SSNS Home > Senior Years > Curricula 9-12 > Grade 11 > Canadian History > Battlefields Tour > 13 July 2010
We were all in good spirits when we arrived in Paris, and after the usual airport rigmarole headed off to Ypres in two rented vans, Lee driving one and Blake the other. Dan, Debbie, Laura, Peter, Tyler, and I travelled with Blake and his ten-year old son, Ben. It was a hot and muggy day, but the van was air-conditioned, so we had a pleasant journey along the freeway through beautiful rolling countryside that eventually became flatter as we approached our destination. France is a thoroughly modern country, with high speed traffic on excellent highways. The farms all looked prosperous, and as we moved closer to Flanders, they became more Flemish in appearance. We also began to see more military cemeteries that seemed incongruous in this peaceful pastoral setting, but which acted as stark reminders of our purpose in coming to this place.
We entered Ypres from the southwest via the Bailleul Gate, which passes through what remains of the ramparts, defensive fortifications built by the French in the 17th century. Bailleul is not as well known to the tourist as the more famous Menin Gate on the east side of the city, but it was no less impressive to this visitor as it directed us along narrow, cobbled streets and ancient-looking buildings to a central square dominated by the Cloth Hall. This medieval marketplace was an important landmark during World War 1, but little more than a ruin in 1917, when my uncles saw it, and in even worse condition by the time the war ended in 1918. The rebuilding of this old city, much as it had been before the war, is a testament to the enduring optimism and stubborn will of its people.
After we had settled in at the Novotel Hotel, Lee took us out into the square and gave us a brief orientation to what we could expect in the next few days. As he talked, I looked around at the place where my uncles met briefly in October 1917, only days before the elder was killed at Passchendaele. I felt sad, but we were too busy for me to dwell long on that event. After a tour of the Cloth Hall Museum, we spent the afternoon looking around the city. I was able to see the Menin Gate and find my uncle’s name among others of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) honoured there. Later, our group participated in the evening service of remembrance. Because we both had a relative memorialized at the gate, Tyler and I were asked to lay the wreath. It is an extremely moving ceremony, and except during the German occupation of WWII, it has been held every evening since 1928 at 8:00 p.m. sharp. Several hundred people were in attendance, including a girl’s choir from Liverpool. They sang like angels! Afterwards Tyler and Dan told us about the soldiers they had researched, and Blake asked me to speak about my uncle as well. Our debriefing concerning the day’s events took place on the ramparts above the gate; then we were free to go. Later, Trevor and I both went out and took pictures of the square and the Menin Gate. With a little guidance from Trevor, mine actually didn’t look too bad!