Essex Farm was an awe inspiring site to be sure. And only the beginning of a long tour focused on World War I and the Ypres Salient Battlefields. However, all this is heavy and hard to absorb, and sometimes a break is required. And when in Belgium, a break means a visit to Ledoux Chocolaterie – a small local operation specializing in making Belgian Chocolate! Here the owner showed us how to make chocolate molds and pralines, and how to temper different types of chocolate. We also learned the parts of a cocoa fruit (yes – chocolate comes from a FRUIT). The cocoa powder only into dark chocolate, the cocoa butter into the white chocolate, and of course cocoa with some milk into the milk chocolate. This led to a LARGE line up to purchase the fresh chocolates before getting back on the great bus. Definitly not related to our World War I theme, but an excellent stop indeed.
After the chocolate break, the tone returned to somber as we went to Vancouver Corner – site of the St. Julien Memorial. This memorial, called “The Brooding Soldier” marks the battlefield where 18,000 Canadians withstoof the first German Gas attaches in April 1915. The Germans used Chlorine gas and the power of the wind to send a cloud across the battlefield to kill and injure soldiers. This happened right next to the Canadian front in the Belgian battlefields. Canadians showed great bravery by rising up an depending the section left empty by retreating gassed soldiers. 2000 Fell and lie buried near by this site. The sculpture came second in the Canadian Battlefield Monument Commision in 1920. The first place going to the momument built at Vimy Ridge. This is one of eight memorials erected by Canadians, as granted by the Imperial war Graces Commission. 5 are in France (Vimy Ridge, Bourlon Wood, Courcelette, Dury and Le Quesnel) and 3 in Belgium (here, at Vancouver Corner, at Passchendaele and at Hill 62). The brooding soldier is a beautiful work to commemorate our country and the soldiers to fought to protect our freedoms and the freedoms of others. Even the landscape tells a story – with shrubbery designed to mimic exploding shells, and gentle greens hovering over the ground to represent the gas.
After a quick bite at Canadian owned “Family Pizza”, we continued our tour by heading to the Tyne Cot Memorial – home of those lost in the nearby Battle of Passchendaele. This cemetery holds graces from the UK, Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (also 1 French man and 4 Germans). 11,954 in total; all from 1917-1918. OF these, 8367 of them are unnamed graves. This cemetery changed hands a lot during the way – first captured by Australia, then turned graves for Canadians and British, then recaptured by Germany before liberated by Belgium. It contains the “Cross of Sacrifice” in the center, which is built on top of a German pillbox. The few original graves are in the middle, unmoved, but surrounded by the more organized graves that came to follow. There is also a stone wall surrounding the cemetery, the “Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing.” Similar to Menin Gate in Ieper, this shows the names of those who were missing, and their grave location is unknown. 34,959 names in all. It can be hard to take in that much loss. Steve, our guide, spent a lot of time this day trying to explain all the rules that came into place for burying the dead and maintaining these cemeteries. And even though it has been almost 100 years since the war ended, much time, effort and car is given into honouring those. It is easy to forget that this generation of students do not fully know or understand war like the generation my grandparents grew up in. But seeing these graves, and the attention and honour they were given by the caretakers, they were quickly coming to understand the cost.
We left Tyne Cot for Hooge Crater. This crater is not a bond, but is surrounded by original trenches from the war. Remnants of the war can be seen all over the property. This was a change for our students to begin to walk in the paths of the soldiers that came before to start to try and understand what it would have been like. This was built on in Vimy, and Beaumont-Hamel, and Juno Beach in the days to follow.
So much was sacrificed.