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

May 26th 2019

We all safely landed in Paris a little after 9 this morning. Once the team got through customs and baggage claim, and we finally secured the rental vans, we were heard towards our destination.

Once arrived in Ypres at approximately 3:30pm, the team leads (Jérémie and Marc) and a small group of students, including myself, set off on a 2.6 km walk towards the landmark that is the Essex Farm Cemetery. This is the historic location where in 1915, Canadian Major John McCrae wrote ‘In Flanders Field’. As we walked the grounds we saw WWI bunkers and monuments dedicated to those who fought.

After we paid our respects, we followed the canal back to the Ypres town square. Here we took in the amazing architecture. The gothic/neo-gothic cathedral is without a doubt a highlight of the city! The cathedral is also home to the Ypres cloth hall and the In Flanders Museum, which we will be seeing tomorrow. Today I learned that most of Ypres beautiful historic buildings had to be reconstructed/rebuilt after the war had desolated the area. The damage was so extensive that they didn’t even have trees to build telephone poles, that’s why most of them are made of concrete.

So the first day in Belgium has definitely been fulfilling and well-rounded. I look forward to the rest of the trip in hopes that it will continue to amaze me. On a side note, I also hope we see many more dogs along our journey!

Sophie Cyr

Sunday May 26: Travelling to Ypres

Today we continued our journey on the CBF battlefield tour.  Our day began with arriving at Toronto Pearson Airport from all different areas of Canada.  We all gathered as a group and boarded our plane to Charles de Gaulle.  The flight went by fast, and by 9:00 am (Paris time) we had landed and were ready to continue on with our next journey of the day.  We waited for our rental cars, and once we had received them at about 12:30 pm we split into two groups and began the drive.  We were headed to Ypres for our first stop.  Along the way, around 1:30 pm, we made a quick stop at a rest stop and all grabbed something to have for lunch.  On our drive we were able to view a couple of different land marks and learn about them.  One of these was the location for the Battle of Amiens, and another being where the Canadians attacked on April 1917.  After driving through small towns we reached our final destinations for the day, Ypres.  While travelling in Ypres, Belgium, we are staying at the Hotel O Ieper.  We all paired up and found our rooms to prepare for the next part of the day.  At 6:00 pm we all met in the lobby of our Hotel and went out for dinner.  To end off the day we took a quick walk around the area near our hotel.  We were able to walk by a couple of local sites, including the In Flanders Fields Museum.  We then headed to bed to prepare for our journey tomorrow.

— Alysha McGuinness