After meeting at Pearson Airport we boarded the plane to Paris. As you may know, I am not a great flier but the flight was alright, aside from quite a bit of turbulence at the beginning. I watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – you can always rely on wizards to keep your mind off of flying! When we arrived at de Gaulle airport we had a brief wait while our guides picked up the vans. Somehow we managed to fit everyone’s suitcases in them!
We began our drive to Ypres, Belgium, stopping along the way at the Historial de la Grande Guerre in Peronne. The museum is located within a medieval castle, and offers a unique perspective of the First World War. The exhibits focus on the social and cultural aspects of the War, drawing comparisons between experiences and material culture from Britain, France, and Germany. I had the opportunity to compare some sheet music from each of those countries, and another interesting item that appeared frequently were board games on war themes, like “Trench Football.” Military artifacts are displayed in the centre of the galleries, in pits dug in the floor, drawing the gaze of visitors downwards. Our group discussed the contrast between looking downwards in this museum, to looking up to the sky for most memorials that commemorate soldiers.
Our next stop was at the Brooding Soldier monument in St. Julien, commemorating Canadian participation in the Second Battle of Ypres (where gas was first used). The design of the monument was the runner up in a national competition, after Walter Allward’s design for the current memorial at Vimy. One thing I hadn’t really considered was the fact that the memorial at St. Julien was constructed long before Vimy, which wasn’t until 1936. Our group discussed the fact that in light of the construction of the Vimy Memorial attention shifted away from St. Julien and many Canadians aren’t familiar with the site.
The final stop of the day was at the German cemetery Langemark where over 44,000 soldiers were buried. From the photos you can see the graves are located in a treed area, with dark gravestones, to contrast the white gravestones and openness of the Commonwealth War Graves (see next posts). There is also a mass grave with over 24,000 soldiers, about 8,000 of who are unidentified.