Story and photos submitted by Trina Decker, Waitlist Management Coordinator, and Karla Loder
After 18 months of fundraising, our efforts certainly paid off. The 100th anniversary Beaumont Hamel and European Tour was an amazing experience that I wish all Canadians could participate in. I am forever grateful for the financial contribution from corporate sponsors, such as the International Grenfell Association, as well as the tremendous support from our community at large and family and friends. The monies raised allowed 20 cadets and four chaperones to complete the tour and I am so glad that the cadet group allowed myself and Sharon Brushett-Saunders to make the personal commitment to tag along with a few other parents. It was certainly money well spent!
At every place we visited there was beautiful architecture to see, including the beautiful monuments at Vimy Ridge, Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, and the fascinating askew historical buildings in Amsterdam. All of the sights were breathtaking! The purpose of our trip was to provide our cadets with a phenomenal learning experience of the events and sacrifice of the Great Wars, and it was a huge success! The attractions we visited certainly increased our knowledge and recognition of the role that Newfoundland and Canadian troops contributed in those events.
The main item on the agenda was to attend the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, at Beaumont Hamel, France. What a nice surprise to meet up with Dr. William Fitzgerald and Dr. Trudy O’Keefe, who were also in attendance at the ceremony. There were no words to describe how it felt watching our cadets, standing at a place where our fellow Newfoundlanders fought hard and sacrificed everything. It was moving when officers in attendance gave up front row seats to allow our cadets to gain a full experience of the ceremony. Watching Commanding Officer Beverly Scott lead the cadets through the actual trenches down to the gravesite was surreal. It was a startling reminder that 100 years ago, some of the Newfoundland soldiers who fought on these grounds were the same age as some of the cadets. Each stop gave us a snapshot in time of the strategic planning as well as the historical events of the Great Wars.
We visited Vimy Ridge, site of Canada’s largest and most principal overseas war memorial. At the far end of the Vimy Ridge monument, the huge statue of a brooding mother, looking down upon the grave of a soldier, is an emotional reminder of the many mothers and families who have lost loved ones to war. Another monument of the brooding soldier in Ypres, Belgium, stands in memory of the Canadian soldiers who died from the first gas attacks, and is a reminder of the brutality of war.
The war memorial cemeteries reminded us of the sacrificial cost of war. Entering the Tyne Cot Cemetery, in Belgium, was a moment that took my breath away. The cemetery was completely enclosed by a beautiful rock wall and upon entering the gate; one could see first-hand the enormity of the sacrifice that was paid. As far as the eye could see were nearly 12,000 well-manicured graves. Inscripted on the walls were the names of another 35,000 missing soldiers or soldiers with unknown burial sites.
At the Tyne Cot Cemetery, our tour guide made it personal for our group as he passionately told the story of the Newfoundland family who lost both sons in World War I. Standing at a gravesite, we read the letters from the father and heard his requests for information about decorating the grave. After all these years, it is extremely impressive to see the attention to keeping the cemeteries beautiful. Those who have loved ones buried here would be so proud. Each grave is adorned with fresh flowers of reds, purples, orange and shouts life because ‘Their Name Liveth for Evermore’. Here we performed the Last Post and laid a wreath at the gravesite in memory of these two sons.
Another iconic event for our group was participating in laying a wreath at the Last Post at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. Every evening at 8 o’clock sharp, since 1928, the Last Post has been played under the Menin Gate as a ritual expressing the gratitude for the sacrifice of all those who died in Belgium’s countryside in WWI. Again, there are no words to describe what it felt like to watch CO Beverly Scott and our cadets, dressed in uniform, march in procession at the ceremony and have three of the senior cadets lay a wreath. Truly an amazing experience and many memories with my son that I will cherish forever!