Another Remembrance Day is on the horizon. Each year at this time, the sacrifices of so many in decades past, as well as in recent years, is brought back to mind with images and stories. I’m glad the stories of veterans’ experiences have been collected and archived to help keep this aspect of our history alive. As I’ve watched the televised ceremonies from war memorials both in Canada and in Europe, I’ve often thought how much more meaningful it would be to visit some of them, to stand on the actual sites of battles and see how they are commemorated.
So the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2019 was the perfect excuse to visit the historic Second World War sites where so many Canadian soldiers gave their lives for our freedom. We chose an escorted motor coach tour of cemeteries and associated memorials and museums around Normandy, and, with the relative proximity and abundance of First World War cemeteries such as the iconic Vimy Ridge Memorial, into the Ypres Salient as well.
But would it be a sad or morbid journey, in view of the tens of thousands of graves that dot the Normandy countryside and beyond? In fact, it was a tangible affirmation of all that I’d read, both nonfiction and historical fiction, of the depth of loss in that dark time. Hard to imagine, though, the lush green farmland and tidy villages we drove through as, twice, a killing field. Seeing first hand the serene, carefully tended resting places where white gravestones stood in recognition showed me the degree of homage that continues to be paid to the Allied liberators of Europe. It elevated my appreciation of the value of their sacrifice to my own and future generations. Every Canadian should see these sites, not only to remember personal ancestors but also to realize why such catastrophic events must never be repeated.
My brief article with photos about this tour is posted at https://guide2travel.ca/2019/10/a-journey-of-remembrance-to-canadian-war-memorials/