Students and staff found the Vimy Ridge Monument to be stunning for its size and design, especially on the occasion of our visit, when it was bathed in a golden glow of sunshine. To stand in the shadow of its stature was to be overwhelmed by emotion. As well, the three NJC students whose parents are stationed in Europe as members of Canada’s Department of National Defence were invited to lay a wreath. Their involvement provided a special connection to the trip for everyone.
Remembrance Day itself began at the Menin Gate in Ypres, where thousands gathered to honour the dead and pay tribute to the legacy of their sacrifice. Official representatives from England, France, The United States, and Canada were present, as was Crown Prince William of The Netherlands. Marching bands and military ensembles paraded down the main street, with people lined ten-deep along the route, wearing flag pins from numerous nations. Several Neuchâtel students managed to squeeze right up front near the Gate, displaying their Canadian colours through hats, mittens and scarves. During the minute of silence, no sound but the wind could be heard. It was extremely evocative.
Over the course of the day, visits to several war cemeteries left NJC participants feeling solemn, and also extremely proud to be Canadian. At Vancouver Corner, a monument to soldiers from British Columbia who gave their lives in World War I, four students from that province laid a wreath. A further memorable moment came when, under the shadow of the monument, known as the Brooding Soldier, the whole group was preparing to sing O’ Canada and suddenly was joined by a marching band that happened to be in the region touring various sites. That rendition of the anthem was particularly special – spirited, heartfelt and inspired.
Beyond learning about the history of the war, the group also explored Bruges, which is a world-class tourist destination. Students and staff toured the medieval downtown via boat, horse drawn carriage and Segway! In the evening, they ate traditional fare served by friendly waiters in cozy restaurants. One highlight of the first evening was the presence of thousands of soccer fans from Newcastle, England who had traversed the channel to cheer on their team. They watched the game on large monitors in the main square, singing, carousing and, fortunately, behaving. It was a pleasure to observe – from a distance!
From the moving service at the Menin Gate, to the informative talks by the guide, to the exhilarating Segway tour along the cobblestone streets of Bruges, this was one trip that NJC won’t soon forget!
Ian Esquivel, English Teacher and Christine, Class of 2013
November 11th, 2012