Now in its 26th year, the Canadian Battlefields Foundation Study Tour is intended for Canadian university students who want to learn more about the role Canadians played in the liberation of Europe in the World Wars. This year’s tour, led by Professor Geoff Hayes (University of Waterloo), Professor Graham Broad (Kings College), and Professor Scott Sheffield (University of the Fraser Valley) will visit Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge, and the Netherlands and will mark the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe and the Liberation of the Netherlands.
Wow, day #7 already! What an experience this has been for all of us, with so much more to come in the next nine days. We are all very fortunate to have this experience with such knowledgeable leaders and passionate fellow-students.
As you can see from the previous blog posts, we have had very busy days full of visits to WWI monuments and cemeteries. Personally, after dinner it is all I can do just to make it to my bed before falling asleep! So much learning and absorbing has been insightful and educationally inspiring, but we were all feeling some slight burn-out by day #7. Thankfully, today gave us the rest our brains needed to be rearing and ready-to-go as we head into the WWII portion of the tour!
This morning we packed up from our beautiful houses just outside of Albert, Northern France, and started with a stop at a cemetery just outside of Amiens. Our leader, Dr. Marc Miler, is an honorary colonel of the 403 Helicopter Squadron, so we stopped to visit the graves of two members of this squadron, both killed during WWII. From there we drove to Amiens for just over an hour of free time to wander and see the largest cathedral in France!
Another hour and a half drive finally got us to the coastal city of Dieppe. A quick lunch break, and then we headed onto the beach to listen to presentations from Kyle (general overview of the Dieppe Raid) and Haley (focus on the Royal Regiment of Canada’s experience on Blue Beach during the Dieppe Raid). Afterward, Dr. Milner shared with us his thoughts and knowledge on the topics, and then we were right back into the vans and heading into central Dieppe.
We all noticed right away that Dieppe had a key difference from the wide-open country we had become accustomed to: PEOPLE! Dieppe is a very busy tourist town, especially with the upcoming D-Day ceremonies and the fact that yesterday was a French holiday.
We got checked into our hotel and freshened up before walking down to the beach, which is one minute from our hotel! Right away we saw monuments dedicated to the Canadians who died during the Dieppe Raid, some having been erected within the last few years. Surprisingly, the soldier I am doing my presentation on was commemorated on one of the newer monuments. Victor Fredrick Olliffe was a trooper in the 14thCalgary Tank Regiment, and I look forward to sharing his story with the group and honouring his sacrifice tomorrow at the Dieppe cemetery. We listened to a presentation from Jacob (focus on the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry’s experience on Red and White Beach during the Dieppe Raid), and then our wise leaders on the happenings of August 19th, 1942.
Finally, at about 3:30pm, we were set free for the rest of the day! Roaming along the seawall and exploring the city at a leisurely pace gave us the break we all needed. Dinner, then some time spent soaking up the sun on the beach, and its already time to get ready for tomorrow!
Here’s to another nine days of learning, honouring and experiencing.
-Megan Hamilton, Vernon, BC
CBF Day 7 – Longueval to Dieppe:
Only a week so far, this expedition feels much longer – although exactly how long I cannot say. Thiss is not a bad thing! Far from it. I have been very impressed with the amount of high quality content we are covering in the limited time we have available. It has become hard to delineate in my mind which site, monument, or lecture has occurred on which day in particular. Although a rich and rewarding trip, it is been tiring for all involved (the price of adventure I suppose). Today was a very pleasant change of pace and chance for all the rest and recharge before diving headlong into the Second World War portion of our trip. We began the day with a bittersweet farewell to the fantastic breakfasts of our Somme farmhouse and drove to the city of Amiens. Taking a brief detour from the wars, we were in Amiens to view the Cathedral Notre Dame d’Amiens. Constructed between 1220 and 1270 this mediaeval Cathedral is one of the largest and most complete of Europe. I do not think I have the proper words in my vocabulary to accurately describe it. Inspiring would be a start, but no more than a start. From the thousands of carved figures to the soaring ceiling vaults to the immense stained glass windows every part of it defies description. I highly encourage anyone who is reading this to stop what they’re doing and look up the cathedral online. The professional photographs you can find will do far more than my words or personal pictures ever could. Following a tour of the cathedral and an espresso in the square, we boarded up in carried on to the day’s final destination of Dieppe. We began on Puys beach and then carried on to the main landing zones of Red and White beaches for student presentations. Being here on the sweeping pebble beaches backed by towering cliffs it is easy to see why the 19 August raid went so tragically for the men involved. It’s very difficult to imagine such an event occurring on the very ground which we stand. Today Dieppe is veritable seaside paradise with throngs of people walking the waterfront streets or enjoying the warmth of the sun baked rocks. It very nice to see so many people and families enjoying the natural beauty of the landscape despite it’s past tragedies. For us our time in Dieppe is not only educational but also provides us with a much-needed afternoon off to enjoy the seaside. I sit writing this with my hotel windows thrown wide to catch the sea breeze. I believe it is time to put down the pen and enjoy the cool evening air.
Today we visited several different memorial sites connected to the Battle of the Somme (July 1-November 18, 1916), including the Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont-Hamel, Thiepval Memorial, and Courcelette. The whole day was very though-provoking and for me, the Newfoundland Memorial was particularly poignant. Throughout the day the weather shifted back and forth between sunshine and rain, and this was the case during the hour and a half we spent at the Newfoundland Memorial. The park is set in the Somme battlefield and the ground is riddled with the remains of old trenches and shell holes, which gives it an eerie green wave effect. It is a beautiful place but it carries a deep sadness that comes from the knowledge of the massive loss of life that occurred on the pockmarked hill.
The Newfoundland Regiment participated in their first major engagement after being stationed at Gallipoli at the Somme on July 1, 1916. In the short battle the Regiment sustained a nearly 80% casualty rate within the first 20 minutes of the attack, which is why the people of Newfoundland committed to building a memorial, and the whole site is now maintained and run by Parks Canada.
Walking through the quiet site really helps build a clearer idea of what trench warfare and fighting through mud and up and down hills would have been like. Some of the trenches (a mixture of German and British) are still big enough to walk through and it helps to be able to imagine the sense of smallness that many of the soldiers must have felt when they were preparing to cross No Man’s Land and attack the enemy on the other side.
The site is a beautiful memorial to the sacrifices made by the men who fought in the viciously deadly Battle of the Somme during the Great War.
— Haley Kloosterhof