Yesterday, after months of anticipation, we finally saw the highlight of our trip: the Vimy Memorial. We arrived at the site of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the morning, and had a tour around the tunnels used by the canadian soliders. It was fascinating to explore the passages in which they lived, and to see what they’d have seen in those last days leading up to the attack. After that, we visited the monument itself. It truly defies description. Imposing, awe-inspiring, symbolic, spiritual and beautiful are all words that but echo the essence of the majestic monument. Not only was the structure itself breathtaking, but the feeling of being there, where the Canadians fought, died and were victorious, was incredible. After wandering around for a while, we had a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the base of the monument. There was a reading of the Youth Committment to Remember and a wreath-laying. At the end, Mollie played a beautiful piece on her violin that sent us all into tears. We all received our Vimy Pilgrimage Medals, sang O Canada and then had a group hug. More tears ensued. We then left Vimy to see cemeteries, such as the one where John Kipling is buried, and a major German cemetery containing the graves of 200,000 men. We also visited the Ring of Remembrance and Notre Dame de Lorette. In the evening, we returned to Vimy to see the memorial lit up at night.
Today was mainly a day on the road as we drove to Bernieres and Juno Beach. We did stop in a few cemeteries and Aspen, Rachel, Gab and I did our soldier presentations. Here is the poem, entitled » Flowerdew » that I wrote in honour of my solider, Captain G. M. Flowerdew.
Were they cannons he saw?
But no, they only seemed so to his eyes.
(Horses shied and nickered)
They were not cannons
In the woods of Northern France, in the midst of the Great War, he led them.
Through the trees whose very leaves crackled with fear, he led them.
Into the open field, he led them.
And there stood the others
With the weapons that were not cannons.
It would have been better if they had been cannons.
To retreat would mean destruction, to attack would death…
And he ordered the charge, and forward they galloped.
And down they fell like flowers in a hailstorm.
But it was not a hailstorm they rode into.
It would have been better if it had been a hailstorm.
But the others fell too, and soon they fell back.
Thus it was he stopped them, thus Paris was saved once again.
And thus he was wounded unto death,
Death who came to claim him the next morning.
Today I stand before him.
This is what I tell him –
(It is your eyes that get to me
And the way you loved your horses
And that you were an orchardist
Either way, most of your men would die
With a kind of hopeless courage
A desperate bravery
They say there is no glory in war
But is not laying down your life for your friends
Sacrificing your all for a higher cause
A different kind of
You led a cavalry charge against machine guns.
In the face of their endless bullets, you brandished swords.
« It’s a charge boys, it’s a charge! »
(They were not cannons)
In the evening, we walked down to Juno Beach and wandered around, wading into the cold Atlantic water and remembering the soldiers who had fought and died on that very sand so that we could enjoy it in peace. It was a tranquil, fitting end to our long day.