Monday, November 4, 2013

Pilgrimage of Remembrance, 2013 – Part II by Roy Toomey

So what do museum staff members do when they go on vacation? One of our education programmers, who is a military history enthusiast, went to visit some World War sites in Europe. This blog is the second part of his personal account of what it meant to him.
Menin Gate Memorial. Ypres Cloth Hall in the background.
In Ieper, we observed the “Last Post” ceremony at the magnificent Menin Gate Memorial, and visited the “In Flander’s Fields” Museum at the Cloth Hall.  At the Menin Gate, I was again awed by the number of names; all men with no known grave.  I even found a ‘Toomey’ among the dead.  After Ieper, we visited Passchendaele and St. Julian, two battles in which Canadians played major roles.  The St. Julian Memorial is known as the ‘brooding soldier.’  The top of the obelisk is carved as the head of a Canadian soldier, head bowed, eyes cast down: a permanent honour guard for Canada’s fallen of the Great War. 

St. Julian Memorial
We also visited Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.  One of Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients of the First War is buried at Tyne Cot.  At this cemetery, the Cross of Sacrifice is built atop a German bunker: an instrument of war turned into a marker of remembrance.  This was King George V’s idea, actually.  When he visited Tyne Cot in 1922, he said, “In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth… than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the destruction of war.”

Canadian Victoria Cross recipient at Tyne Cot Cemetery
We then journeyed to France.  We stayed in Arras, site of fighting in both Wars.  From Arras, we visited one of the most significant Canadian historic sites: Vimy Ridge.

Vimy Ridge viewed from across farm field
Being at Vimy Ridge is like being on holy ground.  The vastness of the park, the immensity of the memorial, the statues, inscriptions, and thousands of names, all created an intensely emotional experience.  The names on the Vimy Ridge Memorial are those of men with no known graves.  Not far from the Vimy Memorial, you can still see the craters upon craters, testament to the great artillery barrages the soldiers would have faced.  Fences prevent people from crossing into these areas, and signs warn of unexploded ordnance; weapons of a war nearly 100 years in the past but still just as potentially deadly today. 

Roy at Vimy Ridge
On the Vimy Memorial, I was able to locate and photograph the names of three men from St. Albert: Moise “Moses” Beausoleil, John Hugh Kennedy, and Clarence Harrold Maloney.

Moise “Moses” Beausoleil
John Hugh Kennedy (1889 - 1917)
Service men with girls, ca. 1914. John Kennedy's younger brother, Dan, is seated to the far right. Both were killed during World War I.
Clarence Harrold Maloney (1894 - 1916)
Maloney family farmstead in St. Albert, [ca. 1900 - 1915].
Hopefully these pictures will help to tell the story of St. Albert’s sons who never came home from the First World War.  Besides the memorial, the preserved trenches and tunnels at Vimy are some of the best anywhere.  While at Vimy, we ran into several Canadian high school classes on field trips.  It’s good to know that our teachers still educate their students about Canada’s role in the World Wars, the importance of these events to our history, and the sacrifices made by those thousands of Canadians.

Please check in with the Musée Héritage Museum’s blog later this week to read about our trip to the World War II sites in Normandy, France, and the conclusion of our pilgrimage of Remembrance. You can check out the first part of the blog at Pilgrimage of Remembrance, 2013 – Part I.

1 comment:

  1. Another excellent article Roy.

    Canadaians should be proud of their history, and supportive of programs that provide opportunities to our youth to visit Vimy Ridge. Contact your school board or the Vimy Ridge Foundation ( ) for more information.

    Tyne cot is a sobering experience. The sheer number of graves and names listed on the memorial walls would have been overwhelming had we not allready been to the Menin Gate. Still, the size of it is undaunting. The hardest part upon getting there is accepting the fact that you do not have time to visit them all, despite the fact you feel you owe each one the respect of at least walking by, whispering their name and offering thanks...

    Tyne Cot also has a handfull of german graves from the original cemetary. It was interesting to see them there, and it forces one to make a choice: do I dismiss them as villians, the hun, the aggressor that caused it all, OR do I stand at the grave of a young man sent to the trenches by his nation, another life lost in the name of empires and politics. It is not as easy as it really should be...