Tag Archives: Dieppe

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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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…

Posted by on April 6, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing


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