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Europe 2019 Day 8

Europe 2019 Day 8

Good morning kids. Ya, my usual wit escapes me right now, so nothing smart or clever to say this morning. I thought I got enough sleep, but it was hard to get going after the alarm. I don’t know, maybe there was more time sitting on the bus than in previous days and we were up half an hour earlier than usual, but that shouldn’t matter. I could be just old, but then again the young people on the trip are also tired. So I’m just going to say we all suck and that should cover it.

Alright, so what’s the schedule for today Dave? Well, let me enlighten you shall I? Haha, I guess that was fairly clever for 630 wasn’t it? Clever, sarcastic…it really depends on your perspective right? Okay, I know, I know, get to the point. So we’re obviously in Caen, about 20km from Juno Beach, which is the objective for today. Did you see what I did there? Today’s “objective,” since we’re going to Juno Beach…I know you chuckled, or rolled your eyes. Anyway, we’ll be visiting the Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, the Juno Beach Centre, Bernieres-sur-Mer and Saint Aubin-sur-Mer before leaving for Paris.

One of the best things is that we’re supposed to see the sun. Yes! The forecast calls for +14C and mostly sunny, though very windy again. That should be interesting given the fact that we’re going to be on the English Channel, which is typically windy on a good day. I predict an interesting visit and some messy hair again…but not for me!

Okay, so we’re on our way to Paris. I know the kids are super excited to visit the city of lights. I myself much prefer the quaint, rolling countryside of Normandy. But that’s just me. It’s about 250km, so we have some time to relax on the bus. Yesterday the kids were a little messy, so the “Heinzelmänchen” or little dwarves of German folklore had to come out at night to tidy things up.

As I mentioned, our first stop was at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery. The cemetery contains the remains of over 2,000 Canadians killed on D-Day or in the weeks following. Unlike Groesbeek, we didn’t assign the students individual soldiers, but rather we gave them a list of graves they could visit. The cemetery has a very notoriety in that there are 9 sets of brothers buried there, such as the Westlake and Branton brothers.

After a a brief prayer service, we spent about 40 minutes wandering amongst the graves. However many times I go, these cemeteries are still so sad. Today though, there was an air of serenity at Beny; the birds were chirping, it was windy but sun trying to come out. It like God was trying to thank us for honouring the sacrifice of these young Canadians all those years ago. One of the graves I made a point of visiting, was that of Rifleman Sulo Alanen, a member of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles who was killed in action on July 5th, 1944. Alanen was born in Nolalu, and I know his nephew, which made it very personal.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

From there it was a short drive to the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer, where we had a 10:00 appointment. We actually received a full tour, which I did not experience in my three previous visits. It began outside, where we were brought through two German bunkers, one a command bunker and the other a observation bunker. It was neat to see some new things and get the full explanation. Once that was done we moved inside for a visit to the museum. Having been there before, I raced outside and walked a short distance east, to Graye-sur-Mer where there was a tank memorial and another bunker, known as Cosy’s Bunker, captured by 10 Platoon, B Company, RWR. This area of Juno Beach is known as Mike Red Sector.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Cosy’s Bunker, Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Cosy’s Bunker, Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Juno Beach Centre, March 2019.

Once everyone was through the museum, we had another short drive, this time to the east. Our destination was Bernières-sur-Mer, or Nan White Sector. Here the Queen’s Own Rifles landed, and took very heavy casualties in the process. Their efforts are commemorated at Canada House, the first place captured by Canadian troops that day. Just to the east is a preserved German bunker, which caused many of the QOR’s casualties.

Canada House, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan White Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan White Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Another short drive east brought us to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, the eastern most part of Juno known as Nan Red. New Brunswick’s North Shore Regiment landed here, supported by tanks of the Fort Garry Horse. There is another German bunker at Saint-Aubin, complete with the 50mm gun that knocked out several tanks on D-Day before it was silenced. After a short visit to the beach, we paused a for a quick lunch. My croque monsieur was awesome!

Nan Red Sector, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan Red Sector, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

One of the great things about today was the weather. Eventually the sun came out, the clouds disappeared and it was gorgeous. Obviously, it was a little cooler by the English Channel, but it was still +15C…a heat wave! Now, on the road to Paris, it’s up to 18. With the sun and the balmy temperatures, you know what that meant. Well, I guess you wouldn’t know because I didn’t say anything about it, so I’m telling you now. Warm temps=shorts weather. So let me explain the background to this, as it is a going joke. All I normally wear on these trips are convertible plants; they are not the epitome of high fashion, but they are comfy and I love them. On past trips, when it gets warm, I’ve unzipped the bottoms and rocked the shorts. Therefore, with all the cold weather I have been waiting patiently for an opportunity to unzip and today I got it. Vive le shorts!

Enjoying the heat, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Okay, so we’re finally back at the hotel just before 11:00. What a long day! We arrived at our hotel at 5:00 and we had enough time to get to our rooms, freshen up quick and head to the RER (train) station at La Rueil-Malmaison. I always get a bit anxious riding the Paris public transportation, simply because it is so busy compared to other places. However, it is a good life lesson for the kids. Anyway, from the RER we transferred to the Metro to take us to our dinner destination. Our meal was at “Le Saulnier,” which consisted of a cheese pastry, beef bourgeon with potatoes and a puff pastry for dessert.

Afterwards, we were back on the Metro to go to Montmartre, and the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. The were a few hectic moments, as the Metro was packed with people, but we made it okay. Montmartre is a hill in Paris, and the church is illuminated at night. It is quite the climb up the stairs to the top, which leaves your legs burning and rubbery when you’re done. The view is spectacular from the hill, and the kids really enjoyed it. From there, it was back on the Metro and RER to the hotel.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica, March 2019.

Paris, March 2019.

 

Anyway, It’s time to turn in soon. I’m pooped! We have another busy day planned, our last day, which will keep us hopping. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 7

Day 7 boys and girls. Yes, I’m a little more awake today, but barely. I still feel like I’ve been run over by a dump truck, but at least I got some sleep. The key is to be so comatose that you blackout the moment your head hits the pillow; I’m not sure if that is good or bad. We’ll see how tonight goes for a full scientific assessment.

Okay, we’re on the bus, heading toward Normandy. It’s another beautiful morning and it should be a relatively nice in the Calvados region. This is the point where, for the most part, we switch emphasis on the tour. So far we have been visiting sites associated with World War I, but today and tomorrow we will be focussing on World War II. We also see more of the French countryside, and Normandy is a particularly scenic place.

So after two hours of driving and a mandated 45 minute stop, we’re back on the road. We pulled into a Shell Station east of Rouen literally 5 minutes before a bunch of other buses showed up. What fortuitous timing! However, it does make you realize how many other groups are doing the same thing you are. With 260+ EF groups, I would imagine that there are quite a number doing the Beaches & Battlefields Tour; Arromanches is going to be overrun by Canadian teenagers today!

Gas station selfie, April 2017.

We’re back on the bus after a get on get off day. We rolled into Arromanches just after 1300 and made our way down to the main strip just behind the beach. Arromanches is a pretty little town, maybe a little too commercialized, but nice nonetheless. On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, it was the site of the Gold Beach, which was assaulted by the British 50th Division. Once it was secure, engineers began construction on the Mulberry, one of two artificial harbours created by the Allies to land supplies. Reminants of the concrete sections are still visible in water, but unfortunately the tide was too high for us to walk out for up close visit.

Myself and Ms. Caza wandered around to some of shops and picked up a few things for our kids. I’m sure the food and souvenir retails made a killing with all the Canadians wandering around. After just over an hour in the town, we hopped on to the bus for a short 5 minute (well, we did get lost, so it was more like 15 minutes) ride to a theatre to watch a short 360 degree movie on the Normandy Campaign. It was a well done film.

Arromanches, April 2017.

Arromanches, April 2017.

From Arromanches we drove 45 minutes to the southeast, past the city of Caen to the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery. It’s one of the two Canadian cemerties in Normandy, and contains the graves of over 2900 Canadians, mostly killed fighting in July and August 1944. We held our usual prayer service at the Cross of Sacrifice, and then proceeded to visit the graves of our assigned soldiers. We decided to have the kids visit those belonging to the Lake Superior Regiment, which was from the Lakehead. Today, it is perpetuated by the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment, which I served in during my teens.

Compared to our stop at Tyne Cot, this was a much more intimate and personal visit. Save for a couple of other people, we were the only ones there; it is certainly a sad and lonely place. However, the very act of remembrance that the students carried out brought life to the sadness, for it is through our youth that their memory lives on. The students were very moved by the cemeteries. I find the WWII cemeteries much more personal as most of the graves are identified and bear family inscriptions. They convey, in words, the immense loss and sorrow felt by the families of

 

those that fell. They cut very deep and I always get emotional, as were many of the kids. It is so unfortunate that many of the mothers, fathers, spouses and children of those interred at Bretteville were never able to mourn their loss in person.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

In about 40 minutes we’ll arrive in Honfleur, our last destination of the day. It is located northeast of Caen, just up the Channel coast. It’s a small fishing town of approximately 8100 people, but apparently very picturesque. We are for sure going for a quick visit tomorrow and maybe even tonight. We’ll see how things go once we finish dinner.

Dinner tonight at our hotel in Honfleur was fantastic. They faked us out a bit first by bringing salad and some quiche; we thought that was it. However, they rolled out a full plate of roasted chicken and potatoes as a second course, which were awesome. It was by far the best meal on the trip so far. The hotel is quite interesting, more like a motel, with the doors opening out in a dual-building, two-storey configuration. We were a bit worried about how we would keep the kids contained, but they seem to be respecting the boundaries so far. We did a room check and many are already prepped for bed. They know tomorrow will be another busy day, with visits to Honfleur, Juno Beach and our transfer to Paris.

Well, it’s time to turn in. We are not leaving as early as we have been the last few days, but I’d to get up well before the kids so I can shave. My hair is starting to look a little hippyish. The wifi here in Honfleur is decent, so I’m hoping it’s just as good in Paris, so I should be back tomorrow with more news and photos. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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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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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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