Today we visited quite a lot of cemeteries and memorials. When we woke, after taking a look at the day’s itinerary, we already knew that it was going to be an emotionally challenging day, much like yesterday. Personally, I am already extremely overwhelmed by this trip – more than I really ever thought I’d be. I do not, however, consider this a negative thing, because I know this means I’m truly understanding what I’m seeing. I know all of my fellow scholars feel like this as well.
Topics like processing and comprehending everything we’re seeing have been very consistent in conversation throughout today and yesterday. For me, one main thing that has stood out through this intensive, outstanding program is how clearly I’m able to just see the evidence of sacrifice. More simply put, the first time you enter a memorial, battlefield, or cemetery, it’s sincerely impossible not to become emotional. You are filled with a haunting feeling that confuses you. All our lives, each of us have been made aware of the staggering numbers of casualties both wars created, but when you just hear a number, it’s more simple to accept. When you witness all of these real live places, however, being accepting and comprehensive is one of the hardest things I as a human have experienced.
For instance, this morning we went through Passchendaele cemetery, and as I entered I nearly lost the strength to stand. This sounds so funny, but when you walk by thousands of white, neatly-arranged graves, that is when you…get it. You get the loss, the sacrifice, the feeling that all these young people who gave their lives for you are here.
Seeing the cemeteries, however, as hard as it may be, is also comforting in a way. Each time we visit one, I am filled with a lot of conflicting feelings, but one that really does surface is that of sheer relief. This is because we as Vimy Foundation ambassadors all share this common need to have all these soldiers’ lives remembered. I possibly think it may be because of the empathy we’ve gained through researching one each. Whatever reason this may be for, we all are exceptionally comforted when we see these garden-like graveyards, and that’s one thing I feel so proud of. It could not be done without the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which is something I’m incredibly supportive of.
This may come across as a jumble of thoughts and feelings, but that’s because to me, that’s what it is! I’m experiencing so much, and I can’t wait to see what comes next on this adventure, whether what it is brings about joy, anger, devastation, or a multitude of each.