Juno75 Student Pilgrimage – Day 1&2: Ypres and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

| July 6, 2019

Follow along as our amazing students reflect on their travels each day!

Natalie Mubalama – Ottawa, ON

Aujourd’hui, le 5 juillet 2019, nous avons eu une journée assez chargée. Nous avons commencé par visiter le cimetière de la ferme d’Essex en mémoire du docteur John McCrae. Notre visite à cet endroit s’est avéré très touchant puisque nous sommes entré dans les endroits où il soignait les soldats. Il y avait plusieurs croix et drapeaux canadiens en la mémoire des soldats qu’y ont péris à cet endroit. Par la suite, nous sommes allé à l’endroit où la première bataille canadienne s’est produite. Les explications de Scott m’ont vraiment permise de m’imaginer le combat mené par les troupes canadiennes malgré les attaques de gaz. Le monument le plus touchant d’après moi était notre visite au Tyne Cot cemetery. Aller à cet endroit m’a vraiment fait réaliser le nombre de combattants qui n’ont pas pu avoir de Pierre tombale et/ou qui n’ont pas de nom. Penser à tous ses sacrifices c’est une chose mais voir le nombre de morts de cette manière est beaucoup plus touchant. Les tombent s’étendait de kilomètres en kilomètres et plusieurs autres soldats n’ont pas été encore trouvés. C’était ma partie préféré de la journée.

Morgan Dutchak – Dauphin, MB

Today was an eventful day. First, we traveled by bus to Essex Farm Memorial, from which inspired the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae. We then went to the Brooding Soldier, which was a beautiful and evoking monument. After that, we went to Tyne Cot Cemetery. At first, you couldn’t tell how many graves there was, but when we entered I was blown away. I loved how well maintained the cemetery was. I was thinking about what a beautiful and peaceful place it was, and how it is a perfect final resting place for all the soldiers buried there. Then we went to the Hill 62 Memorial. I was thinking about how I read about these places in history textbooks or online, and how it’s such a different experience being there in person. After that, we went to Sanctuary Wood Hill 62 Museum, where we were able to look at the trenches. Even though it was nice out, there were still some parts that were muddy, and I can’t imagine how depressing it would be to spend a week in there with bad weather and rats. Lastly, we went to the CWGC Experience, which was my favourite part. I love yard work, and thought that maintaining these sites would be a very honourable and rewarding job. That sums up everything we did today, which was jam packed and exciting.

Haileigh Macleod – Halifax, NS

This morning started off really well, we drove around Ypres on the bus and stopped around at several important sites such as Essex Farm Cemetery, saw the Brooding Soldier, Tyne Cot, Passchendaele, and Hill 62.

It was really eye opening to see the places that I read about in text books and as we were looking around at the graves, paying our respects, I started to think about how this is just the beginning of the trip and there are so many sites like these that we have yet to see, and so many more we won’t.

It was especially interesting to see where Dr John McCrae worked and was inspired to write his famous poem “In Flanders Fields”.

After we saw the graves, we got the chance to see where they were made at the CommonWealth Wealth Grave Commission. It was super cool with an interactive solo tour and explained a lot of what we saw today.

Francesca Lepore – Coquitlam, BC

Today the Juno Beach Pilgrimage went to a variety of different cemeteries. This includes the Essex Farm Memorial and the Tyne Cot Cemetery. I was extremely impressed with how well kept the cemeteries are. The landscaping and graves are all kept in pristine condition. Therefore, implying how valued the soldiers contributions are to the citizens of Ypres.  After visiting the cemeteries, we went to the Commonwealth War Graves Commision. This museum explained nine different aspects of how the cemeteries are maintained. The self guided tour started with a touching video on the inspiration behind the up-keeping of cemeteries. The museum took us through the entire process of maintaining the graves and facilities were soldiers lay at rest in a variety of different counties. I was surprised at how extensive the staff is for the up-keeping of the cemeteries and I value all of the work they do. The very clean and well kept landscape is due to the staffs dedication to keeping the cemeteries clean. I appreciate how much respect and care goes into the maintenance of the cemeteries were soldiers have fought for our freedom.

Erin Susla – Oakville, ON

The past two days have been amazing! It has made me look forward to the rest of the trip even more. Shortly after landing in Brussels we traveled to Ieper/Ypres. I then attended The Last Post Ceremony which we learned is put on every day by the locals. There commitment to remembrance of the soldiers that gave up their lives is truly inspiring. It shows the impact of the war and how the soldier’s efforts affected countless lives. The following day after a good night’s sleep we visited multiple memorial sites and cemeteries. One that was particularly important to me was the Passchendaele Memorial. My great-great-granduncle, Harvey J. Lynes fought and was wounded in the Passchendaele battle. It is hard to think that while he was able to return home so many more were unable to. All these places taught me the mass sacrifices made and how important it is to remember these soilders, many of which were around the same age as myself.

Courtney Decker – Strasbourg, SK

The group landed in Brussels, Belgium. I was exhausted, but excited and ready to go. We travelled to Ypres, Belgium where we had the opportunity to tour the In Flanders Fields museum. This museum was about the First World War. There was information about all aspects of the war and how it impacted different people and what happened during that time. I was struck by the effects on the civilian population in the area. I watched a short video about a refugee from Belgium who had to go to France. He was saying that they were told that they might not be able to go back home. He was very upset by this. One of the only things he had left was a walking stick. On the stick he had carved the names of the places he had stayed in. He was moving again soon and was hoping that he could keep his walking stick. This man was just one story out of all the civilians in Europe. I started thinking more about the civilian population and what that would have been like.

Another event of the day was the nightly ceremony at Menin Gate in Ypres. I was moved by this ceremony. It was very short and consisted of the last post and laying wreaths. Afterwards we were able to walk around the gate. As I was walking up the stairs to the wreaths I could see many more layed down in remembrance as well as small poppies and crosses sitting by the wall. I was touched by how many care and want to continue to remember and commemorate those who served in the war. I was also shocked and saddened by how many names were listed all over the gate. I can’t imagine that many people in one place. Knowing that they all lost their lives in such terrible ways is horrific and hard to think about. I am glad I was given the opportunity to be there to remember and commemorate those lives.

Nick de Gier – Ponoka, AB

It is really quite surreal to watch life go on as usual in Flanders. Farmers tend to their cattle and cars dart between houses left, right, and centre. It seems as if the war never happened. I can hardly imagine what this must have looked like by 1918. It seems all too peaceful. Nonetheless, remembrance is also a part of life. Every evening Ieper (Ypres) shuts down in respect for the fallen. The hundreds of well-kept cemeteries testify to the pervasiveness of war. Tyne Cot alone bears more than ten thousand tombstones and thirty thousand names. It is difficult to look at such cemeteries as more than statistics when you see the enormity of the slaughter. And yet, it is absolutely vital to remember that each name has a family and a story. It undoubtedly a story of sacrifice, but today’s pilgrimage to the Ypres Salient makes clearer than ever the presence of sacrifice.

Alyssa Mason – Winnipeg, MB

We’ve spent the last 2 days exploring Belgium and just arrived in France today. I’ve never been to Europe so I was very excited to come. We visited the Flanders Field Museum in Belgium and I thought it was very interesting. Our group visited the Essex Farm where John McCrae wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” which I thought was very fascinating. We also visited many war cemeteries and looked at a specific headstone of a 15 year old boy who died. I find it very devastating to know that someone younger than me was killed at such an early age. Later on we drove to France and explored a bit, we haven’t seen much of France so I’m excited to see more of it the next few days!

Joel Beaudoin – Falher, AB

Yesterday we arrived in Brussels after a long flight from Canada. While waiting in the airport, I saw policemen with assault rifles patrolling the airport that is something very different that you definitely would not see back in our own country. We then headed out to explore the Belgium city of Ypres, which was torn apart and flattened during the Great War. In Ypres there was The In Flanders Field Museum and I was amazed at the amount of World War 1 artefacts it contained. Specifically I really enjoyed looking at all of Commonwealth, British, German, and French uniforms. After the self-guided Museum tour, I explored part Ypres. Me and Joshua found a nice little souvenir shop call the British Grenadier bookshop, they sold mostly World War 1 artefacts and war related books as well! After making a few purchases we then attended the Menin Gate ceremony. The next day we spent a lot of time in the morning exploring many different cemeteries and monuments. One of these was the impressive Tyne Cot Cemetery, which was the final resting place for nearly 12,000 Commonwealth soldiers. Seeing first-hand all of the graves and also the Memorial Wall with its 35,000 names, left a deep impression on me.I’m really excited to go visit to Vimy Ridge and Dieppe tomorrow!

Max Redmond – Vancouver, BC

On the second day of our trip. We started our day extremely early. I ended up waking up at 5:30 in the morning after finally awakening I made my way down to the hotels restaurant and enjoyed a very nice breakfast buffet. After that it was straight onto the bus throughout the day we visited lots of memorials and graveyards but out of all the places we went on the second day I would have to say my favourite was the tyn cot cemetery the huge graveyard really made me reflect on the massive loss of life during the first word war. I felt grateful for all the people that put their lives on the line for our freedom. After visiting the tyn cot cemetery we made our way to our second hotel where we settled down for the night. 

Jayde Marcoux – Toronto, ON

Today we went to go see multiple cemeteries and monuments. First we went to the Essex Farm Memorial where we were all saddened to see the gravestone of the youngest Commonwealth soldier who was just 15 years old. Second, we went to see the Brooding Soldier Monument which was made to commemorate the Canadian soldier who fought in the second Battle of Ypres during which the first gas attack was used. Third, we went to see a monument commemorating Canadian soldiers for their part in the battle for Passchendaele. Fourth we went to Hill 62 were we got to see the original trenches and even walk in them to experience a little of what the soldiers experienced. Lastly we went to the Commonwealth War Cemetery Commission’s headquarters were we took a tour to see how they make the gravestones and upkeep the different cemeteries and monuments. It was a packed full day of humbling sights that remind us to not take our freedom for granted, to remind us of the cost.

Elisha Davidson-Yee – Surrey, BC

Today we had the chance to take a tour through the workshops of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. As we walked around the museum, we learned about 9 different aspects of the creation and the uptake of the graves and cemeteries.

At the beginning of the self-guided visit, we sat down and watched a video explaining the Commission’s motivation and contribution. I found it very interesting to learn about all the different aspects that go towards the final result. As the Juno75 Pilgrimage visited two cemeteries today; the Essex Farm Memorial and the Tyne Cot Cemetery, I was able to see some of the sites that the Commission works so hard to take care of. They were very beautiful and I was so impressed with all the work and effort that is put into the up-keep of them, and it was so interesting to see all the behind the scenes work. Knowing how much all these soldiers have sacrificed, it puts me at ease knowing their honour is so respected. 

Alexandra McColgan – Pointe-Claire, QC

Yesterday after a two hour drive from the airport, we arrived in the beautiful city of Ypres. We started our European adventure by exploring the Flanders Field museum and later discovering the market. We all quickly fell in love with the city and its breathtaking views, amazing culture and tasty food. We ended the wonderful night by attending the Last Post ceremony which was extremely moving. Today after visiting multiple memorials and museums, we made our way to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and learned about how they maintain and built their numerous cemeteries. We first learned about the CGWC when we were finding information for our research project about a fallen soldier. After entering the building, we immediately commenced our self guided tour of the visitors center. We learned about all the carpentry, blacksmithing and upkeeping of the grounds it takes to keep the prestigious cemeteries pristine.

Emma Marie Blackburn – Ottawa, ON

Today, July 5th, was centred around viewing Canada and other Commonwealth Countries’ role in battles in Belgium during World War 1. From the Essex Farm Memorial, where John MacCrae wrote the famous Flanders Fields, to grave making workshops, today really showed the care that goes into retelling soldiers stories and remembering their actions more than 100 years later. Specifically interesting to me, though, was the Hill 62 museum, especially because of the maintained trenches and the story behind it. When a Belgian farmer returned home, he did not rebuild his land but rather preserved the trenches for future generations to experience. In my opinion, it was a really eye opening experience to see the way the men at the front lines had to live. This was clearly not easy; the trenches were not tall, so the men had to crouch to avoid gunfire, and the tunnels connecting various locations were easily flooded, dark, and cold – even now. As this is only the second day, I’m eagerly awaiting to further my understanding of these men’s sacrifices and their time here in France.

Aidan Sander – Lethbridge, AB

Although only having had experienced a small portion of the youth pilgrimage at the time, I knew the playing of the ‘Last Post’ at Menin gate would remain a very impactful portion of the experience for me. Something I deeply respected was the historical significance of the memorial service. Having been played at the gate since  1928, the ‘Last Post’ ceremony has become a quotidian tradition among the locals of the region. The ceremony is a way through which the Belgium community both recognizes and respects the sacrifices made by allied soldiers during the Battle of the Ypres. What I found most impressive about this commemorative piece was the determination and commitment exhibited by the Belgian people in how they have never refrained, apart from the four-year German control Ypres, from holding the this memorial service each evening at 8:00 PM. Furthermore, I find the fact that they involve the greater global community in the form of student groups particularly meaningful considering the international body of soldiers that formed the British and commonwealth force at Menin Gate.

Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at jbca@junobeach.org.

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