It was a special trip, as both of our grandfathers fought in the world wars of the 20th century. My grandfather fought in the Battle of Ypres in World War I and was left for dead on the field. He was held in a German Prisoner of War camp and was one of the few prisoners exchanged early in the war. Pa (as we called him) was sent to England and then home to Canada. Like many soldiers, he did not talk about the war in the decades that followed. He kept the pain inside. It came forth in his nightmares, and in those, he would cry out.
One of Pa’s eyes was injured in battle, and it was removed. I clearly recall one time as a young child when we visited him on Salt Spring Island. I was being put to bed for a nap. Pa removed his glass eye and placed it in a jar on the table next to where I was to sleep. He told me that it was time for me to go to sleep and that he was watching me! Oh my!
Ted’s grandfather fought in both the battles at Vimy Ridge and at Ypres. Grandad Ritchie (as he was called) was gassed several times and lived with shrapnel through his body. He was a proud soldier and was decorated with medals for bravery. Ted was touched by his willingness to sacrifice his life for others.
As we toured the memorial at Vimy Ridge this year, we saw and walked the “front line.” We looked across the small field to the “other side”. We saw that Vimy Ridge was long (7km) but was in fact a small ridge. I was stunned to realize that the ridge was only 60 meters above the plains! We saw and walked in the remains of the trenches. We saw the huge craters created by bombs detonated underground. We walked through graveyards, row after row of crosses. Our emotions were overwhelming as we reflected on what others had experienced here in battle.
In Ypres, we attended the Last Post Ceremony in Ypres at Menin Gate, held every night at dusk, since 1926 (You can listen here to a service at Menin Gate. And here). We were overwhelmed at the Flanders Museum as we read, tried to learn, and understand the reasons for the wars, and how the wars were fought.
Our experiences at these places were more potent given all the wars that have been fought and are being fought currently around the world.
We asked “Why” and “How” and wondered why it is so difficult for people and countries to learn from past errors. And so, this year, as we gather on Remembrance Day, we are more aware of and grateful for our freedom and more committed to loving.
It was a blessed trip, and indeed a time of Remembrance.
~ Kath and Ted