By Tina Comeau
For a group of Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School students, not only are they counting down the days until they are given the opportunity of a lifetime to study history, they’re also trying to put into perspective the fact that they will be making history at the same time.
A dozen YCMHS students are among the thousands of students from across the country who are preparing to take part in the Vimy Ridge National Student Remembrance Tour being organized by EF Education Tours.
On April 7 the Yarmouth high students and their chaperones will depart on a trip that will see more than 4,000 Canadian students gather in France to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
For YCMHS student Jen d’Eon, no other school trip she could have gone on would be as meaningful as she says this one will be.
“When they did the presentation and I saw it I said that is my trip, that screams what I want to do because I am in sea cadets and the Memorial Club so it’s really up my alley to do anything for veterans,” says the student, who in the past has volunteered at Veterans Place.
In April 1917, Canadian troops were sent to capture Vimy Ridge, which was occupied by the Germans. Similar attempts by the allies had failed. It took days of heavy combat and around 3,600 Canadian soldiers died with thousands more injured. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was considered Canada’s defining moment during the First World War.
Students will visit six countries during the trip: France, the Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. In addition to Vimy Ridge, some of the many sites and places they will visit will include the Eiffel Tower, Berlin, the Louvre Museum, Anne Frank’s house, the Jewish History Museum, Brandenburg Gate and Auschwitz. They will also walk through the trenches where Canadian soldiers fought.
Student Taylor Kini says she wanted to go on this trip because of family connections she has to the war. Her grandfather’s step-father was in the war and it was something her grandfather would always talk about. Because her grandfather has passed away, it made her want to make this trip even more.
Student Braedon MacDonald also already feels a real connection to the trip.
“I really like history so that’s the main thing of why I want to go, but also, my dad, he was born in Germany so I was hoping to go over and see where he was from,” says the student. “Although we’re not going to the exact spot, we’re still going to Germany.”
Student Katherine Ogden will be filing a daily blog for a Royal Canadian Legion magazine during the trip. Yarmouth high school was one of a half-dozen of the 95 schools taking part in the tour that was asked to have a student record their perspectives during the trip for the magazine.
As part of the Vimy Ridge remembrance tour, students will each honour two First World War soldiers who are buried at Vimy Ridge. The students will have researched these soldiers to find out more about their backgrounds and personal stories. The students have small flags with the Canadian Maple Leaf emblem that they will write the names of the soldiers on. Each of these flag patches will be sewn into one large flag that the students will carry as they march on Vimy Ridge.
Among the chaperones travelling with the students are their teachers Wally and Sarah Fiander. Sarah Fiander says while the students understand that they are part of a unique experience, the true meaning of the trip won’t hit them until they are actually overseas experiencing it. It was somewhat the same feeling when she traveled to Vimy Ridge months ago as part of a training session for the teachers who are accompanying the students.
“When you actually get out of the bus and you’re standing there in front of the Vimy monument, I was just taken aback. It’s massive and it’s so quiet,” she says.
Wally Fiander, her husband, says it is also difficult to put into words how you feel when you see the rows and rows of white crosses that mark the graves of fallen soldiers.
“As far as the eye could see, all you could see was white crosses,” he says. “And then as you got closer you realized that every cross was for four men.”