It was an early start this morning for what turned out to be a very emotional day. We met our driver, Franky, this morning in Lille, and then we came to Belgium. Our first stop of the day was Essex Farm Cemetery, which is where John McCrae’s dressing station was located, and it was here he penned In Flanders Fields. Aspen gave a great presentation on McCrae, and then we got to do our first soldier presentation when Palma found her soldier. There were not many dry eyes when we left the cemetery, and the silence that permeated the bus when we got back on 45 minutes after we got off of it actually spoke volumes. I do not remember ever having a group be so profoundly moved by the first cemetery visit, and it was an indication of what the rest of the day would be like.
We went on to visit three more cemeteries: Gavin gave a very moving military tribute to his soldier, Cailtin found her godmother’s great-uncle, and Mollie found her soldier on Menin Gate. The stories and tributes to these fallen men were all incredibly heartfelt and beautiful, and again, many were moved to tears. It was so wonderful to see the kids supporting each other, not only in the rubbing of the headstones by holding papers (and umbrellas over the headstone when it started to rain) but also emotionally. This group is already completely cohesive and it was evident that they already « get it » and we’re really only on the first day in the cemeteries. It is truly an honour for all of us to be able to work with these wonderful youth.
Our day concluded at Menin Gate, where the group formed the honour guard at the Last Post Ceremony while representatives from our three nations – Thomas from Canada, Alice from the UK and Nicholas from France – laid a wreath on our behalf. I think it was a very moving ceremony for most of the kids, judging from the comments and discussion tonight.
We were back at the hostel early enough to have a game of soccer, which was a great way to end the day as it was a good physical release of the emotions felt today.
Mollie and Thomas both blogged tonight so I know they can say all of what they were feeling far more eloquently than I can, so I am turning this blog over to them now!
Within the narrow confines of a paragraph it is often difficult to sum up events of great emotional impact and profound personal feeling. The same can also be said for the most complex essay written by the most eloquent author. In fact, it is often the simplest events and words that convey the most meaning, and thus provide us with the most memorable and emotional experience. Today, I had the honour and the privilege to participate in a simple ceremony that has provided me with a most profound emotional impact, greater than that provided by any textbook. Surrounded by the names of thousands of young men whose bodies were never recovered, two other prize winners and myself placed a wreath in front of a crowd of hundreds of veterans and ordinary civilians. This simple action gave me a first hand indication of the sacrifice of war, and the lengths that many are willing to take to ensure that the sacrifice endured by those who died is never forgotten. I found it encouraging and touching to see people of many different nations and backgrounds uniting to remember those, whose bodies have been forever lost beneath the muddy fields of Belgium and France. It has reminded me that it is up to us, the new generation, to take up the torch and preserve the memory of these brave young men. I will never forget this experience, and I feel truly honoured to have been given this incredible opportunity. ~ Thomas
This year’s group of BVP winners and chaperones are truly wonderful and passionate people and as much as I knew, and have certainly found this, in our correspondence before actually meeting and in our days spent together in England it was not until today that it hit me how indescribably fortunate I am to be a part of this. Today, our first day in the beautiful country of Belgium, we began by visiting a few of the many vast cemeteries of WW1 dead. Knowledgable and aware as we are of the enormity of the catastrophe and tragedy of this war we have learned so much about, walking through the rows upon rows, the neat headstones and graceful flowers that stand for those who lived through such horror, died in such suffering and annihilation, a great quiet, a deep thought and contemplation came over us. We saw those of our age and younger who had given their lives, grew too fast into men, and then far too rapidly were gone, extinguished forever. We read the inscriptions of loved ones left behind in this cruel world, desperate and clinging to the chance to send one last message, express all their love and despair in the limited space of a headstone. We touched the crests of our nations, felt pride grow, and then the sorrow that swept us up, tore families and ripped love, and the loss that consumed and twisted our histories, our presents and our futures. For us, I believe, with all the world ahead of us, it was all those futures, those gifts, and those could have beens and those unfound joys and passions that these men had taken away from them, that hit us the most. We live in a better world because of them and today we learned how truly blessed and grateful we are. Because of these experiences, already so early in the trip, the war for us has changed. We far, far better understand and with the loved ones, with the orphans, with the lost, together we cried and along with them, that is something we will never forget. ~ Mollie