In July of 2009, I finally took the trip I’d spent over a decade yearning for. As a teacher with a background in Canadian history, I longed to visit the Canadian battlefields in France and Belgium from both World Wars. Having studied battles like Vimy Ridge, Dieppe and Normandy, there was nothing that could satisfy me more than to actually stand there. At last, my time had come!
The first leg of my battlefield pilgrimage began in north eastern France where many cemeteries from the Great War dot the French countryside. It’s strange, actually. You’d be driving through rolling farmland and in the midst of it all would be neatly plotted headstones, all with the same shape, perfectly aligned – many bearing that consummate symbol of Canada, the maple leaf. My nephew, Shawn, and I stopped at many along the way, noting how carefully tended to they were. The first stop was at Vimy Ridge, the crown jewel of the trip for me. It was here that Canada fought one of it’s greatest battles ever, securing an objective that the might French and British were unable to do in years prior. The Vimy Memorial is simply breathtaking, adorned with 11,258 names of those whose final resting place is unknown. Among those names is my great, great grandfather, Pte. Robert Mepham. We explored the tunnels below the battlefield and observed the various carvings left behind by our soldiers 93 years ago; walked the restored trench lines; and visited the cemeteries surrounding the park.