European tour illuminates war history and literature

Canadian National Vimy Memorial

As has become a Trinity College School tradition over the March Break, 39 Grade 10 students in the Canadian History/English Travel Education program packed their bags and headed across the Atlantic Ocean to study our country’s involvement in both the First and Second World Wars.

The group landed in Brussels, Belgium, on March 9th and immediately headed to the town of Ypres by way of motor coach. Ypres is a beautiful medieval town that became a hotly contested area during the First World War. As part of the Schlieffen Plan, the German Army tried to push through Belgium in an attempt to bypass the French Army and move directly into Paris without much opposition. The Belgian Army, eventually supported by the French and British, were not keen on this and resisted the Germans, and this ultimately meant that much of the nasty trench warfare that happened in the First World War happened in Belgium in and around the town of Ypres.

Though weary and jet-lagged, the group began touring right away and visited the Canadian monument at St. Juliaan. It was at this site that poison gas was first used by the Germans on the Western Front during the Second Battle of Ypres, in April 1915. From there, the group continued on to the Langemark German Cemetery, only five minutes away. The cemetery offers a vastly different look at honouring the dead. As the Belgians were uninterested in giving vast amounts of land to the Germans for cemeteries, the Langemark Cemetery became the final resting place of nearly 40,000 soldiers. At the entrance of the cemetery is a mass grave of 25,000 soldiers, a shocking prospect that all were forced to contemplate.

Following the visits, we returned to the main square in Ypres for dinner and then marched out, as a group, to the Menin Gate for the nightly Last Post ceremony. Over the course of two visits on consecutive nights, six TCS students were able to participate in the ceremony, laying a wreath on behalf of the School.

The following day was much of the same with visits to Essex Farm Cemetery, where John McCrae wrote the poem In Flanders Fields; Hill 60, the site of significant tunneling in the Great War; and Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest British Commonwealth cemetery in the world. The day was also pulled together with a visit to the In Flanders Fields museum located in the infamous Ypres Cloth Hall.

Following Belgium the group moved on to France, with initial stops at Vimy Ridge and Beaumont-Hamel before settling for the night in Amiens, France. The weather was spectacular and the students spent significant time touring the tunnels and trenches at Vimy before a meaningful visit to the monument itself. Beaumont Hamel is equally interesting, the site of the failed attack by the Newfoundland Regiment during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The battlefield remains untouched and is one of the most solemn sites in the entire Somme valley.

From Amiens, the group travelled to the coast of France, initially stopping in the town of Dieppe where the students learned about the failed Canadian assault there in 1942. The students were able to walk on the rocky beach and think of the treacherous landings that happened on the morning of the battle. The group also visited the Canadian Park, slightly removed from the beach itself.

After a break for lunch, the group continued on to Caen, France, where students continued to learn about the Second World War. Caen was the Canadian objective following the D-Day attacks and served as a perfect place to stay while visiting the area. While in Normandy, the group made several relevant visits including stops at the majestic American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, the German Gun Batteries at Longues-sur-Mer, Juno Beach and the Caen Peace Museum. The spectacular weather only complemented several amazing visits in and around Caen.

From Normandy, we moved on to Paris to take a break from studying and to become tourists in the beautiful city. It was a full two days as the group stopped at many of the spectacular sites the city has to offer. Time was spent with the artists in Montmartre and marching from Notre Dame to the Arc de Triomphe, passing the Louvres, the Tuileries Gardens and the Place de la Concorde en route. The group did the full Eiffel Tower ascent, too, before finishing our Parisian stop.

From Paris, the group flew to Krakow, Poland. The visit to Krakow is one of the most anticipated and dreaded for everyone on the trip. While downtown Krakow is spectacular, the purpose of the visit to Poland is to visit the Auschwitz Concentration Camp located an hour outside of Krakow. The visit to Auschwitz is always difficult to process but does force the students to spend time giving conscious thought to some of the atrocities that were committed during the Second World War. It was a poignant, emotional, moving and educational visit and though none of the students ever want to return, all were thankful to have had the opportunity to visit and remember.

The trip was spectacular. While the sites are always thought-provoking and engaging, the people on the trip helped make the trip as special as it was. The students were outstanding ambassadors for their school and for their respective countries, and the staff and chaperones were incredibly helpful throughout the trip. It was a trip to remember!

Click on the links below for photos from the trip:

- By Mr. David Ingram, chaperone