BF 2016: Emotional roller coaster

Battlefield Tour – 2016

26613 Ocdt (IV) Kyra Smith – 9 Squadron –  CSTO

The Battlefield tour offered at RMC is an experience unlike any other. The emotional roller coaster in a foreign country leaves every cadet breathless. Witnessing the fields in person where many Canadians, and other brave soldiers, fought and lost their lives, as well as the plains where they were successful and brought glory to their names, brought about many different emotions.

We began our trip with an overnight flight to Paris, stopping firstly at La Somme, where we visited the battlefield of Beaumont Hamel, and the monument to the Newfoundland Regiment men who lost their lives in this bloody battle. Dr. Coombs, professor of history at RMC, demonstrated the small distance they managed to travel, before being brutally taken down by a machine gun. The trenches were preserved so we could see the line of advancement, and from there we could look just a little further where the machine gunner was situated that gunned down the entire regiment. Dr. Coombs added an emotional element to the visit by recounting a personal testimony detailing the involvement of his distant relatives in this specific battle.

MORE…

From there we visited the Thiepval Monument to the Missing of the Somme. This is where we saw our first cemetery, just beyond the monument. It was a combined cemetery, with both French fallen soldiers as well as Commonwealth. Many of the graves had no name, as their bodies were unrecognizable when they were buried. It was here that we learned the different styles in which the countries honoured their dead. The commonwealth used a white head stone with a cross etched into the stone and their regimental crest at the top; the Canadians had a leaf at the top of the head stone to indicate Canada; and the French used a white cross. We continued to see this type of cemetery throughout all the First and Second World War battlefields. Later that day we found ourselves at the Adanac cemetery, the Canadian cemetery from the First World War.

The day concluded with a visit to ADANAC, we stopped at a couple monuments, specifically the British Armoured Monument, the first battle with armoured vehicles. Here, Maj. (Ret’d) Boire, another history professor from RMC and an ex-armoured officer himself, gathered all of the aspiring Armoured Officers for an armoured-oriented presentation.

The next day, after some much needed shut-eye, the group was ready for the next set of adventures. We began the day at the Mont Saint Eloi, an old abby built in the 1100’s, with ruins still standing today. We stopped at the first German cemetery from the First World War. It was noticeably more modest: the crosses were black and had four names to each one. The most emotional moment was when we found the Jewish head stones in the German cemetery. It was especially heart-wrenching to know that there were Jewish soldiers willing to fight for their country in the First World War, knowing what they endured, and how their country repaid them, during the Second World War.

We then travelled to the actual site of the ridge, where we saw the craters caused by the underground explosives, and the trenches preserved. We were lucky enough to have a beautiful day where we could see across the fields clearly giving us a full panoramic view of Vimy Ridge. We took a quick tour into the underground tunnels where we could see the war from a whole new perspective. After taking a group photo at the Vimy memorial monument, we headed out towards Ypres.

After spending the day at Vimy, the group headed to Ypres to attend a memorial ceremony that occurs every night at 2000 hrs. The ceremony took place at the Porte De Menin, where the people of Ypres gather to pay their respect and recognize the soldiers that fought to liberate them from German oppression. Following the ceremony, the tour group spent the night in Ypres and experienced Belgian culture. The next day was spent visiting the battlefields of Saint Julien, Passchendaele, Amiens, and other various monuments depicting the battles that occurred in certain areas. Following this, the group headed to Dieppe.

The following morning the group got up early to witness the weather conditions that the Allies experienced during the raid on Dieppe in 1942. The group headed outside to the beach front with Dr. Wakelam where he discussed the weather conditions the day of the raid. Following that the group headed back to the hotel to finish up breakfast and prepare for the Dieppe visit.

The day in Dieppe was spent visiting the three main beaches and learning about the failures and mistakes made during the allied raid. The mood of the group was very was somber for most of the day as everyone realized the full extent of the tragedy of that battle. Actually being able to see the ground in person brought the true futility of the hastened British plan into perspective. The beaches were impossible to manouevre, the cliffs held strong gun positions almost impossible to penetrate, and the poor level of coordination which made achieving any objective impossible.

Thursday morning we climbed onto the bus escorted by an enthusiastic Dr. Coombs (photo) , complete with his airborne gear ready to teach us all about D-Day. We began the day learning about the airborne regiments and operations supporting the beach landing. We first visited Varaville, where approximately 20 paratroopers from 1 Can Para managed to force 89 German troops to surrender. After a couple more stops, we found ourselves at Pegasus Bridge, one of the most impressive feats from the Second World War. The paratroopers there managed to land their gliders with an exceptional accuracy of 200 meters from their objective, and successfully over take and gain control of the bridge. There we saw a model of the gliders that were used as well as the original bridge.

Following lunch we went to see Juno beach, where we all collected rocks as souvenirs. After spending some time walking up and down the beach, we moved down to the artificial habour created to allow reinforcements and supplies in order to contribute to the war effort against the Germans.

We then headed back to the hotel, making a stop at a Second World War airfield, where Dr. Wakelam emphasized the importance of air power during the Second World War.

Once we covered the D-Day landings we moved on to cover the in land battles. The first stop of the day consisted of the Abbey in Ardenne where we learned about the tragedy of the many Allied soldiers that were executed by the German Soldiers. The Abbey was emotional for the entire group as we learned about each soldiers fate and the horrific crimes that were committed. We paid our respects then moved on to learn about the major operations conducted by the allies in order to drive the Axis forces out of Normandy. The day concluded with a group photo at the Tiger VI monument where Dr. Boire thanked the group for participating in the tour and also summarized what we had learned over the last week and what we should take away from it.

Our last day in Europe was spent in Paris, exploring the city and seeing the touristic side of France. Before being set free, we received a quick bus tour of Paris, where we were directed to all the major attractions, and some brief history of the city by our very own Dr. Boire. We then boarded the planes for home. The battlefield tour was incredibly eye-opening and brought into (sometimes harsh) reality the lessons we have been taught here in history class at RMC.

A special thank you to the many donors to the RMC Foundation which helped a great deal in making  this trip possible.