SSNS Home > Senior Years > Curricula 9-12 > Grade 11 > Canadian History > Battlefields Tour > 4 August 2010
We set out in the morning on our first adventure. We got out of the underground parking area without incident, circled the roundabout with ease, and set off in an easterly direction along Av Willy Brandt to the Louis Pasteur Freeway. It was so well marked that we easily found Highway A25 and headed west along this route. We planned to turn off at Baillleul, but signs indicated that the exits to that town were closed because of construction, so we turned off at Nieppe where we stopped to get our bearings. Then we proceeded west along a paved secondary road a few km to Bailleul. Once there, we quickly located the British cemetery where my grandfather’s first cousin is buried. Our goal was to do a wax rubbing of his grave marker, but the weather had been unsettled all morning, and it was even raining lightly just before we stopped at Nieppe. I needed have worried. By the time we found the grave, it had begun to clear, the rain had stopped, and the stone was dry. With a little help from my children, we were able to get an acceptable rubbing of the inscription and proceed on our journey.
We made our way north to Locre in Belgium, then turned east to Kemmel, where my Uncle Dick Beaumont was wounded in 1916. It was easy to see why. The enemy was up on the ridge overlooking the Canadian trenches below. My uncle and his friends must have felt like sitting ducks. Kemmel is a quiet little place, with no evidence of war that we could see. We had a picnic lunch there and visited St. Laurentius Church, where we took pictures.
Our next stop was Ypres, which we could see in the distance from Kemmel. The countryside along the way was lush and green, and except for the military cemeteries here and there, nothing indicated the devastation of WWI. Approaching the city from the southwest, we passed through the Bailleul Gate, then followed narrow streets to the central square. After we parked, we went directly to The British Grenadier Bookshop, which is near the Menin Gate. Valerie Bince-Stuart of the Vimy Foundation had suggested we look up its proprietor Steve Douglas, who would be more than happy to help us.
It did not take long to find the shop and introduce ourselves to Steve. What a great guy. Not only did he direct us to the cemetery we wanted to see, but when he found out we were participating in the evening memorial service at the Menin Gate, he also offered us his living quarters back of the shop to change into formal attire! Before we left, he even offered to let us dress up in WWI regalia, so we could take pictures. What a memory! I was deeply touched by the generosity of this transplanted Canadian.
It was now about 4:30 p.m., so we headed for the Menin Road Cemetery, where we did two grave rubbings for Diane Rabel, one of the participants in the Battlefields Tour. Unable to get them in July because of heavy rainfall, she had asked if I could do this for her, and even provided me with a rubbing kit, which we had tested at Bailleul. It was now late afternoon and still cloudy, as we arrived at the Menin Road Cemetery, but the sun was shining brightly by the time we had the rubbings completed.
We then returned to our car and had a bite to eat before setting off again to Steve’s shop. It was 6:40 p.m. and time to change for the evening memorial service. We had a Canadian Legion wreath for the occasion, initially couriered from Canada to my cousin’s home in Lancashire, and then brought with us to France. After we were dressed, we set out for the Menin Gate. We met a Belgium fellow along the way, who told us he had lived in Monckton, New Brunswick, for many years prior to returning to his homeland. Much to our surprise, he recited the “Exhortation” during The Act of Remembrance.
It was gently raining by the time we got to the Menin Gate. As we waited for instructions, people began to gather, and by the time the service started there must have been three hundred people in attendance. My sons and daughter joined me for the wreath-laying, while their mother took pictures. As we stood waiting just below Panel 10, where my uncle’s name is inscribed, I thought about the meaning of the occasion. Nearly 103 years had passed since my uncle was killed at Passchendaele, and this would be the first time that anyone from our family had been at Ypres to honour his sacrifice. It was a deeply emotional few moments.
We were the first to lay our wreath, and I was so proud of my sons and their five-year old sister, who sensed the solemnity of the occasion and acted accordingly. Camera lights were flashing in all directions as that little girl walked up to lay our wreath. Because of the sacrifice of her uncle and soldiers in both great wars, she was free to do so. What a privilege is was to be there.
After the ceremony was over, I heard someone calling my name and turned to see Leanna Darling, who had been one of the participants on the Battlefields Tour. What a surprise! I gave her a big hug (she reminds me of one of my nieces), and she introduced me to her husband Mike. It seemed uncanny that they would come to see the memorial service on the very evening that we had chosen to lay our wreath. On the other hand, maybe it was providence. In a day of many unusual happenings, most of which I haven’t mentioned, it was a lovely way to connect my two visits to Ypres.
After changing into our travel clothes at Steve’s, and Kieran had purchased his WWI bullet, we headed home to Lille. The car seemed to know where it was going. We went along N336 to N58, then to D945, and finally to A25, where we had to use a roundabout to enter the lanes going east. Except for a stop at the railway track just east of Armentières, when a passenger train went by, the trip was like clockwork. I turned onto each new road without hesitation, as if I were being guided along the way. It was amazing. When we reached Lille, I took a right turn off Louis Pasteur Way, descended around a curve and onto a street which merged with Av Willy Brandt, and there was Citadines directly ahead of us. Everything was a blur; it had happened so suddenly. To my utter astonishment, we had made it without a detour or losing our way. All we had left to do was go up to the roundabout, make the turn back onto Av. Willy Brandt and down into our parking area. We were home, after what had been a truly awesome day!