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Une expérience inoubliable – Battlefield Tour 2016 – Life changing experience

 Battlefield Tour 2016: Cadet Journals

These Journals were written by a number of cadets, and collected and put together by OCdt Jamie Doucette.

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 Click on photos and itinerary pages for better viewing

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“After grabbing some grub and a beer at a local bar, we headed back to the hotel to catch some much needed Z’s in order to tackle the next day of the Tour.”

26555 OCdt Alex Beaulieu

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« Le fait qu’un cimetière allemand soit en France aide à croire que malgré toute cette violence, l’homme est bon».

26432 Élof Marie-Élaine Bernier

 

“By being on the ground and seeing the rows of graves, I believe I can speak for the group in saying that it was a truly breathtaking and humbling experience.”

26711 OCdt Josh Horlings

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“This trip has strengthened my feeling of pride and purpose in our Canadian Armed Forces and I am thoroughly excited to graduate next year and begin my service.”

26840 NCdt Mackenzie Labrecque

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“Despite visiting these important locations, it was on this day that I began to see the change in warfare from the grinding attrition of WW1, to the objective-oriented manoeuvre warfare seen in WW2.”

26653 OCdt Michael Cherry

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«Cette étape avait comme but de nous faire voir et comprendre les batailles qui eurent lieu suite au débarquement de Normandie».

26964 Élof Alexandre Palardy

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“I never knew when I would be able to see Paris, but I am glad I was able to witness it with my best friends while finishing off the most enriching experience thus far in my life.”

26554 OCdt Brittany Germain

**

“The Battlefield Tour is a trip I wish every Cadet at RMCC had the chance to participate in. Learning about the First and Second World Wars in a classroom and learning about them standing on the battlefields are two entirely different experiences.”

26572 OCdt Jamie Doucette

MORE / plus…

13 February 2016: Deployment

26572 OCdt Jamie Doucette

On today’s itinerary:

Bus RMCC to YUL Airport in Montreal

Fly YUL to CDG Airport in Paris

            For many of us at RMCC, military history in the family is a significant reason for enrolling in the CAF. Traveling overseas to see first-hand where some of those family members may have fought and died is something very few have the chance to do. The Battlefield Tour gives Cadets that opportunity.

            Starting on the first Wednesday back after the Christmas holidays and each Wednesday thereafter, the Tour group met to learn about the battles we would put into some perspective in a few short weeks. We had some sombre moments as well as some humourous moments at these preparatory meetings, but nothing could fully prepare us for the experience. We left Kingston’s bitter cold on Saturday, 13 Feb in the early afternoon. The trip to Paris was long and not particularly stimulating – but arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport, we were ready to get a move on.

            On the peninsula, the Battlefield Tour is widely known as a first-rate trip. As the next group to head to France and Belgium, we heard many stories about how wonderful past Tours had been. The diary installments to follow will shed some light on this year’s experience.

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14 February 2016: The Somme

26555 OCdt Alex Beaulieu

On today’s itinerary:

The Somme Valley

Newfoundland Monument at Beaumont-Hamel

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing

British Tank Corps Memorial at Pozières

Royal 22nd Regiment Memorial at Courcelette

ADANAC Cemetery

Overnight in Arras, France

Battlefield Tour 2016 started out fast and furious after landing in Paris. We quickly rendezvoused, gathered all necessary equipment and embarked for the first stop of the tour: Beaumont-Hamel. There lies the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s Memorial Site, perched on top of a mound. In the past, the group was able to climb to the top in order to get a better view and understanding of the battleground; however, it was closed off during our visit for construction purposes. Even so, remnants of the trenches and craters were still very much visible. Dr. Howard Coombs gave an excellent depiction of what occurred during the battle, including what happened to the Newfoundlanders. He also offered personal anecdotes, having ancestors that participated in the battle. We ended the visit at the museum located on site in order to get an even better understanding of what happened to Canadians that day.

We departed Beaumont-Hamel and set out for our next stop: Thiepval. Along the way, we drove by various memorials dedicated to those fought at the Somme. We visited the Thiepval Monument and the gravesite located behind it with various French and Commonwealth Soldiers’ tombs. The winds howled through the monument, reminding me of the great sacrifice that took place. The monument is dedicated to the Missing of the Somme.

There were three more stops after Thiepval. The next was Pozières, where we visited the Monument of British Armour – the first tank battle. After that, we visited the ADANAC Cemetery and were given a chance to understand the contribution that Canada had made to the war and the amount of soldiers’ lives lost. Finally, we visited the Lochnagar Mine Crater Memorial to get a better understanding of mining warfare and the devastation it could bring to a battlefield. A number of us actually entered the crater along with Dr. Coombs in order to get a greater sense of how deep the crater actually was. I was mesmerized by how deep it was.

After a long day of travelling and touring the various battle sites of the Somme, we spent the night in the city of Arras at the Mercure Hotel. Here, some of us encountered traditional French customs and culture for the first time. We were given a quick safety briefing by the tour staff then released into the night to tour the town on our own. My friends and I found the main square where most of the local bars and restaurants are, and were in awe of the architecture and style of the buildings and the town itself. After grabbing some grub and a beer at a local bar, we headed back to the hotel to catch some much needed Z’s in order to tackle the next day of the Tour.

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15 February 2016: Vimy

26432 Élof Marie-Élaine Bernier

Sur l’itinéraire aujourd’hui:

Mont Saint Eloi

La crête de Berthonval

La Targette

Mémorial français à Notre Dame de Lorette

Monument des morts à Pas de Calais

Souterrain Grange, le groupe de cratères Duffield

Mémorial de la crête de Vimy

Point 145, le ‘Pimple’

La batterie allemande de Farbus

La nuit à Ypres en Belgique

Dès les premières lueurs du soleil, nous étions au sommet du Mont Saint Éloi pour une brève description du terrain pour la bataille de VIMY. La location du Mont Éloi et la bonne température nous a permis d’avoir une bonne vision panoramique du terrain. Nous avons ensuite visité notre premier cimetière allemand – La Targette. Voir ces simples croix engravées de quatre noms nous a permis d’avoir une vision plus globale de la situation. Il est important de comprendre que les soldats allemands étaient aussi des hommes voulant aider leur pays et tenter de survivre à la vie difficile des tranchés. Le fait qu’un cimetière allemand soit en France aide à croire que malgré toute cette violence, l’homme est bon. Ce même sentiment fut ressenti à Notre Dame de Lorette où plusieurs styles architecturaux furent empruntés de plusieurs religions afin de faire une cathédrale de commémoration.

Le groupe a ensuite pu visiter un tunnel et des tranchées reconstitués des champs de bataille des divisions canadiennes. La visite fut suivie d’un diner-Baguette local où nous avons tous pu discuter avec les guides canadiens en échange étudiant. S’en suivi de la visite du mémorial de la crête de Vimy, d’une photo de groupe et d’un petit vidéo à l’intention des personnes extraordinaires qui nous ont permis de participer à ce voyage.

Avant de pouvoir profiter d’une belle soirée dans la ville de Ypres nous avons pu assister à la cérémonie à la Porte de Menin, une incroyable expérience qui nous a montré à quel point la civilisation et été touché par ces guerres et pourquoi il est important de prendre le temps de se souvenirs de ceux qui ont donné leur vie pour la paix dans laquelle nous vivons aujourd’hui.

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16 February 2016: Saint Julien, Passchendaele, Amiens

26711 OCdt Josh Horlings

On today’s itinerary:

Essex Farm Hospital

Brooding Soldier monument at Saint Julien

Gravenstafel Ridge

Crest Farm monument at Passchendaele

Tyne Cot Cemetery

PPCLI memorial at Frezenberg

Amiens battlefields at Quesnay

Overnight in Dieppe

Leaving Ypres at 0800, the fourth day of the Battlefield Tour began with clear skies and much anticipation. We arrived at the first stop fairly quickly: Essex Farm, the field hospital location where LCol John McRae wrote “In Flanders Fields.” This stop proved a solemn one as we pondered the words of the poem atop the decaying hospital bunkers and near the medical station’s cemetery. The words of the poem struck a cord with many of us after visiting so many battlefields.

The next stops of the day covered the actions around Ypres and one of Canada’s greatest actions of the war. At Saint-Julien, we clustered around a fence near the statue of the Brooding Soldier to view the fields where Canadian soldiers faced the first gas attack of the war. I began to think about the vast array of emotions that the soldiers here would have felt and how difficult it would have been for the commanders to rally their troops to defend their open flank from the German advance. Such a stark story of leadership struck many of us who began to think of our future roles as battlefield commanders.

Following the stops around Ypres, we than proceeded to Passchendaele, where Canadians fought through some of the war’s worst conditions to grow our reputation as a fierce fighting force. Although Canada succeeded in capturing the Passchendaele ridge and town, it came at a terrible cost of 15 654 casualties. The battle truly symbolized the cost of attrition warfare and was a site that many of us were thankful to visit.

The huge losses at Passchendaele were further reinforced by our next stop at Tyne Cot Cemetery. Tyne Cot cemetery holds the remains of 11 962 commonwealth soldiers and commemorates 35 000 others on its memorial wall. The sheer size of the cemetery surprised many of us, as it was one of the largest we had visited. Despite its size, the cemetery’s museum provided personal insight into the lives of a few of the fallen and we were reminded that for each name on a stone is a unique story. This personal aspect of the losses was further impressed upon us at our next stop at the Caix cemetery. At this cemetery, 26939 OCdt Tyler Gilchrist was able to find the grave of one of his relatives by the same name who was a member of the Canadian Machine Gun Corps and was killed on 8 August 1918.

Following this stop, we briefly visited Frezenberg and Amiens where we further saw the terrain on which Canadians fought and died. Arriving in Dieppe and reflecting back of the day, many of us were struck with the magnitude of loss suffered for such little or seemingly meaningless terrain. By being on the ground and seeing the rows of graves, I believe I can speak for the group in saying that it was a truly breathtaking and humbling experience.

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17 February 2016: Dieppe

26840 NCdt Mackenzie Labrecque

On today’s itinerary:

Beach at Dieppe

Château de Dieppe

Beach at Pourville

Beach at Puys

Saint Aubin Cemetery

Overnight in Caen

I have never seen my history professors so disgruntled. As we walked along the rocky beaches of Dieppe, we passed several monuments dedicated to the Canadian regiments who lost their soldiers to the raid. Major (Ret’d) Michael Boire was once a member of The Black Watch and has met with survivors of the Second World War. It was very saddening to hear about such a great loss for Canada, the families, and their brothers in arms, but an amazing learning experience for us to learn about mistakes made and the leadership necessary to overcome the consequences.

The most influential aspect of the trip for me was hearing from our professors about personal experiences and stories of soldiers. It allowed me to understand a little better what was really going on during the battles. For example, hearing about an ex-cadet from RMC: Lieutenant Colonel Merritt. He was a commanding officer who, during the raid on Dieppe, led from the front with courage and placed the safety of his men before his own. Most inspiring of all, he stayed behind on the beach with the rear guard to ensure the safe retreat of his men before he was taken prisoner by the Germans.

After visiting the beaches, we paid our respects to the soldiers at the Dieppe cemetery in Saint-Aubin. One of the tombstones’ quotes in particular really struck me: “Keep alive their pride; Remember how they lived; Remember why they died.” This trip has strengthened my feeling of pride and purpose in our Canadian Armed Forces and I am thoroughly excited to graduate next year and begin my service.

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18 February 2016: Normandy Assault

26653 OCdt Michael Cherry

On today’s itinerary:

Drop zone at Varaville

Merville Battery

Carrefour Le Mesnil

Pegasus Bridge

Beaches at St Aubin sur Mer, Bernieres sur Mer, Courseulles sur Mer

Beny sur Mer Cemetery

Arromanches

Overnight in Caen

On Thursday 18 Feb 16, we travelled from the city of Caen to the locations of Canadian combat involvement on D-Day: 5 and 6 June 1944. The day began with travelling to the drop zones of the British 6th Airborne Division, with which the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was involved. After visiting sites in the Varaville area, the Merville Battery, Le Mesnil, and the Pegasus Bridge, we had a clear understanding of the role these troops played in the D-Day assaults, and the success of the operation. Under the guidance of Dr. Howard Coombs, the group was taught about the objectives, tactics, training and mentality that allowed the airborne soldiers to be successful on the battlefield and aid in the sea landings at Sword and Juno beaches.

After lunch, we moved on to the landing sites of Canadian troops across Juno beach. The trip brought us to the three main areas of assault across the beach: St. Aubin-sur-Mer, Bernières-sur-Mer, and Courseulles-sur-Mer. At each, we stood on the beach, looked up at some of the remaining defenses and learned about the challenges that brave Canadians faced. No details were spared. The three professors taught us about both the lessons that had been learned from previous Allied raids, as well as mistakes that were made on Juno. We learned about how tactics and combined operations had evolved from earlier Allied raids such as Dieppe.

These stops were followed by a trip to the Benys-sur-Mer Canadian war cemetery. This was an incredibly emotional stop for all of us. Here it was impossible not to feel sad, yet proud of the courage of these great Canadians that gave the ultimate sacrifice in order to protect their fellow soldiers and to end the war.

Other stops during the day included visits to an allied airfield in Normandy and a stop at the Mulberry harbour, both set up up to support the Allied war effort following the events and success of the Allies on June 6th 1944. Despite visiting these important locations, it was on this day that I began to see the change in warfare from the grinding attrition of WW1, to the objective-oriented manoeuvre warfare seen in WW2. However, hearing the personal stories of soldiers that fought in these operations on D-Day was by far the most impactful – from stories of small groups of paratroopers completing their objectives without the proper equipment, weaponry and significantly undermanned, to those of brave soldiers that laid down their lives on the beaches of Juno in an effort to let the Allies begin working towards an end to the war.

For me, this day of the battlefield tour was one of the most interesting. I learned about the evolution of warfare and tactics, felt the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers and learned a lot about the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Allied engineers and airmen that supported the war effort.

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19 fevrier 2016: Normandie, Falaise

26964 Élof Alexandre Palardy

Itineraire:

Abbaye Ardennes

Point 67

Saint Martin, Saint Andre

Cimetière canadien a Bretteville-sur-Laize

Point 140

Falaise

Saint-Lambert-sur-Dive

Hill 252

Vimoutiers monument Tigre VI

La nuit à Caen

 

Le 19 février fut une des journées les plus intéressantes du voyage, à mon avis. Cette étape avait comme but de nous faire voir et comprendre les batailles qui eurent lieu suite au débarquement de Normandie, entre juillet et septembre 1944. Nous avons commencé par OP SPRING et le fameux combat du Black Watch sur la crête de Verrières. Par la suite, une petite pause-café dans le village de May-Sur-Orne et nous étions parti pour le point 140, où eu lieu un combat du  régiment Algonquin durant OP TOTALIZE. Au cours de cette bataille, le régiment subit de lourdes pertes et la majorité fut enterrée au cimetière canadien de Bretteville-sur-Laize que nous avons visité par la suite. À cet endroit, le grand-oncle d’un des élofs participant au tour était enterré, nous profitâmes de l’occasion pour payer nos respects.

Pour le reste de la journée, nous avons suivi l’évolution des combats des troupes canadiennes, en terminant par la fermeture de la poche de Falaise, ou 200 000 allemands furent capturés par les alliés. En soirée, nous avons eu l’occasion de faire un diner de fin de stage tous ensemble dans un restaurant à Caen.

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20 February 2016: Paris

26554 OCdt Brittany Germain

Itinerary:

Bus tour of Paris

Free time!

Overnight in Paris

After an eventful seven days touring the French and Belgian battlefields, a free day in Paris was exactly what we needed. The rest of the trip had been so emotionally charged and physically draining that by the time we arrived in the city, just before noon on Saturday, some people were ready for a mid-day nap. We left Caen early Saturday morning in hopes of beating the traffic near Paris. The early departure gave us an extra hour in Paris for a bus tour, which was absolutely incredible. It is impossible to see Paris in a day on foot, so this tour gave us the opportunity to get a quick glimpse at what we could later explore.

After arriving at the hotel, we split up in to smaller groups. Some visited museums, shops or took the Metro from one monument to the next. I was part of a group that decided to take things easy by walking around leisurely to see whatever we could, while still enjoying ourselves. By the end of the day, we had seen the Arc De Triomphe, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, the Musée de l’Armée and the Eiffel Tower. Hearing about how beautiful the Eiffel Tower is lit up at didn’t prepare me for what we witnessed that evening. We had the pleasure of being at the top of the tower while the lights were flashing, which was an incredible experience.

Despite the busyness of Paris, this day was exactly what our group needed to help us wind down before going back to school. I never knew when I would be able to see Paris, but I am glad I was able to witness it with my best friends while finishing off the most enriching experience thus far in my life.

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21 February 2016: Return

26572 OCdt Jamie Doucette

Itinerary:

Fly CDG Airport in Paris to YUL Airport in Montreal

Bus YUL to RMCC

I could write pages upon pages about the battlefields we saw in France and Belgium, but words cannot describe the present-day peacefulness of the countryside. I could tell you about how beautifully the soldiers of the two wars are commemorated with memorials and cemeteries, but I would not be able to describe to you the melancholy and at times great sadness you feel as you walk through them. Sitting on the plane, I can’t help but think of how lucky we all are to be able to head home from the battlefields.

I think it’s safe to say the group was drained by the end of the week. We wanted to stay in France for another four weeks, but it was going to be nice to relax after a week chock full of bus tours. We got off the bus at Paris’ CDG Airport and waved goodbye to our driver for the week – Guillaume – who had enjoyed a number of rounds of applause for his tight three-point turns. The flight back was uneventful but reflective. The bus ride from Montreal to Kingston was quiet. We arrived back at RMCC at about 2000 hrs on Sunday evening.

The Battlefield Tour is a trip I wish every Cadet at RMCC had the chance to participate in. Learning about the First and Second World Wars in a classroom and learning about them standing on the battlefields are two entirely different experiences. The latter has an indescribable impact. After an emotionally charged week, we owe many thanks to the trip’s funders: 5586 Ian Mottershead and the RMC Foundation. We owe the entire experience on the ground to three remarkable professors who happened to be wonderful storytellers: Maj (Ret’d) Michael Boire, Col Howard Coombs and Col Randy Wakelam. But most importantly, we owe our lives today to the men and women we commemorated during our week in Europe. We will remember them.

All photographs courtesy of 26779 OCdt Kyle Tilley – More Here

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One Comment

  • 10838 Marc Grondin CMR-RMC 76

    February 29, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Congrats for this great opportunity given to your group to visit both WWI and WWII’s battlefields where our grand and great-grand-parents so galantly prevailed against inhuman odds. Your journey brought back fond memories when as OCDT during the Summer 1975, I had the chance to partake in an OJT in Lahr with 8 other classmates, between our 3rd/4th year. The battlefields left me with indelible images of the sacrifice and the impact the Canadian Army had on the European people throughout those conflits. TDV