We are back on the left side of the Atlantic after our two-week return engagement with Great War ghosts. After spending ten congenial days with our captain, fellow Western Front Association member Jack Patten, and six other Great War pilgrims, Jan and I rented a little diesel Renault Elf Twingo and went right back again for three more days – and 680 kilometres – in the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme.
We visited some of the same sites that drew us during the 2005 bicycle venture – and a great many more that grew important as a result of all the reading and research I have pursued in the intervening three years. A big disappointment of the 2005 trip was that Canada’s national war memorial at Vimy Ridge was under restoration, hidden behind shrouds and scaffolding. Now it has been splendidly restored; our afternoon at Vimy was a highlight of the trip. Our bias, shared with many who are not Canadian, is that the Vimy memorial is the most magnificent among the hundreds scattered throughout Belgium and northern France.
Jack saw to it that his troupe had occasional relief from the Great War. We heeded the Second World War and The Hundred Years War too, visiting German V2 rocket sites near St. Omer and in the Eperlingues forest, and the 1415 battlefield at Agincourt. Once on our own Jan and I took a short detour from the front and visited Brugge (Bruges), the remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Belgian city.
Especially gratifying for me was managing to complete a personal mission: to visit all the sites where the 22 Boularderie soldiers lost in the war are buried or remembered. Jan indulged my ardor to visit a number of sites related to people and events significant to the great-uncles who fought in Nova Scotia’s 25th Battalion. Uppermost among those was my visit to the grave of Elsworth Young, my uncle Harrison’s friend and platoon-mate, who was among 23 Canadian soldiers shot at dawn for desertion during the war. Before departing for Flanders I spent part of an afternoon with four of Elsworth’s great-nieces. I look forward to seeing them again and reporting on our experience.
We were blessed with good weather and good fortune and I return with plenty to think about and a hatful of ideas for further projects.