Dyson Blitterswyk, left, and Kyle Brown of Chemainus Secondary School during their European tour earlier this year. (Photo submitted)

Visiting battle sites emotional experience

Chemainus student pays homage to his great-great-grandfather

(Following is an excerpt from a speech being made Friday during Chemainus Secondary School’s 2019 Remembrance Day Assembly).

Before the Europe tour, I’ve never really gone anywhere too far from Canada. The whole experience has changed the way I live and think. Exploration is part of human nature, and everyone should be exposed to different cultures and lifestyles at some point in their lives.

I’ve been living my life by means of one culture, and I’ve only ever known what it feels like to be a Canadian. Sure I’ve seen pictures and heard stories about other lands, but with so little to go by, how would I know it really existed? The only way is to be there. There’s a huge difference between looking at a picture and standing at the place the picture was taken. Pictures can be beautiful, they can be full of emotion and meaning, but they lack feeling on a physical level.

Most people have seen the Eiffel Tower in a picture or on TV, but being there and seeing it in person is a feeling I’ve never before experienced, a feeling of truth and triumph. I no longer think of photographs as just shallow images, but I now think of them as representations of real places that have centuries of rich history. Photographs only show, while places both show and communicate. I believe that to fully understand history and its meaning, we need to go by more than just stories and images. Being overseas in foreign nations has opened my eyes to the truth behind history, and has made me better understand what it means to be a Canadian.

The war history aspect of the trip was immense, with a large portion of our trip taking place near or in historical war sites. All of these locations have so much history, and it is certainly possible to feel emotion from these places. To be specific, the Juno Beach ceremony on the 75th anniversary of D-Day was almost too meaningful to be put into words. Many may not believe that a beach can give a person so much gratitude and understanding, but as I have learned for myself, it is possible.

These locations have changed so much since the times of conflict and violence, but they still carry the meaning. Vimy Ridge even gave me a sense of hope, triumph and freedom. The memorial and surrounding landscape were absolutely breathtaking, but it’s hard to comprehend that they were the centre of death and destruction a century ago.

The names on the Vimy memorial included that of my great-great grandfather, Clarence Walker, who served in the Canadian Infantry during the First World War, where he survived the Battle of Vimy Ridge but was killed during the Battle of Hill 70. I feel accomplishment and contentment on a personal level knowing I paid homage to him and all those who served alongside him, we can never be thankful enough for what they have done for us. The entire experience was just too rich with history and emotion to be fully expressed, but I can undoubtedly say that an experience like this only comes about once in every few lifetimes, and to be a part of it, I am forever gratified.

Dyson Blitterswyk,

Chemainus

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