A Day To Remember

I must say, I am very impressed with the CBF tour so far. From the expert knowledge of the guides to the quality of presentations from the students, it has been an informative and moving experience. Today we visited a few significant Great War sites. We started the day with our second Newfoundland caribou memorial which is in Gueudecourt. Being born in Newfoundland and having the majority of my family still there, it was emotionally moving to be there and to know that the men are remembered in a positive light, and in such a beautiful space to top it off. To me, the caribou memorials represent the eternal life of the Dominion, and I’m sure they would be happy to know they are remembered in such a way.

We visited numerous sites, but apart from the Newfoundland Regiment memorial, the two that stand out are the French cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette and the Vimy Ridge memorial. Notre Dame de Lorette was even more impressive than the Thiepval memorial both in terms of stature and emotional evocativeness. The Byzantine church had me in awe. The mosaics, colour pallets, inscribed names, and quietness of the church were all very moving. The Ossuary was also particularly moving. The ashes of Auschwitz survivors alongside the remains of French veterans from various conflicts in an open viewing style was extremely humbling and made me contemplate about the ease of life in general in the West over the past 60 or so years. For me, the best way to remember those who fell so we might live is to live a full and satisfying life with them in mind. Their sacrifice is not in vain.

Vimy Ridge was more than I ever could have imagined, both in terms of stature and beauty. I found a Sheppard (my last name) on the list and although I do not know whether he was a family member or distant relative, it was emotional to see. From the memorial, we went into the Grange Tunnel, a tunnel used by the Canadians to attack the German positions at Vimy Ridge. I’m slightly claustrophobic, and being in there was unnerving, to say the least. It made me think of the soldiers who might have also been claustrophobic and how emotionally and mentally taxing it would have been to have to sit there and wait for the call to rush out. Finally, at Vimy Ridge, we saw the observation trenches of both the Canadians and the Germans which were only 25 metres apart, separated by massive mine craters. If you coughed the other side would have heard you. The constant stress of close proximity to the enemy would be a taxing experience as well. On the whole, Vimy Ridge, to me, is an astounding visual experience and testament to the Canadian fighting experience and capability.

I want to finish by thanking the CBF for having me on the trip and showing the entire group the important history of our country and countrymen and women.



Experiencing Battlefields in Person

This small tree at Beaumont Hamel marks the furthest point the soldiers of the Newfoundland 1st Regiment managed to reach, and the end of my two minute walk

Today’s battlefield experiences drove home the reality of the cost in human lives that movement forward could cost in the First World War.  At Beaumont Hamel we were able to re-trace some of the steps of the Newfoundland 1st Regiment as they attempted to break through German lines. In a walk that took about two minutes at a leisurely pace, I crossed the ground where 86% of the regiment fell in one morning.  Of 800 soldiers who set out on the assault, only 68 remained by the end of the day.  Reading those numbers on paper could only begin to help me comprehend the sacrifices that were made on that day; the numbers are difficult to visualize. Walking along their route through the shell-pocked landscape between the two ridges from which they were bombarded with sniper fire made these soldiers’ experiences more comprehensible, while at the same time making their level of determination.

We had a similar experience when Mark Symons presented his research on the Canadian struggle to take Regina Trench.  Their attack over a ridge that seemed small on topographic maps became much more daunting when seen in person, reshaping our understanding of the three attempts it took the Canadians to reach their objective.

I also had an opportunity to speak about my passion for medical history.  The field ambulances attached to the 2nd Canadian Division as they took the village of Courcelette on the Somme demonstrated amazing perseverance in their largely successful task of evacuating wounded soldiers through three days of intense fighting and mud.  The 4th Canadian Field Ambulance took in a record 1,624 wounded men on the September 15, 1916 and managed to continue transporting them despite the loss of their horse and motor ambulances. The organisation of an efficient system took time to develop through the Great War, but provides a strong example of the benefits of the accepting input from the Medical Corps in planning military operations.

Emily Engbers, Kings University College, London Ontario

Day Three: The Ypres Salient

Day three of our CBF adventure has been marked by a vast array of emotions and experiences. On the one hand, our group of 12 students and two guides have enjoyed periods of raucous laughter or quiet giggles, all while frantically trying to remember each other’s names. On the other hand, though, today we travelled around the Ypres Salient, visiting cemeteries and battlefields alike, and those somber moments were punctuated by feelings of deep sadness, great respect, and eternal gratitude. Seeing the Canadian monument at St. Julien, the thousands upon thousands of headstones at Tyne Cot, the actual ridges that dictates the Battle of Passchendaele, the craters at the Hill 60 Memorial Park and more, all had, I think, an incredible impact on the whole group. These are the events that we have studied and learned, and still, the sites themselves are always the most powerful class-rooms. A moment that particularly stood out for me was at a small Commonwealth Cemetary near Mount Sorrel, in which we wandered for nearly 30 minutes, reading through the headstones. The British headstones usually bear the epigraph “Known Unto God”; Canadian headstones, though, have varying quotations-some are biblical quotes, some are Shakespeare, some have nothing, and some have messages. In a far corner, is the headstone of Private John McGunigal, of the 49th Canadian Battalion. His words read: “Just a though of sweet remembrance, by Mother.” In moments like this, when visiting cemetery after cemetery and seeing name after name, it’s entirely possible, and almost easy, to forget, or ignore, that these were real people, and that the families they left behind were forever changed by their sacrifice. In future, whenever I feel close to forgetting that fact, I hope that I’ll think of Private McGunigal and his Mother, and remember.

— Cora Jackson

Day 3 – Ypres

Today marked the third day of our adventure and it was packed full of locations, sights, and experiences. We started off the day by visiting St. Julien then went on to see Langemark, Hill 60 and 62, Passchendaele, Tyne Cot Cemetery, and a few small cemeteries as well. I think the moment from today that is sticking out most in my mind is Tyne Cot Cemetery. The sheer size and number of the fallen soldiers located just in the cemetery, and also the names on the walls, carried a heavy toll on me emotionally. With nearly 12,000 dead and of those 8,300 unidentified it gave a true idea of how extensive the loss of life was for the Ypres Salient – and the Great War as a whole as well. One of the more awe-inspiring moments was seeing the craters at Hill 62 and the Caterpillar. It’s one thing to hear stories of the sheer force of shells, bombs, and other forces of artillery, but to physically see the massive size of the craters was definitely a humbling experience. It was interesting to go to the Langemark cemetery as one of our first stops of the day, being that we had just came from a Canadian memorial and then moved onto a German one. There was a deep amount of respect present at the gravesite, and it also gave us a chance to see the war from the point of view of the Germans. One of the plagues describing the fallen at the location, explained how the fallen became part of the Langemark myth: a heroic attack made by young soldiers, who died for the country, with the national anthem on their lips. The soliders who came from Germany were doing as they were told, as were the Allies, so it was a new side to the story of the Great War that I hadn’t considered as much when I was in the classroom.

Ellen Dombowsky