by Marla Mirand-O’Rourke, Grade 11, Miles Macdonell Collegiate, Winnipeg
The Vimy Ridge experience is unbelievable and every one of us who participated in this ceremony left it with a whole new appreciation for the sacrifices made by the soldiers. No one, not even the teachers can really prepare you for something like this. Teachers can only do so much as to teach you and make sure you know about your history but a teacher could never show you the real wonders of the subject. Studying and reading it is a whole different thing then being there, experiencing the land on which history was made.
When we first got there, we were organized, handed our lunches and our candles, and had an opportunity to buy extra beverages and food items. We then started our march of silence through the village. Each individual school had created a flag before the ceremony. Students were given two soldiers two find information about, then told to write some information about ourselves. Our school was assigned a soldier buried in Vimy and one who was buried in a cemetery in Dury. We each got a square sheet of fabric (green and yellow), that had the maple leaf symbol in the center and were told to write our information on it. We then had a volunteer parent sew all the squares together surrounding piece of cloth with our school logo on it creating our remembrance flag. We walked for 45 minutes through the village, each school holding their flags. While we were walking you could sense the respect from the people who lived there. They had little Canadian flags on their buildings and were standing along the road as we walked along waving and smiling to us. It was a very emotional walk because the silence made you think about and imagine all of those soldiers who fought for freedom, right where you were. It was very hard to believe that it happened 95 years ago.
While we were walking along the paths after the village you could see that they had electrical wires running along the paths near the little forest because they did not know if landmines were still lying there under the grass. It was a scary thought and hard to believe that after all these years a landmine from the war could still rest in its place. The trees near by were beautiful and when you could see the monument in the distance it really hits you, the reality of where you are. I remember during the first ceremony there was this boy from the cadet school that spoke to us and in his speech he said these words that really made it all sink in. ” We are here to pass this torch of fire, but I want to pass a torch of my own. A torch of remembrance from generation to generation. May we always remember”. You could hear every one taking in those words and really letting them sit. No one will be the same leaving that ceremony.
After the ceremony we went for lunch and after that we were able to see the trenches. It was terrifying thinking that 95 years ago young men near my age were running through the trenches where I was now walking. What I couldn’t get over was the completely different reasons we were moving through those trenches. They were running for their lives, each step was a difference between life or death, while I was simply trotting along thinking about how scared they must have been. We weren’t allowed to go to the underground ones because it would have been to dangerous, I wish we could have.
After our walk through the trenches, all the schools gathered in front of the Vimy Memorial to get ready to do our second march to the second ceremony. The monument was much larger then I thought it would be. It towered over us while we waited. The second march was much shorter since we were just marching to the other side of the monument. Once we were there they had many speeches made and a band marched through the crowd. Sadly, by that time rain was coming down hard on us and many of us students were hiding under our umbrellas for shelter. I don’t know if they cut the second ceremony short but it seemed shorter then I thought it would be.
Leaving the Vimy ceremony, it got everyone’s minds going. Wondering about the soldiers who fought, those who fell, and those who will remember.
The following day we visited a cemetery in Dury, where our second soldier lay. It was a small cemetery, a bit of a walk off the side of the road, but it was well worth it. When we walked into the cemetery we all stood in front of our soldier’s graves and had a moment of silence in remembrance of them. As I stood there in front of my soldier’s grave the feeling felt familiar. This soldier’s death reminded me of my mother’s. You can research their deaths, learn the facts and know everything there is to know about them and they are facts nothing more. It doesn’t seem real, or at least it doesn’t phase you; it’s just another death. But once you go up to that cemetery and stand at the foot of the grave, look down and see their names engraved in stone, it hits you. It becomes real and you start asking questions that you know the answers to, and the last question you always seem to ask is, why them? Why did they have to die? I used to think that nothing was more real and devastating then death, but after today I realized that I was wrong. Nothing is more real and devastating then the death of thousands who should have lived.
This Vimy Ridge trip of 2012 has forever changed my life and I will always remember.
As time passes, from ridge to ridge, from flower to flower. In our hearts and in our minds, we will always remember.