Tuesday, 13 March 2018

God keep our land glorious and free!

Maintain peace. Nothing can be gained by warfare. Settle disagreements rather than go to war over them because one war brings on another... 

It was cold, rainy, windy day - a suitable setting for any study of WWI. We began by travelling to the famous Canadian monument at Vimy Ridge to pay our respects to the 11,000 Canadian soldiers who died in WWI and whose bodies were never recovered. We honoured them through the singing of "O Canada" as we overlooked the ridge. The students sang with a renewed sense of conviction.

After exploring the monument and surrounding area, we were split into two groups for guided tours of the trenches and underground tunnels located near the new Visitor Education Centre. These tours were led by Canadian university students and provided us with an inside out look at the warlike conditions of preparing for battle.

We stopped for a grab and go lunch before heading to Beaumont Hamel, the site of the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. This was a tragic day for the British army, including over 700 Newfoundlanders who were senselessly killed in action. We walked through the trenches, across no man's land, past the danger tree, and on towards the cemetery where some of the fallen Newfoundlanders were buried. The caribou monument was a striking reminder of the tragedy that took place in this location.

We made a quick stop at the German cemetery at Fricourt. The black iron crosses marking the graves stood in stark contrast to the white slab grave markers in the British cemeteries. This is the place where the German air ace, The Red Baron, was initially buried. We also made a quick stop at the Lochnagar crater formed from a massive underground explosion set off by the British army prior to the advancement of the troops.

The rest of the day was spent making our way to the Norman city of Caen. It was wonderful to finally feel the warmth of the sun. After a late dinner, we checked into our hotel and looked forward to getting some rest. It was another memorable day of reflection on the tragedy that is war.

From this vast altar-pile the souls of men
sped up to God in countless multitudes;
on this grim cratered ridge they gave their all,
and giving, won
the peace of Heaven and immortality.
Our hearts go out to them in boundless gratitude;
if ours – then God; for his vast charity
all sees, all knows, all comprehends – save bounds,
He had repaid their sacrifice; and we - ?
God help us if we fail to pay our debt
in fullest full and all unstintingly.
               - John Oxenham

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