KOCR Cochrane Army Cadet Corp – $5000.00 – Spring 2012
2512 Kings Own Calgary Regiment Cadet Corps.
Battlefield Tour- 2012
We arrived in Paris around mid day (local time) on April 29th. We began our tour with a trip to the Eiffel Tower within a couple of hours of getting off the airplane. The majority of the Cadets and Staff climbed to the second highest observation deck of the tower, due to the strong wind, we were not permitted to go any higher. Our group had some very spectacular views of Paris from that Observation Deck.
After some exploring of the tower, we descended and headed for supper at a nearby restaurant, there the most of the cadets experienced their first meal in a foreign country. After our quick visit to Paris, we boarded the train and rode out to our camp in Versailles to get cleaned up and rest for the night.
Day 2 started with breakfast, then a quick clean, and pack-up. Shortly after all was cleaned and packed, we hit the road to Normandy. We drove for a couple of hours, although it seemed like more, and arrived in Caen. Caen is the farthest point inland, reached by allied forces on the first day of the D-Day invasion, and it was reached by Canadians. We spent a few hours at the D-Day Museum in Caen, taking in the movies, tours, and artifacts.
After our visit to the museum, we headed for the coast, to Juno Beach. Some of the German defensive bunkers are still in place on some of the beaches, and Juno is no exception, as a bunker and machine gun position are one of the first sights at the beach.
The Cadets and Staff spent an hour exploring the beach, one of the other notable facts; the moorings for the temporary piers installed by the Allies are still visible in the water. After our time exploring Juno, we loaded up into our RV’s and headed North. Next stop, Dieppe.
We woke up early again on day 3 and made our way to the city of Dieppe. Dieppe has a special place in Canada’s military history, in particular for The Kings Own Calgary Regiment (Known as the Calgary Regiment or Calgary Tanks at the time). On the beaches of Dieppe many Canadian Soldiers fought a losing fight against a well prepared enemy. The Calgary Tanks were nearly wiped out completely that day.
One of the first stops we made was Blue Beach, where our regiment had landed. We spent time looking at the sea wall, large pebbled beach, and still present gun emplacements. After the beach we went into the city of Dieppe. We discovered that Dieppe is centuries old, and has always been the financial hub of Normandy. There is a Cathedral in the central part of the city that was presumably built in the 9th century, we spent an hour looking around inside the cathedral.
After a morning of exploring Dieppe, we stopped for lunch at a local Shawarma restaurant, then continued to the harbour, in the center. After the trip, we discovered that one of the buildings beside the harbour was in fact a secret German Naval intelligence building during the war, we spent a lot of our time at the harbour in front of that building. We left Dieppe mid afternoon that day, from there we traveled to a battlefield site of huge significance, not only to our Regiment, but to all of Canada as well.
On Day 4 we were camped 20 minutes away from Vimy Ridge. The Cadets and staff spent the previous night preparing their uniforms, as well as perfecting their drill, in anticipation of our visit to the memorial. Vimy Ridge is perhaps, one of Canada’s greatest military victories, as it was the first battle fought by, and commanded by Canadians. The English and French had both tried many times to take the ridge in the 3 years of war prior to the Canadian Attack. Canada took it in less than a day.
Some of the new tactics created by the Canadians for this battle have become a military standard world wide.
We left for the memorial at around 8:30am, and after a short drive arrived at the Vimy Ridge Memorial. Vimy is a site to behold, there is no way to accurately describe it, other than we were all awestruck. The site itself is actually Canadian Soil, gifted to the Canadian People by a very grateful France after the First World War. The site is operated by Parks Canada, and the tour guides are all Canadian.
The Cadets and Officers began the tour with a wreath laying at the foot of the monument, just before our tour of the trenches. Some of the trenches have been left in place, and modified to allow visitors to walk through them and see what they were like for the soldiers that fought there. It turns out that the trenches were not far apart at all, you could almost throw a rock from the Canadian Trenches to the German Trenches.
After the trenches we went into one of the underground tunnels where the Canadian Soldiers lived and operated in the months before the assault on the ridge. We saw that the soldiers managed to make these tunnels into small cities complete with water pumps, living quarters, and hospitals. Once we completed our tour of the trenches we went back to the monument, and spent an hour taking pictures and reading the names that appear on the monument.
Upon completion of our visit to Vimy, we boarded the RV’s again, and headed to Belgian town of Ypres.
Day #5 & 6
We stayed in a nice little camp ground for two nights in Ypres Belgium. Ypres is an ancient city (believed to have been raided by the Romans in the 1st century), and was the focal point of much of the fighting in during the First World War due to it’s strategic location. For us, Ypres was a good central location to visit the rest of Flanders, as well as the main monument in the city center known as The Menin Gate.
We arrived in Ypres, found some food, and had a couple of hours down time. Later that evening, the Cadets and staff marched from the camp ground to the Menin Gate for the “Last Post Ceremony.” This ceremony is preformed at 8:00 pm every night, rain or shine, and during the German occupation of WWII. We also discovered that during the ceremony, the local businesses shut down and many of the town’s people attend the ceremony.
Our Cadets and officers participated in the ceremony that night, our Commanding officer read from the poem “For the Fallen”, a couple of cadets and the C.O. layed a wreath on behalf of the Corps, and the main body of cadets acted as the “Guard of Honor”. After the ceremony we had an hour to explore the “old city”, and found ourselves looking at another massive ancient building, named the Cloth Hall. The Cloth Hall was completed in 1304, and is believed to have been the largest commercial building of the middle ages.
The Cloth Hall was used as the main market and warehouse for the Flemish textile industry. During the First World War, the Cloth Hall was left in ruins from artillery fire and sabotage, but has since been rebuilt.
Our second day in West Flanders had us touring Sanctuary Wood, The Hooge Crater and Hooge Museum, and Paschendale. We started the tour of Flanders with a visit to Sanctuary Wood. This is a place where many Canadian soldiers are buried and our visit included that of paying our respects to the fallen soldiers. We moved along to our next venue, the Hooge Crater.
The Hooge Crater is a massive crater that was a result of an explosion set off by the Germans, under a British bunker. During the First World War it was common to build bunkers underground to protect troops from artillery fire. It also became very common to try to dig under the enemy positions and set off massive explosions. The Crater itself has filled up with water and the area around it has been made into a memorial park.
The park had some of the original trenches as well as artifacts from the First World War. The Hooge Crater Museum is right beside the crater and is full of local artifacts pulled from the battle fields of Flanders. The Cadets and Staff toured the museum and the crater for most of the morning, and then moved on to the town of Paschendale. We made a quick lunch in Paschendale, and then carried onto the museum dedicated to the battle of Paschendale.
We spent the afternoon visiting the museum, and seeing the sites around the large complex. After the day of touring Flanders, we returned to camp and rested for the remaining time we had left in Belgium. The next morning, we made our way north, to Holland.
Day #7, 8, & 9
We spent 3 days housed at the Flushing Naval Station near Middleburg Holland, as guests of the Dutch Navy. On our first evening in Holland we participated in the Liberation Day ceremonies in Middleburg. Our cadets were again in their full dress uniforms and acted as a guard of honor for that very solemn ceremony. The people of Middleburg were very welcoming of our Cadets, and showed amazing hospitality that night.
After the Liberation day ceremony was completed, we returned to our barracks and had a good nights sleep on actual beds, inside very nice buildings… No RV beds for us.
On our second day in Holland we were given a tour of the Scheldt Salient, by two local men, a place of huge significance in Canada’s War history. The Battle of the Scheldt was conducted by the allies, mostly Canadians to clear the area around Antwerp so that the Allies could use that port to bring troops and supplies over from England in larger ships.
The Scheldt tour began with a visit to the memorial marker that was dedicated to the Canadians who fought in the battle of the Schedlt. After the Memorial visit, we then toured the country side with our guides. We made a few stops, in which our guides pointed out farms that had been the used as Canadian headquarters during the battle, and showing us the German emplacements, which are still there.
That afternoon we had a lunch of Fresh caught Fish and Chips, and the afternoon off to blow off some steam. The cadets played soccer almost all afternoon while the staff recharged and made adjustments to the plan for the rest of our trip.
Our third day in the Netherlands we spent touring the towns and Villages on the Island of Walcheren. In the town of Westkappel, we found a couple of interesting Museums dedicated to the battle of the Scheldt, as well as many artifacts around the town. Through-out our trip on the island, we came across many Liberation Day Parties, in which it seemed that most of people in each of those towns were attending.
Most of us found it amazing how the Dutch, from every generation, celebrate their freedom and remember the sacrifices of those who fought for that freedom.
Our last full day in Europe. We traveled to from Vlissengen to Amsterdam that morning on our last day of RV travel. We parked at our camp ground, and then made our way by train to Amsterdam Centraal Station in the heart of Amsterdam.
After arriving at Centraal, we found our way to a Canal Tour. On this tour, we saw hundreds of year’s worth of different architecture, old tall ships, and learned how the city has used the canals as a transportation system for 400 years.
After the Canal tour, the cadets and staff went to the Anne Frank Museum. The Museum is her former home, and was built by her family after the war to commemorate her life, and to show the horrors inflicted on the Jewish people by Hitler’s Nazi’s. The Anne Frank museum was one of the most humbling venues that we attended as we had the opportunity to be in her room, see where she ate, and where she slept. The last artifact as you leave the museum is her actual diary, encased in glass.
Our group then ate some supper, and then boarded the train back to camp. At our camp, The Cadets and Staff made our final preparations for our return trip home. At 4:30 the next morning the cadets were awakened, the vehicles packed, and we made our trip to the airport for our flight back to Calgary.