This year, traveling all across Europe, students from Mother Teresa, St. Mark, St. Francis Xavier, St. Pius X, Holy Trinity and St. Paul high schools had an experience like no other. They visited the countries of Italy, Switzerland, France and Belgium. You may ask yourself, why did these students go on such a trip? Well, it was for the 95th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and to commemorate what the Canadian soldiers did for us and to remember how they sacrificed themselves.Check out photos from the trip at vimy2012.blogspot.ca
We began our tour of Europe in Milan, Italy. Arriving at the airport, we were picked up by our bus driver, Tony, and we drove straight to our hotel, arriving just in time for dinner at a town called Lido di Jesolo. The next day we woke up bright and early for a day in Venice. We watched a glass bowing demonstration in Murano and went to St. Mark’s Square, as well as taking a gondola ride through the canals. The trip continued as we began our drive to Switzerland. On our way we made time to stop in Verona, Italy; which is the home of Juliet’s balcony and a Roman arena from the 1st century AD. We arrived in Switzerland later that day and had the time to relax and enjoy the scenery of the hills, mountains and a lake nearby. Leaving Switzerland the next day, Tony drove us to Bern’s train station and we took a train to Geneva and the TGV (Europe’s fastest train) to Paris, France. We visited the Notre Dame Cathedral and then arrived at the hotel. The next day we had a tour of Paris; we visited places like the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, the Champs Elysee, the Latin district and of course the Louvre Museum. We literally managed to see Paris in a day!
The trip continued with the group traveling to Normandy and Dieppe. We visited many museums, such as the D-day museum in Arromanches. We also went to the Juno center at Juno Beach, where many Canadian soldiers landed. As a group we toured the museum and made our way to the beach. Standing on the beach, made us realize how real this battle was. As a group we took the rocks on the ground and spelt out “thank you” on a part of the beach. We went to a cemetery that day, where over 2,000 Canadian soldiers were buried and we paid them our respects. The next day on our way to the Vimy area, we stopped in Dieppe, which Canadians have a long history with because they liberated Dieppe during the war. Stopping there made us as students realize how much of an impact the Canadian soldiers had not only on us, but on the people there. We were greeted very warmly and some even thanked us for what our soldiers did all those years ago.
The next was a day packed with sites. We visited the Tyne Cot Cemetery (largest Commonwealth Cemetery), the Passchendaele Museum, with a visit of reconstructed dugouts, the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial, St Julien's memorial, Hill 62 Sanctuary Wood cemetery and Canadian Memorial Talbot House( soldier's club, where the soldiers could get some peaceful time in between battles). We arrived in the town of Ypres later that afternoon and attended the last post at Menin’s Gate, which occurs every day at 8pm. This was the gate that most of the Allied soldiers would walk through on their way to the battlefield, and over 5,000 names of soldier’s whose bodies were never found are engraved on to the walls. Being at this ceremony and seeing all the names on the walls was surreal, it truly had an impact on all of us.
The next day was April 9th, the day of the ceremony at Vimy Ridge. We began our day by visiting the museum of Wellington Quarry in Arras. The tunnels were used by the Allied army during the battle of Vimy Ridge. As a group we visited the tunnels, and then went to a workshop to create a wooden cross to place on the grave of the soldier we had researched for the trip. We attended a private Explorica ceremony at the Quarry and His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, and His Right Honourable Steven Blany, Minister of Veterans Affairs of Canada participated. At the end of the very touching ceremony, we all traveled to the Vimy site. It was very rainy, but we did not give up. We made our way to Cemetery No. 2, and placed the crosses at our soldier’s grave. All the students then gathered behind the monument and marched out to the front of it at the beginning of the ceremony. We then attended the 2 hour Ceremony of Remembrance and by the end of it, despite being soaking wet, we were truly honoured to have been a part of something so beautiful. The ceremony truly showed how we were all there to remember the young soldiers who died for peace and for freedom.
This trip was meant to remember the Canadian soldiers who gave up their lives so many years ago for us. But we ended up experiencing so much more. We were able to remember those who had lost their lives, visit their grave sites, and of course honor their memories, but it didn’t end there. We were able to see landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa, experience the different cultures of all the countries, but most importantly the trip brought many of us together as friends. The memories of everything on the trip, whether funny, sad or something else entirely, will stay with all of us forever. As will the knowledge that we had the honour of being a part of a Remembrance Ceremony like the one for the 95th Anniversary of Vimy Ridge.