DAY ELEVEN: AMIENS (TUESDAY NOV. 30)
Today we begin in earnest the narrative of all that is the tragedy and heartbreak of war on the western front. Yesterday’s free and easy atmosphere was replaced by a sense of getting this thing we do, just right. Rod and Jackie Bedford arrived at 8.30 ready to work with my group as in previous tours. It was wonderful to see them again. I had to make a quick diversion to get the bread for the day and after returning to the hotel late as I got a bit lost (walked the wrong way out of the supermarket….how embarrassing!!!! And found the sign posts to Calais…grrrrrrrr…..) Quick phone call to Richard who now had even more material to score me on…..and eventually after some power walking, the bread and I returned. Rod’s comments on retirees and medications were of course not making me feel any better. Then it was off and running on a day of snow, severe cold (minus 1 degrees warming up to 2 degrees in the afternoon) and powerful experiences. Their own words capture what the kids are going through.
Despite the extremely cold weather, today was full of knowledge and emotion. It was great to see where the trenches were and some of the conditions the soldiers had to put up with. I feel that the group is very close and becoming more of a family than a group of students.
Today we had our first full day of commemorations. We visited several cemeteries and listened to the insightful stories of our guide Rod. The one commemoration that stands out in my mind was that of Molly’s relative. It was hard to watch her display so much emotion towards him. The messages left from her little sisters gave the commemoration more of a family feel. Oh and mum…..I wish you had packed more jumpers as France is quite cold!
Oh dear…I can hear the comments from parents back home….Julie said that the weather is not too bad in November…you may have as few cold days around 10 degrees….ooops! This cold snap we are going through which is predicted to stay around for the next TWO weeks, is right out of left field for Europe at this time of year. Record lows across the UK and Europe!!!
These words ran through my mind as we did our commemorations today:
Our relatives and forefathers came to these foreign soils to fight in a war that may have never affected us. They fought in this horrible war and paid the ultimate sacrifice. This still affects us today and future generations to come. After today I want to join the army and wear the same Rising Sun that my relatives wore over 90 years ago such as my great great uncle Thomas Edward Lindsay Rhue wore. I believe that no one can fully understand this sacrifice until they have seen what I have seen and feel the conditions as I am imagining them.
HAYDEN BIDDLE (Youth Leader)
Today I commemorated Wilfred Bennett, a possible relative of a family friend. At the grave I found a little cross in front of the headstone left there by the grand -daughter of Jack, Wilfred’s brother. I now intend to get in touch with her to see if she has any more information or photos of Wilfred. When Molly did her commemoration of her relative I became very emotional because I knew how much it meant to her. To listen to the cards written by her sisters was such a touching moment and one I will ever forget.
I was freezing today and it made me appreciate what frontline troops suffered day and night with less clothing to warm themselves.
DYLAN VAN DEN BRINK
Listening to our guide Rod, I found it fascinating how some small events caused other events to snowball and eventually cause war. Today was a cold and somber mood at the sites. I don’t know why but I like to feel cold during the commemorations. After lunch we stopped at the Newfoundland memorial where we learnt more about the war. I was fascinated by all he knows! While there we saw the actual trenches where the soldiers lived and fought. Walking through one of these was quite eerie as they were only wide enough to walk single file.
Rod has such interesting stories of the war with so much knowledge of the Great War. I wish I could have stayed out for a few hours to really see what they would have seen. The trenches were so different than I ever imagined…they were so close to each other!
We visited Beaumont-Hamel and the Newfoundland memorial site where we were shown the impact the conflict had on the land. The terrain in the historic site of Canada is scarred by shell holes and has been restored after the war. From there we drove to Thiepval memorial where Julie sat us down and read a few pages from the novel “Birdsong” where a woman comes across this site. She had no idea of the devastation in this area because of the war. When I looked around at all the names ( 73,300 in total on this memorial) I realized that all these names are not just statistics they’re real people who grew up in families like mine. It saddens me to know that their resting place in unknown and they can’t be properly and individually acknowledged. This will make my next commemoration at the Menin Gate much more meaningful. Molly commemorated her great great grandfather in a moving speech that even had me in tears. Julie read out the letters two of her sisters had written as Molly couldn’t: it was truly moving.
Standing at Pozieres cemetery after visiting Thiepval I seemed to be looking at the graves differently. Julie’s reading at the memorial from ‘Birdsong’ and the memorial itself was a big step along the way to understanding the extremity of the loss. Commemorating George C felt different from I thought it would. It’s hard to explain but it felt a bit like a goodbye. After researching George and talking to Dorothy about him, finally doing the commemoration was a strange, emotional experience. I knew I would get emotional during my great grandpa’s. I’d been getting teary just reading the cards my sisters wrote. I was worried about crying or reading it wrong or that my speech was too long but when we got there none of that mattered. I felt really proud to be commemorating Johan. The whole time I thought of grandpa and what this would mean to him. The way everyone supported me and reacted to my story and the girls’ cards really made it a special moment for me. I’ll never forget that feeling.
I have two commemorations tomorrow and I am getting nervous about them. Rod is a bit of a comedian BUT he knows so much about the war! The final place today was the windmill position at Pozieres for Molly’s commemoration. It was really emotional for the whole group. I wasn’t feeling my usual happy self and needed a hug and to give a hug to one of my best friends who had cried throughout her commemoration.
During my commemoration I felt confident despite feeling a lot of emotion when remembering Ernest Cutts.
It is so fulfilling to see these kids get out in the bitterly cold air do each commemoration and embrace what they are here for. Tears were running down my face as I watched Molly’s commemoration. It was meaningful and poignant.
When walking through the trenches for a moment all I could hear were our footsteps. This sound was absorbed as thousands of names scrambled through my head. When I commemorated Horace I felt something I have never felt before.
And so their personal and group journey rolls on. The growth these kids are experiencing is extraordinary. At our review session back at the hotel we asked the kids for their feedback and suggestions. Jack asked if he could play the Last Post EVERY day at the final grave site. Judy….your boy is growing into a man. Tim said he was no longer scared of showing his feelings….all the kids nodded the same. Katie and Hayley wanted to show me their preparations for their boys. And so it goes on this thing called Connecting Spirits.