWI part of the tour (Ypres, Arras, Somme and Vimy) to the WWII part (Dieppe and Normandy). Many of the places we will visit are a contrast between tragedy and triumph, the proud moments in our history and the darkest days. In the end we will commemorate it all, and remember those who fell.

We’re back on the bus now on our way to Dieppe. Again it was another amazing visit, and such a huge part of Canadian history. Even though I was at Vimy in 2012, it was still a very emotional event.

We started off at the visitor centre, and then made our way up the ridge to the memorial. It is really something that you cannot describe to ascend that hill and see that amazing sight. The memorial itself is massive and fills one with pride to see this towering tribute to the success and sacrifice of our nation. There is also undeniable sadness, especially when one sees the statute of Mother Canada, her eyes and head down in sorrow.

At the memorial we met Jessica, who is with the Vimy Foundation (which works to educate young Canadians about this part of our history). She did a little ceremony, and then presented us with our with our Vimy Pilgrimage medals, which are given to all young Canadians who visit the memorial). Following this we had a another short prayer service led by Ms. Papich.

We had an appointment to visit the tunnels and trenches at 10:40, so there was a little time to look around the memorial. This is always a time for quiet reflection. I spent a bit of time taking in the Statute of Mother Canada; as I mentioned earlier it always gets me. Maybe now as a parent it takes on a lot more meaning and makes me think of my own boys (we were able to Facetime with them last night). I truly can sympathize with the sorrow of the parents and the nation as a whole; 60,000 Canadians represents a huge sacrifice on the part of an entire generation.

Statute of Mother Canada, March 2014.

Statute of Mother Canada, March 2014.

The tour of the tunnels and trenches was amazing! In 2012 we were able to see the trenches, albeit very rushed and the tunnels were closed. I had seen video of the Grange Tunnel before, but it was something to experience it firsthand. This piece of Canadiana really puts you in the place of the soldiers preparing for battle. Carved into the soft chalk, it allowed supplies to be brought forward safely and sheltered the men before the battle. I can’t wait to watch the video I shot when I get home.

Grange Tunnel, March 2014.

Grange Tunnel, March 2014.

As I just mentioned, we literally had to run through the trenches the last time because of time constraints. This time was much more leisurely, and really allowed to experience what they were like. I shot a lot of video here as well, and I’m sure it will be a lot more detailed than my one from two years ago.

On our way out of the area, we stopped at a German WWI cemetery. I had seen and read that they have a very different feel than the British Commonwealth ones. The Neuville-Saint-Vaast Cemetery contains nearly 45,000 burials, usually with four soldiers to a headstone. The huge number of interments and the rows of crosses stretching on and on really make it much more sombre place. I think it made a big impression on the students.

Neuville-Saint-Vaast German Cemetery, March 2014.

Neuville-Saint-Vaast German Cemetery, March 2014.

It seems as though the sun is trying to poke out now; it has been very foggy this morning and as a result been very chilly. I hope it get warmer and goes up to the 15C or so it was supposed to be, since Dieppe is on the sea and will be a lot winder. Well, I’m going to have a nap for a little bit.

We’re on our way out of Dieppe now. Unfortunately we did not have a lot of time in Dieppe, basically a little of time to wander around on the beach. I think it did give the kids an appreciation of the difficulties faced by the soldiers as they stormed up the beach. The headland cliffs are quite prominent, and the distance across the beach to the town is very far. The tide was much farther out than the last time I was here, and the climb up the beach was very steep. The sun refuses to come out and it is quite windy and cold on the beach. Too bad I don’t have my parka here!

Dieppe beach, March 2014.

Dieppe beach, March 2014.

It’s late now and I’m just getting down to finishing the day’s entry. I’m a bit tired; we’ve travelled very far in a short period of time and saw a lot of things. We are settled in our rooms and the kids are in bed for the night.

So after a drive of a couple hours, we arrived in Caen and turned south toward Falaise. Not quite halfway between the cities, near Cintheaux, lies the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery. It is one of the two cemeteries in the area (we are going to see Beny-sur-Mer tomorrow) and contains the graves of nearly 2800 Canadians killed in the fighting in the area. We made a special request to visit this cemetery, since it wasn’t originally on our schedule.

This cemetery holds some special significance since it contains the graves of soldiers from the Thunder Bay area, and also graves from those who served in the Lake Superior Regiment. In my Gr. 10 History class I teach my students about the Battle of Verrieres Ridge, which was a very tragic event in Canadian military history, but which remains unknown to many people. In that battle the Black Watch, the Royal Highland Regiment of Canada based in Montreal, was decimated during their portion of the attack on the ridge. Only 20 men survived unscathed from the 325 that began the day.

Like our other cemetery stop, the students were assigned graves to visit. We began with a prayer service at the entrance to the cemetery and then proceeded into the site to view the graves. I assigned myself Major Phil Griffin, who took command of the Black Watch during the battle and was killed leading his men forward. In addition to their own soldier, I gave all the students a special task; they were to visit the grave located at XVI G 11. Buried at this location was Private Gerard Dore, who was killed on July 23, 1944 serving with Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal. He was only 16 years old. I thought that this would help to emphasize the tragedy that is war.

Grave of Maj. Griffin, March 2014.

Grave of Maj. Griffin, March 2014.

Grave of Pte. Dore, March 2014.

Grave of Pte. Dore, March 2014.

After our visit we drove back through Caen and turned northwest toward Colombiers-sur-Seulles and the Chateau du Baffy. It is too bad that we arrived after dark and we really could not see much of the buildings and the grounds as they are sure to be quite amazing! The chateau was constructed in 1735 and served as a German Headquarters during WWII. I’m sure we’ll have a chance to look around tomorrow during the day.

Anyway, I better get rolling…it’s almost midnight here. Tomorrow we are off to the Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery and Juno Beach. It should be a great day and hopefully the sun will come out and warm us up! Until then…

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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing


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