A group of 110 students, faculty and staff from the Bader International Study Centre travelled to the French town of Vimy on a cold, wet, and windy Nov. 11, as the world marked the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
Today, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, Canada’s largest overseas war memorial, sits at the highest point of Vimy Ridge and commemorates not only the Battle of Vimy Ridge, (April 9-12, 1917) but all Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War, including those with no known resting place.
While students from the BISC have been travelling to the memorial on or around Remembrance Day for the past several years, this is the first year that the BISC Chamber and Open Choir has been invited to participate in the Remembrance Day ceremony itself.
The BISC’s 40-member choir, robed and sporting their BISC scarves, was afforded the honour of leading a procession of pipers and local dignitaries to the memorial site. The choir sang two moving excerpts from Requiem by Eleanor Daly, a Canadian composer and Queen’s University graduate. As the rain came down in earnest, soloist soprano and BISC Musician-in-Residence, Diana Gilchrist also sang Mozart’s Laudate Dominum from his Solemn Vespers.
Three first-year BISC students, Wyatt Mann, Harriet Wright, and Sarah Dulmage, laid a wreath during the ceremony on behalf of the BISC and Queen’s University. They were chosen from dozens of applicants for their outstanding submissions on the subject of what laying a wreath at the Vimy Memorial would mean to them and their families.
Wyatt says, “I just recently got my first voter card, and to me, it symbolized the freedoms that I have today because of the sacrifice of our soldiers one hundred years ago, and every year since, that so many people take for granted.”
Harriet agrees, “It is not just about wearing a poppy for Remembrance Day, it is about understanding the sacrifice of our veterans and those currently serving. I am so proud to have worn the Royal Canadian Air Cadet uniform as a Drum Major, saluted the veterans, and worn the poppy over my heart and for these reasons, laying the wreath at the Vimy Ridge Ceremony was an absolute honour.”
“With this opportunity, I take great pride in being able to represent those who have come before me. My great-great grandfather Charlie Wright fought in World War One and took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge,” says Sarah. “My family is composed of many military personnel, so to me, laying the wreath meant giving the ultimate thanks to my family who have served and allowed me to be who I am and where I am today.”
Choir member and BISC 100 lecturer Beth Richan says she was proud seeing such a mix of generations and a sea of Canadian red in the assembled crowd as the bugler played The Last Post.
“What struck me from speaking to the students afterwards was just how many of them expressed that being present was not only very important to them personally, but would be hugely significant for their parents and grandparents too,” she says.
Student Jake Kidd was one of many who searched the thousands of names etched into the Vimy Memorial on behalf of their families and found a relative, his great uncle. Diana Gilchrist, who took the photo of Jake says, “That was an unexpectedly touching moment. We were just walking up the monument after the ceremony to the official photo shoot when Jake suddenly discovered his great uncle’s name and was so moved.”
Following the ceremony, each student was presented with a commemorative Vimy pin and poppy. The students then had the opportunity to visit Ypres and the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, before returning to Herstmonceux Castle.
The trip to Vimy was the culmination of an entire term’s worth of opportunities to learn more about the history and experience of war. On Nov. 7 and 8, approximately 125 students attended performances of Lest We Forget at Hastings’ Stable Theatre. This contemporary production is based on stories from survivors of the Great War from East Sussex and weaves readings, poems, and songs from the era into the narrative. In addition, the Castle Reads group, which encourages members of the Castle community to come together through a shared love of literature, has chosen the First World War novel Strange Meeting by Susan Hill as their book for the fall term.
Back in the UK, the students will have the opportunity to reflect further on their experiences with a concert at the Castle on Sunday, Nov. 25 in honour of the 80th anniversary of Alfred Bader’s participation in the Kindertransport of 1938. Dr. Bader, along with some 10,000 other Jewish children, was evacuated to the safety of the UK from Nazi-occupied Austria.
»Lest We Forget«