One student, 18-year-old Hayley Frail, presented her account of the trip at the North Queens Heritage House in Caledonia Aug. 17.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a two-part series ‘The Weight of History.’ The first part appeared on the cover of the Aug. 30 issue of The Queens County Advance.)
“This part of the trip was obviously a very intense part, not only because of what it meant, but also because of the security aspect of getting there,” said Frail.
The group stood on the side of a dirt road for four hours. Following the wait, Frail was at Vimy Ridge for about two hours. A number of dignitaries, including the Canadian prime minister, French prime minister, and princes, gave speeches.
“We also learned quite a bit because they had some great little tents and booths set up to teach you about Vimy,” Frail said.
A couple of days after the initial visit, the North Queens group was able to return to Vimy Ridge.
“One of the things they did at Vimy was they had boots on display,” said Frail.
There was a pair of boots that had been worn by a soldier for every Canadian soldier that died on Vimy Ridge.
“We actually got to bring home a pair for the school,” said Frail.
The boots the students brought back will be displayed in a glass case at North Queens Community School. Each school group took a pair home.
Following the visit to Vimy Ridge, the group visited Beaumont Hamel.
There were 800 men in the Newfoundland Regiment. The Battle of the Somme was on July 1, 1916.
“Within a couple of hours, the Newfoundland Regiment went from 800 men to 63 men,” said Frail.
Students took a half hour tour of the site.
“They took us through one of the trenches,” said Frail. “They told us all about what had happened there and why it had happened.”
The tour ends at what is called the Danger Tree.
“You have to imagine that on the morning of July 1, 1916, it isn’t a nice little meadow; it’s dirt and it’s rainy and it’s wet and it’s not an inviting place to be,” said Frail.
The only sign of life when the Newfoundland Regiment was there that day, said Frail, was the Danger Tree. It’s called the Danger Tree because most people died near that line and crawled toward the tree.
“That is the note that they end you on during this tour,” Frail said.
After the Danger Tree, the group walked over to a statue of a caribou that represents the Newfoundland Regiment. The reason for the caribou, said Frail, is because when a predator approaches a herd, the herd doesn’t divide. The caribou standing at Beaumont Hamel is facing one that stands in Newfoundland.
After that tour, students and chaperones were debriefing, and that’s when Julie Ramey, a teacher at North Queens Community School, looked at the students and said, “These tiny villages where men would have come from in Newfoundland are not a whole lot different from Caledonia now because they knew everybody. You’re related to a lot of people within your community or, if you’re not, you act like you are because you’ve been so close for your whole lives.”
Ramey then asked students to imagine all the guys – brothers, cousins, and best friends – at North Queens Community School going to the other side of the world and never returning.
Frail said everyone stood quietly for a moment thinking about the gravity. It didn’t take long for tears to fall. And that’s where they stood for about half an hour, said Frail.
Once you put yourself in that kind of scenario, said Frail, “it just floods your mind, and you can’t think about anything else.”
That was the moment for Frail when what had happened became real.
“That’s the part that will stay with a lot of us, I think,” said Frail. “And it’s the part that a lot of kids in my generation and the younger generation need to really understand about what happened over there because we can’t let it happen again.”