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There’s places I gotta see…

There certainly are…many in fact. In less than 24 hours, I’ll be on my way to make it happen. If you’re wondering about the title, you need to listen to more classic rock. Connoisseurs will recognize the line from the iconic Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Freebird.”

So after nearly 3 years of planning, we are finally ready to go to Europe. I can’t believe we started all of this in the spring of 2014. Where has the time gone? It feels like an eternity ago. And it’s not just me; the students have grown up along the way. Those young Grade 9 or 10 students are now in Grade 11 or 12, some getting ready to graduate. What a fitting way to leave the school!

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I usual write about how busy I am and how crazy my life is. My last post ironically said exactly that. Well, when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I managed to find another gear. What an insane few days! So I guess I should tell you about it.

Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, I thought it would be great to have the media at the airport for our departure. Last Monday however, I received a call from our school board communication officer, Mike Thompson. He said he was in contact with our two local MPs, Patty Hajdu and Don Rusnak, and they wanted to visit with the students before they left. The trick was that it had to happen by the end of the week, as Parliament is back in session at the start of April. We settled on Friday, but a lot of work had to be done to prepare. Mike would look after the politicians and the media, but I had to find a venue in the school and line up some students to be present.

During our trip, we will be visiting two cemeteries; Tyne Cot near Passchendaele, Belgium and Bretteville-sur-Laize south of Caen France. At those cemeteries, we will honour the fallen but in particular those that served with the 52nd Battalion, CEF and the Lake Superior Regiment. Both were organized in Thunder Bay and are perpetuated by the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment (LSSR) today. I served in the LSSR in my teens. Therefore I thought it would be fitting to invite one of my former officers, David Ratz, who is now a Lieutenant Colonel and commanding officer of the regiment, to the event. It was great to to catch up with him and the students were very appreciative of his knowledge of the history and his stories.

I had to MC the event and scramble with some last minute issues, so I was extremely nervous and sweating like a hog. Fortunately everything went well, and I am very thankfully for that. The media interviewed some of the kids, and even though I knew it was coming, it was still so nervous to speak to them myself. You can read more about the media conference on TBNewswatchCBC and the TBT News.

MPs Hajdu and Rusnak visit students from St. Patrick & St. Ignatius, March 2017.

Probably the biggest source of my stress and the thing that had me running around the most was the tickets for the Vimy ceremony. For security purposes, everyone attending the ceremony has to have a ticket, which makes sense. However, the registration and distribution if said tickets turned into a bureaucratic boondoggle. There was a mad rush to register within a short window and with it came some technical glitches. Then there was the drama getting the tickets. I received my ticket in early March, along with one other chaperone and that was it. We kept receiving messages that because of technical issues, it would be delayed; March 21st, then March 27th and still only 2 tickets. Last Friday Veterans Affairs reported that at the behest of the French Government, all tickets would be reissued. Finally, tickets began to roll in. Cutting it a little close you think, especially since the tickets needed to be printed before we left!

In any case, it’s done, so now there’s just little things left to go. I still have some packing to do and if you know me, I started getting things ready weeks ago. I am not a last minute person; in fact I tend to be quite obsessive about this aspect of traveling, most likely due to the fact that I have some OCD. I don’t care though, better prepared and organized than not.

I have all the boarding passes printed, so we’re ready to hop those flights across the pond. From Thunder Bay we head to Toronto (of course), and from there to Munich. We have a fairly long layover at the Franz Josef Strauss Airport before we heading to Amsterdam, which I guess will give everyone time to nap, including me. I’ll probably be taking the time to blog as well.

Anyway, I better get going. You’ll probably hear from me again from Munich with details of our first day. Until then…

 

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Posted by on April 4, 2017 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Europe 2014 Day 10…The Lost Post

This was supposed to be posted at the end of our trip, but due to a little glitch, I was not able to retrieve it until now. It seems so long ago, but I think there are some things that need to be said even if they are a bit late.

Day ten. This is it…back to Canada. I think there isn’t one person who isn’t sad about our departure; the trip has been awesome. However we have consumed our time in Europe and we now need to return to reality, which for us includes snow and cold! We all have fond memories of the trip and I guess I’ll share some as I write this blog today.

I really have only one negative thing from this adventure, which has been the wifi at this hotel in Paris. I thought I was going to be able to post two days worth of blogs last night, but after being on for a while, I was disconnected and could not reconnect. It is very frustrating from a blogging sense, but it also made it hard to stay in touch with the boys. We should be able to get some FaceTime in today, especially since it is Ethan’s birthday…9 already!

Alright, so we’re in the air now; next stop Toronto, seven and a half hours away. I wonder when lunch is…I’m hungry! I’m also curious as to what type of gastronomic delight is on the menu for today, hopefully it something good. Well, I’ll come to back to this later, after I eat and have a nap. For now, I’m going to enjoy a little Star Trek action on the TV.

So here we are, half way across the Atlantic. Up here, above the clouds might be a good place to reflect on the past 10 days. I’m tired, and really need some sleep. Even though it is way colder than what I’ve experienced while over in Europe, I miss home. And I really miss my boys; I’m sad that I’m not there for Ethan’s birthday. Despite all of this, I’m glad we went.

To me, teaching is more than just a job; I probably wouldn’t do it if it was just a job. It is about making a difference, and sometimes we have to sacrifice a bit to do that. This trip at times has been exhausting and stressful, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I was fortunate enough to travel to Europe when I was in high school (way back in 1992) and I relish all the memories I have of that trip. Twenty years from now these kids will not remember what they learned in my classroom, but they will remember this journey. They will remember when they look at the photos and when they tell their kids about it. It is then they will have understood what learning is all about.

The fact that these students have the good fortune to be in a classroom and have opportunities like this is due in part to the sacrifice of people not much older that them a long time ago. I hope that visiting the battlefields and cemeteries have taught them that the life they enjoy is not free; it was bought and paid for by the blood of Canada’s youth. Each one of them has a story and our remembrance ensures that they will never be forgotten.

I guess you can say that in many ways this trip is like when I coach football. Well that’s an interesting analogy isn’t it? Football and European travel…yes, I did get a good nap in. What I mean to say is that this trip allows you to make more of a personal impact on the kids, much like what happens when you coach. You can see the impact of what you’re doing more easily than in the classroom…or at least I hope!

Extra-curriculars like this also allow you to get to know the students better, which certainly helps with that connection is just spoke of. At times I did feel like a bit of a taskmaster though, the one who makes all the rules and cracks the proverbial whip. But I guess that comes with the territory of being the group leader…with great power comes great responsibility right? Parents are trusting you with their most precious possession and safety comes before everything.

We’re back in the air now, on our way to Thunder Bay and home. The layover in Toronto was a nice little break, though it was a bit stressful finding the shuttle to the hotel and getting everyone there. Thankfully EF had everything taken care of and there wasn’t much we had to do. Dinner was at the Mr. Greek restaurant attached to the hotel. The food was good and everyone ate their fill.

From Lake Huron, March 2014.

From Lake Huron, March 2014.

Frozen Lake Superior, March 2014.

Frozen Lake Superior, March 2014.

Since we were in Toronto for the evening, my older brother Dominic joined us for dinner; it was good to catch up with him since I had not seen him since Christmas. A few of the kids left the hotel to meet up with family. After we ate, we went up to our room where we were able to FaceTime with the boys and wish Ethan a happy 9th birthday. We’ll be having his party next weekend.

I’m sure all the kids are anxious to see their parents and tell them all about our adventures. As great and fun it’s been travelling with the kids for the past 10 days, I’m glad we’re going home too. Looking after 23 teenagers is at times exhausting and stressful; my wife Jo-Anne commented that she now knows what it feels like to be the Duggars and travel with 20+ people. However, I do it all again in a heartbeat…and we will.

My colleague at St. Ignatius Alicyn Papich and I have already begun looking forward to the 100th anniversary celebrations of. Vimy Ridge in 2017. I know that EF has the gears rolling as well, since Felicity told us she has been working on scouting hotels in anticipation of the arrival of thousands of Canadians for the event. It should be awesome!

 

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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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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Europe 2014 Day 9

If you read the Day 8 post, you know why this is delayed.

Day nine, our last day in Europe 😦 Man, the time has just flown by. I guess as they say that’s what happens when you’re having fun right? We’ll have to make the most of today and enjoy every moment.

So the internet (or as they say here the “wefe”) is still down, so I still cannot post yesterday’s blog. Hopefully it will be working by the time we return today so I can catch up and everyone knows we’re still alive. It’s amazing how we come to depend on it…first world problems right?

Anyway, we will be leaving the hotel at just after 8:00 so we can start a sightseeing tour of Paris. Should be interesting and give us a good sense of the city (well, maybe the kids since I’ve seen it before). Not quite clear on this afternoon’s agenda, but I know a lot of them wanted to go up the Eiffel Tower. Great, more stairs!

Well, I’m sitting here at the north gate of the Hotel des Invalides as the kids work through the museum with Mr. Cappello and Ms. Borgo. Normally I wouldn’t pass up a chance to visit a military museum, but I just wanted to sit for a bit and while I did that I could work on the blog. I figure it’s going to be another late night and I have two blogs to post.

I’m resting in the shade as it is probably well over 20C outside…it is absolutely gorgeous! I’m going to be sad to leave this behind for the snow and cold of Thunder Bay. I do miss the boys though and I guess it is time to head back to realty.

So the day has been great so far. A bus picked us up at the hotel and brought us into the centre of Paris where we met up with our guide for the morning. Corine would take us around the major sites in the city to give us a bit of sense of what Paris is like. We made a few stops along the way, the last of which was at the Place du Trocadero, which gives a good view of the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately there is a lot of pollution in the air, which made the view less than ideal.

Place du Trocadero, March 2014.

Place du Trocadero, March 2014.

Afterwards the bus dropped us off near the Tower. The original plan was for most of the kids to go up the Tower, but the poor visibility and long lines made us change our minds. Instead we would head east toward the Hotel des Invalides, stopping for lunch along the way. Here we would split up, with St. Ignatius remaining at the museum and St. Pats heading toward the Champs des Élysées after a short visit. So here I sit…

Eiffel Tower, March 2014.

Eiffel Tower, March 2014.

Sigh. I’m sitting again, this time outside a perfume museum just north of the Paris Opera. I’m tired…exhausted would probably be a more apt term. It’s been a long day!

So after the Hotel des Invalides, we headed north across the Seine to the Champs des Élysées. The kids had a little time to look around before we were off again, this time to the Opera and a rendezvous with Felicity and the St. Ignatius crew. We walked the short distance to the perfume place and soon we’re off to dinner.

Alexandre III Bridge, March 2014.

Alexandre III Bridge, March 2014.

Paris Flowers, March 2014.

Paris Flowers, March 2014.

I’m beat! My feet are killing me! It has been a very long day. We are waiting for the bus to come and take us back to the hotel. I can’t wait to go there and put my feet up. I’m sad that we leave tomorrow (especially since we have to be on the bus at 7:30), but we’ve had a great trip.

Dinner tonight was at a place called “L’Arlequin Cafe,” which was quite a distance from the Opera. That made for an interesting ride on the Metro in which we were packed into the cars like sardines. Dinner was some sort of beef stew with carrots and potatoes, which was okay. Dessert was fruit salad.

Our night would conclude with a visit to the Louvre, which involved another packed ride on the Metro back in the direction of the Opera. A lot of the kids were excited to visit this fantastic museum. We didn’t have a lot of time, so our little band did the Mona Lisa, Venus di Milo and Hammurabi’s Code.

The Louvre, March 2014.

The Louvre, March 2014.

Hammurabi's Code, March 2014.

Hammurabi’s Code, March 2014.

Anyway, I better go. I need some sleep and morning will come way too soon. The bus leaves at 7:30 for the airport. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Europe 2014 Day 8

My apologies in the delay posting this. The wifi at the hotel was terrible, so I was unable to post this two days ago.

Day eight kids. Sadly we are down to our last few days of the trip. I can’t believe how quickly things have flown by! We’ll have to make the best of our remaining time and savour every memory.

So we’re on our way to Crepon for some Norman culture with a tasting of local juice and sweet breads. I never done something like this so it should be interesting. We will be greeted by the mayor of the village, so it’s almost like we’re VIP’s.

Back on the bus now heading toward Paris, which is about 4 or so hours away. We had a great morning of exploring French culture. In Crepon, we were met by the local mayor who took us on a tour of the village. We saw a monument to the Green Howards, a British regiment that liberated the town on June 6, 1944. From there we visited the local church, done in Romanesque style and dates from the 1200’s.

Saint-Médard-et-Saint-Gildard, Crepon, March 2014.

Saint-Médard-et-Saint-Gildard, Crepon, March 2014.

The last part of our visit to Crepon took place in the town hall, where we sampled the locally produced apple juice, brioche and biscuits. I think the kids enjoyed this part, and they certainly had their fill of food. I must have ate 10 biscuits…they were fantastic! I even spent the 4 euros to buy a package to take home to Canada.

From Crepon we hopped back on the bus for the short drive to Creully for mass. Too bad we didn’t have time to look around as it looked like a very beautiful little town. The church was called St. Martin, which dates from I believe the 1300’s. Again the church very was nice and it was neat to experience mass in another language. Fr. Martin is originally from the Congo and was very grateful for our visit.

St. Martin, Creully, March 2014.

St. Martin, Creully, March 2014.

Wow, what a long day! So I’m standing here on the street in Paris at 11:00, still dressed in my long sleeve shirt. If you remember we’ve been going since 8:00, so the bed is going to feel great, that is when I get this blog done!

I left my iPad back at the hotel, so I’m trying to do this last part on my iPhone, which is rather interesting. I’ll try to describe the very busy but very exciting last part of our day.

After checking in to the hotel, we trudged the relatively short distance to the RER (light rail) station to head into centre of the city. For the teachers (and Felicity) this was going to be an interesting (and at times stressful) experience. We rehearsed staying in our small groups and how to enter/exit the cars and where we were going.

Our journey would take us from the RER to the Metro, which was even more interesting to enter and exit. We made it in one piece and then proceeded to Notre Dame Basilica for a quick visit. The Basilica is such a beautiful church; I wish we had time to go in.

Notre Dame, March 2014.

Notre Dame, March 2014.

Dinner tonight was at a place called “Flammekeuche,” which serves all you can eat pizzas in the Alsacian style. As on our last visit, we were seated in the basement, which resembles at Medieval dungeon. We gorged ourselves on the awesome food, and then ate more when they brought out the dessert pizzas. The meal was highlighted by a man who arrived and sold roses to anyone who wanted one for 2 euros. I bought one for my wife…I hope she liked it.

Alsacian Pizza, March 2014.

Alsacian Pizza, March 2014.

Flammekeuche, March 2014.

Flammekeuche, March 2014.

We had one more stop before we boarded the bus for hotel. Montmartre is the highest point in Paris and has a beautiful church at the top. It was back on the Metro for the ride, which included a transfer between lines. A bit stressful again, but we got to our destination fairly quickly.

You can take the Funicular up the hill, but most of us decided to take the stairs and work off dinner. It is a heart-pounding, leg-destroying 140+ stairs of agony to the top. I was lathered and winded when I got up there, but that was probably because I tried to race with the kids. The view was spectacular, but we didn’t have much time to look around very much.

Sacre-Coeur Basilica, March 2014.

Sacre-Coeur Basilica, March 2014.

Anyway, we’re still waiting for the bus, but I should go. We have an early morning tomorrow for our last day in Europe. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Europe 2014 Day 7

Day 7 is calm and very foggy. Daylight gives us a much better impression of the chateau and its grounds…stunning! I would definitely come back here if given the opportunity. Before breakfast I had a chance to walk around a bit and it was very beautiful with the fog, trees and the small waterfall. I’m interested to see what it is like when the fog lifts. We are really in the heart of Normandy and it is so pretty and idilic here.

So we are about to leave for the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, which is literally five minutes away. We are so close to the beaches it is amazing. This should be a great day of remembering, exploring and discovery.

We’re back on the bus now, making our way past Arromanches toward the American cemetery behind Omaha beach. Beny was probably the most touching yet, mostly because we had a lot of time to look around. The cemetery holds the remains of over of 2000 Canadians who were killed on or in the weeks after D-Day. It also has the unfortunately distinction of having the most number of brothers buried in any Commonwealth cemetery at 9 (but I counted 11).

For the soldier visits, I gave our students all the sets of brothers to research. Jessica, Brenna and I had the 3 Westlake brothers of Toronto, who were killed serving with the Queen’s Own Rifles and the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. Thomas and Alfred, who were with the Queen’s Own, are buried side by side in the cemetery.

Rflm A. Westlake, March 2014.

Rflm. A. Westlake, March 2014.

Rflm. T. Westlake, March 2014.

Rflm. T. Westlake, March 2014.

Pte. G. Westlake, March 2014.

Pte. G. Westlake, March 2014.

I spent the rest of the time wandering around, reading the headstones and inscriptions. The morning fog provided a surreal atmosphere in the cemetery. As a Canadian I am filled with with pride and honour at the sacrifice of our young men all those years ago. This visit really hit me hard, and as a parent it ripped my heart out to read the inscriptions from mothers and fathers to their children. I cannot even fathom losing one of my boys.

The American cemetery at Omaha beach was an interesting visit. There are over 9,000 US fallen at this site overlooking the beach and is quite massive. I’d never been to an American cemetery before and it has a totally different atmosphere and feel. Even the headstones are very different, though I think that the inscriptions at Commonwealth cemeteries add more of a personal touch.

Omaha Beach Cemetery, March 2014.

Omaha Beach Cemetery, March 2014.

So we’re heading back east now, on our way to Arromanches. This was where Gold Beach was located, along with the British part of the Mulberry Harbour. There is a big museum there with many static outdoor displays of military equipment. This vistas from the cliffs are quite beautiful!

Well, so much for the vistas in Arromanches! The fog is just beginning to lift, so it was hard to see much on the beach. The tide was much farther out than when we were here in 2012, so I was able to walk right down to the Mulberry pieces lying in the sand. It was very neat to be that close.

Mulberry Harbour remains, March 2014.

Mulberry Harbour remains, March 2014.

Lunch was good, though painfully slow. I had waffles with chocolate, white chocolate and whipped cream, while Jo-Anne had crepes. Too bad it took an hour and a half of the two hours we had in the town. I would have liked a little more time to look around and take pictures. Anyway, we’re back on the bus headed toward the Juno Beach Centre.

The visit to the Juno Beach Centre was great, even though I had been there before. Afterwards, we had a little time to look around the on beach, which is officially know as Mike Red Sector, Juno Beach. We then hopped on the bus for the short ride east to Bernieres-sur-Mer. At this location, Nan White Sector, Toronto’s Queen’s Own Rifles landed on June 6. In a matter of 10 minutes the battalion suffered nearly 50% casualties in the dash across the beach. There is a German bunker preserved there and it really gives the students an idea of how far the soldiers had to run to get off the beach.

German bunker at Nan White Sector, Juno Beach, March 2014.

German bunker at Nan White Sector, Juno Beach, March 2014.

We are now on our way back to the chateau; if it wasn’t for the fog it would have been a fantastic day. It was so warm with very little wind and the tides were very low. Dinner will be at 7, so that will give us a little bit of time to look around the grounds and explore the area. I’m not sure what is on the menu for dinner, but I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Well I’m just about out of energy and I think it’s time for bed. Even though we didn’t do a lot of walking, it was certainly a long day and we saw a lot of things. Dinner at the chateau was great and we got a chance to look around the area and get a real sense of what it is like. Tomorrow we have an early morning; a visit to the nearby village of Creuly and then off to mass before we depart for Paris. We probably won’t be checking into the hotel until very late, so it will be another long day.

Chateau du Baffy, March 2014.

Chateau du Baffy, March 2014.

So the next you’ll hear from me I’ll be in Paris and we’ll be on the final leg of the trip. I have to be up at 6:00, so I’m out for now. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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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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