Carihi students and chaperones gather for a group photo in front of the Vimy Ridge memorial in France.

In the footsteps of the fallen

Carihi students tour Europe's battlefields

Thirty-eight Carihi Secondary students and eight adults embarked on the trip of a lifetime to Europe during the spring break.

I was one of those students.

In Berlin, we visited the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. We walked through the main entrance in the footsteps of 65,000 prisoners: men, women and children. We saw their dismal living quarters, their working grounds, and the places they were murdered.

The visit to the concentration camp was shocking, heart-breaking and horrific, yet we walked out saying, “I wish everyone I know was able to see this.”

We had then experienced one of the main themes of the trip: how important it is to remember. Continuing with that theme, that afternoon we visited the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

Our next stop was Amsterdam where we went on a canal tour, bought cheese and wooden shoes, visited the Apeldoorn Palace, and toured Anne Frank’s house.

Walking through the house was such a surreal experience. The pictures she had taped to her wall were still there.

I bought a copy of her diary in the gift shop, reading it and being able to say, “Oh, yeah, I remember that room. I was in that room” is just the strangest and coolest feeling.

It was in Amsterdam where we visited the first cemetery: Groesbeek. Groesbeek was a Canadian cemetery for Second World War soldiers that contained 2,610 headstones.

We then traveled to Brussels, Belgium, home of the United Nations, the international institution established after the Second World War dedicated to ensuring the world would never again experience the pain, suffering and horror of war.

Our next stop was Ypres, Belgium, probably the most emotional experience of the trip. We visited the Tyne Cot cemetery, where we wandered among 11,954 pure white headstones, 8,367 of which are unnamed.

The walls surrounding the cemetery were engraved with the names of 34,887 missing men who fought in the battles for Ypres.

To match an emotional day was an emotional night. We participated in the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate.  At the ceremony, students Chris Eriksen, Brady Fraser and Carly Nightingale laid a wreath on behalf of the Campbell River branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

The next day we travelled to France to visit the Vimy Ridge Memorial. The structure dominated the horizon, visible for many kilometres as we approached; it was one of the most magnificent things I have ever seen.

To be there and know that on the very hill we were standing on – Hill 145 – my great grandfather had fought and helped win one of the most important battles for Canadians and the first Allied victory of the First World War was truly incredible. We stood there on Canadian soil so far from home and silently thanked the fallen.

Once we were in Normandy, we walked along Gold and Juno Beach, where the Allies suffered 120,000 casualties in just a month. Walking in the footsteps of so many soldiers who lost their lives on that very sand was tremendously powerful.

The next day, the Canadian Battlefields portion of our trip was over and we were in Paris. We boated the Seine River by night, toured the city by bus, saw as much of the Louvre as possible in two-and-a-half hours, and of course, went up the Eiffel Tower.

Our 10 days in Europe were more amazing than I ever could have imagined. We embraced our red jackets and were proud to be Canadian. We laughed, cried, learned, and got lost on a train. I will carry those 10 days with me for the rest of my life, and be forever grateful for this experience.

We had some help from local organizations and businesses. Thanks to the Noonday Rotary Club and the Campbell River Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion for financial assistance.

Thanks very much to all the folks at Superstore. Finally, thanks very much to Carrie, Roger and Murray at Tyee Marine for making our trademark jackets very affordable!

If you would also like to experience this adventure, trip organizer Phil Cassidy is planning to conduct another one for adults in April 2012.

For more information, come to a meeting at the Royal Canadian Legion on May 26, at 7 p.m. or e-mail pcassidy64@gmail.com

Written by Carihi student Keely Anderson

 

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