Two Chemainus Secondary School students will never forget their amazing experience of visiting Second World War battle and commemorative sites during the 75th anniversary D-Day festivities in Europe.
The trip left quite an impression on Dyson Blitterswyk and Kyle Brown, who will both be going into Grade 12 in the fall. They returned with incredible stories to tell.
They’re both extremely grateful to former Chemainus Secondary teacher Janet Ruest for the opportunity. Ruest was offered a trip through EF Tours as a Governor General’s History Teaching Award winner, but gave it up because she’d already been to Vimy and Juno Beach and thought it would make more of a profound impact on a student.
She also asked another trip be given to a student in lieu of her receiving pay for writing the content for an app to be used by EF Tour students while at the Juno Beach site.
That’s where Blitterswyk and Brown came in as the recipients of the trip based on essay content submissions at the school.
Since they’re so great at writing, we put it to the students to express their overall thoughts about what they witnessed and learned, as well as what aspects of the trip stood out for them.
Blitterswyk’s overall thoughts are as follows: “I thought the trip was absolutely amazing. There will never be another experience like that for me, never a better opportunity to learn firsthand about world history and culture. Seeing so much in just 10 days has impacted me greatly, since some people would never be able to see what we saw in just one day. London and Paris are both extremely cultured cities, both have so much history and sights to see. European cities are very unique in their design, incorporating statues, sculptures, archways, and all sorts of old-fashioned techniques.
“The war history over there is also a hugely covered topic, with every war site being displayed with endless information. There was so much meaning that I found from Juno Beach, I felt a great sense of importance and pride within myself from my parade on the 75th anniversary of D-Day. This trip had a profound effect on me, the fact that so much history was made in the locations we visited gave me a sense of appreciation. To experience the journey the soldiers took, and to see just how many headstones there were in each cemetery we visited, made me feel so surreal. So many people owe a debt to those who fought and/or gave their lives fighting for freedom, each and every one of the war memorials have an indescribable significance to us all. Before I left, I figured the trip would be mostly about sightseeing the European scenery and exploring the cultured cities. However, now that I am back I realize that it was about more than just those things. It was about history and truth, the grounds where freedom was attained and humanity was restored. Now that I am back I feel more grateful than I ever have before.
As for the biggest highlight, Blitterswyk noted, it “was seeing my great-great grandfather’s name on the Vimy memorial. Not only did it fulfill a personal achievement, but it brought peace and purpose to my conscience. I greatly thank him, and all others who served, for their sacrifices. Some other highlights were: The tour of downtown London (including the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace); Bletchley Park; the tour of downtown Paris (including the Eiffel Tower, Arc of Triumph, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Palace of Versailles, and Maine-Montparnasse Tower); the boat tour of the River Seine in Paris; the town of Bayeux and its cathedral; Ypres and its museums; and Tyne Cot cemetery.
Following are Brown’s overall thoughts: “I absolutely loved the trip, the whole experience taught me so much, and we met a lot of awesome people who we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. The trip went better than I ever imagined or hoped! The knowledge we gained on our trip is very valuable, and I’m looking forward to sharing our first-hand experiences with other students at our school and people in our community. After returning to Canada, I felt like I wanted to know even more. I wanted to spend more time at memorials and visit different places, but I understand that these tours are so packed that you can’t visit everything. The trip in its entirety was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and we are both extremely honored to have been chosen to represent our school and community for this amazing opportunity.”
Among the highlights, “the most powerful and emotional experience for me, personally, was that of Tyne Cot Cemetery,” Brown noted. “It is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world. The incredible number of allied headstones in Tyne Cot certainly opened my eyes and made me really see just how many people fought for us, and yet sadly lost their lives. The Tyne Cot Cemetery had a somber beauty to it. From the perfectly trimmed flowers and mowed grass, to the pristine white headstones to be capped off with the emotions of being in a cemetery, it was extremely powerful.
“The ceremony at Juno Beach commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day was my favorite experience of them all. It was just so amazing to be there and see thousands of Canadian citizens, including Second World War veterans, travel all the way to Normandy to pay their respects at such a historically important place. The entire ceremony had me and everyone else there captivated, truly an awesome experience.”