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European tour a chance for meaningful reflection on Canada’s war history
  • Image of students in front of Buckingham Palace

Each year, an intrepid group of Grade 10 students and staff from Trinity College School cross the Atlantic Ocean to trace the history of Canada’s involvement in times of conflict. The Travel Education course sees the history and English curricula brought to life as students visit sites that illuminate course content. This year’s contingent of 52 students and six chaperones toured Belgium, France and England over 10 days during the March Break.


After landing in Brussels, the journey began at Ypres, Belgium, a site of significant importance in World War I. Canadian troops were moved into Ypres in 1915 in support of the British Expeditionary Force, and the town was all but decimated by German artillery. A stop at Essex Farm Cemetery was a chance to consider the poem, In Flanders Fields, in the location where Lt. Col. John McRae wrote his enduring words. Essex Farm and other Allied cemeteries offered a stark contrast to the group’s next site, Langemark German Cemetery. In this area, German soldiers, many of them teenagers, are laid to rest, including a mass grave of nearly 25,000 young men. 

Returning to Ypres, the group took part in the Last Post ceremony, which takes place every evening, regardless of weather, in memory of soldiers lost in the Great War. Each of the group’s two nights in Ypres, three students were selected to participate in the ceremony by laying a wreath on behalf of TCS. Kennedy D, Greyson R. and Hugh Y. represented TCS the first evening, while Jack S., Sadie M. and Claire T. did so on the second evening. The ceremony is a meaningful one and a great opportunity to reflect on the loss of life – from both sides of the war – that happened in the area.

The final day in Begium, the group visited Hill 60 (so named for its elevation above sea level), the site of intense fighting in World War I. This included bombing both from artillery and landmines, the results of which can still be seen in the hill’s rolling landscape. This stop was followed by a visit to St. Juliaan, where the Brooding Soldier monument stands as a testament to the Canadian soldiers who withstood German gas attacks there in 1915. This was a chance for students to consider the words of Wilfred Owen’s poem, Dulce et Decorum Est, which speaks to the horrors of gas in war. 

A visit to Tyne Cot, the largest British Commonwealth cemetery in the world with headstones stretching on seemingly forever, offered a greater perspective of the human impact of the Great War. The day’s travels concluded at the In Flanders Fields Museum within Cloth Hall in downtown Ypres, a building that was all but destroyed by German artillery but later rebuilt to its former glory. 


Travelling across the border to France, the group made a brief stop at Dud Corner Military Cemetery in Loos, where student Leah W. was able to locate the headstone of a relative who was killed in action at Hill 70. Then it was on to Vimy Ridge National Historic Site, where the group learned more about the key role this battle played in not only bolstering the war effort, but also in building Canada’s national identity. The success of Canadian troops in capturing Vimy Ridge in April 1917 roused a sense of patriotism across our nation, and defined Canada as a separate nation (rather than a part of Britain) in the international sphere. In addition to touring the monument at Vimy, students walked through the preserved trenches, discovering more about actual life on the frontlines of World War I.

Then it was on to Beaumont-Hamel, one of the best-preserved battlefields in the area, where the Newfoundland regiment suffered heavy losses in fighting on July 1, 1916. And, before the group made its way to Amiens, there was time for a final stop at Le Grande Mine, or the Lochnagar Crater, a land feature caused by the explosion of underground mines.

Students awoke the next morning to a surprise. Their tour of Amiens Cathedral would be led by Michael Smith, who had been the tour guide for TCS Travel Education programs over more than two decades prior to his retirement last year. Michael provided amazing insights into the design features of the cathedral. 

A good portion of the day was spent at the coast, exploring Canada’s World War II history. The group began at Dieppe, where Canada experienced some of its heaviest losses of the war, during a failed attempt to recapture the port city from Nazi control in August 1942. Among the stories told was that of TCS alumnus George Percival Schofield, who, despite being mortally wounded at the Battle of Dieppe, was able to continue to encourage and direct his charges during the difficult attack. This allowed students to put a name and history to the face that is carved into a stone water fountain at TCS in the cloisters beneath the dining hall.

This was followed by a stop at Normandy and Juno Beach. The students had the opportunity to descend into the Nazi bunkers and learn more about the powerful Atlantic Wall that defended Nazi-occupied Europe from a naval assault, as well as touring the beach itself, where they heard about the Canadian landing on D-Day.

The final day on the coast was spent touring sites including the Peace Museum in Caen, Arromanches-les-Bains (where Allies created a port through which to land tanks, troops and supplies, the remnants of which still exist) and the German gun batteries at Longues-sur-Mer. Then, the group toured the American cemetery at Omaha Beach, yet another contrast with its row upon row of pristine white crosses. 

Paris was the group’s next stop, a chance to step back from talk of conflict and enjoy being tourists. In between taking in sites including the Paris Opera House, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, as well as taking a cruise along the Seine, students had time to shop and enjoy the many cafes that line the streets of the City of Lights.


New to this year’s trip was the chance to conclude the journey by hopping on the Eurostar and crossing the English Channel via the Chunnel, eventually arriving in London. Students loved touring the restaurants and shops in the Borough Market (including indulging in the latest TikTok trend by sampling the market’s chocolate-covered strawberries), as well as visiting Covent Garden. A tour of the Imperial War Museum provided sobering insights into the Holocaust and the timeline of Nazi aggression during World War II, adding more context and personal stories to complement the students’ reading of MAUS by Art Spiegelman. And students were fascinated by the chance to visit Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms and stand in the space where Churchill lived and conducted the war. 

As the trip concluded and the group prepared for departure, a final wrap-up meeting was a chance to look back on an incredible 10 days in Europe. The students returned home with many wonderful memories, new insights and plenty of photographs! Special thanks to our tour guide, Andy Cameron, and fellow chaperones Tiffany Bathurst, Scott Sanders, Peter Mao and Victoria Stirpe. We are thankful to have had the opportunity to work with all of them.

Click on the links below for multimedia from the trip:

- By David Ingram and Barb Brough, chaperones