Ron Labrie. (File photo)

Ron Labrie. (File photo)

COLUMN: Reflections on Canadian Battlefields Tour

Ponoka Secondary Campus teacher Ron Labrie reflects on the “Canadian Battlefields Tour” in 2005, that started PSC on their Ponoka Cenotaph Project and activism for remembrance.

It has always been a dream of mine to visit the war cemeteries in Europe. My early interest in war history has turned into a passion for understanding the volunteer commitment of Canadians in the two world wars. I was honoured and elated to attend a battlefield tour sponsored by Veteran Affairs, The Canadian Battlefields Foundation and Historica. The tour took us to Northern France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. It was a great professional opportunity to engage with teachers across the country and absorb the expertise of Associate Professor Geoff Hayes, Alexandre Carette, and Blake Seward.

My students will no doubt benefit from my new-found knowledge and emotion that resulted from this experience. In particular, the endless opportunities for remembrance of thousands of young men that paid the ultimate sacrifice and the significance of Canadian participation in the World Wars.

The challenge of our young men and their bravery is astonishing, yet many times forgotten and/or misrepresented. It seems that many Canadians do not know the significance of these missions that would age our Canadian boys beyond their years or… end their lives. We have witnessed the emotion and unwavering respect of many Western Europeans who were liberated by Canadian soldiers. It is imperative that I share the battlefield tour experience with my community with the hope that they gain the same respect and admiration for our fallen Canadians as the citizens of these liberated countries.

When citizens focus on fallen soldiers and war deaths the concept of remembrance becomes paramount. As I walked through the numerous military cemeteries all over Northwest Europe, I observed the graves of thousands of fallen soldiers. Their entire identity portrayed on a tombstone with only their name, regimental number and date of death. It was emotionally draining to internalize the sheer number of losses of men in the prime of their lives.

Upon reflection of my experiences and the enormity of emotion that was associated with this experience, I have come to the realization that I have a duty to remember:

Every fallen soldier was someone’s son, husband, or brother. Underneath every grave is a story of a man (many of them boys) who believed that they were part of the solution in fighting a greater evil.

The multitude of WWI and WWII war cemeteries seemingly everywhere throughout Northern France, Belgium and Holland. Many of them in the middle of nowhere. At the time, buried where they died, but now they exist behind a deserted church or in the middle of a cornfield.

The immaculate condition of these sacred grounds preserved to perfection by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission; flowers were in full bloom and the grass was green and manicured. Citizens from all nations visit these cemeteries evident from the signatures in the guest registrant book.

Visiting Langemark German military cemetery in Belgium. It was rewarding to see a busload of German students scrubbing and polishing the gravestones of 29,000 World War I German soldiers, 83 years after their death.

Observing 26,000 crosses at Notre Dame de Lorette where the bodies of WW I French Soldiers took their last breath.

8:00 pm at the Menin Gate where the community continues their nightly ritual of playing the Last Post in recognition of the enormous sacrifice in and around Ypres, Belgium during WW I. On the memorial one can read the engraved names of 59,000 Commonwealth Soldiers, 9,000 of them Canadian. They have no known grave.

Seeing titles that were much more ambiguous, “A Soldier of the Great War” and “Known Only unto God.” I wondered who he was and where he was from. I wondered what it must have been like for his family to not ever know where his final resting place would be.

Walking down the Grange tunnel at Vimy Ridge trying to imagine what it would have felt like in 1917, walking towards the front-line trenches and the German forces only 25 metres away.

Evert Stieber and Adele Bouman (Dutch Citizens) who traveled with us throughout the tour and shared their emotions regarding the significance of the Canadians in the liberation of the Netherlands; in particular, their tearful presentation of W. Arsenault who was killed in the liberation of their community- Zwolle, Netherlands.

Gordon Joseph Brady; son of Michael Joseph and Anna Margaret Brady, of Ponoka, Alberta. Gordon Brady, Warrant Officer Class II, R93554, was an air gunner on a Lancaster bomber. He was attached to the secretive 617 (RAF) Squadron (the Dambusters). He was shot down on May 17, 1943 and is buried in Bergen Op Zoom Cemetery in Holland. As a result of his attachment to an RAF Squadron, he is buried in the British cemetery.

Giving a presentation about his life in front of my colleagues and thinking that … he likely has never had a presentation such as this before nor will he again. His young death and the fact that he did not marry before the war, comes the realization that future generations of his likeness will never be. I wanted to leave a little piece of Canada with him, so I gave him a five-cent victory memorial coin, said a prayer and made a commitment to remember.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” — Laurence Binyon.

– Written by Ron Labrie, Ponoka, Alberta

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ponoka Red Apple. (Photo submitted)
Ponoka Red Apple’s toy drive has begun

Store is partnering with Ponoka Secondary Campus’ Santa’s Anonymous to distribute donations

Alberta had 1,571 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta’s central zone now has 1,101 active COVID-19 cases

Provincial death toll has risen by nine

(Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
FortisAlberta’s ‘Lights of Joy’ bring smiles to Ponoka seniors

Residents of Golden Leisure Lodge treated to a light display

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 1,731 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

The province’s central zone has 992 active cases

(Photo submitted)
Ermineskin citizen graduates vet school, is part of busy practice

Dr. Justin Hodgson is rolling up his sleeves in Meadow Lake, Sask.

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Lawyer Devon Page, Ecojustice Canada’s executive director, pauses during a news conference in Vancouver on Wed., Sept. 26, 2012. The environmental law group has lost its bid to pause Alberta’s inquiry into where critics of its oil and gas industry get their funding. Ecojustice sought an injunction this summer to suspend the inquiry, headed by forensic accountant Steve Allan, until there is a decision on whether it’s legal. nbsp;THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Judge tosses application to pause Alberta inquiry into funding of oil and gas foes

Ecojustice sought an injunction in the summer to suspend the inquiry

Janelle Robinson owns and operates Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. The Ranch, just north of Stettler, is an animal therapy ranch that helps those with special needs and conditions ranging from PTSD to anxiety. Mark Weber/Stettler Independent
Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler provides support through animal interaction

‘I also come from a family of doers - if something that is needed isn’t there, you just figure it out’

A pedestrian makes their way through the snow in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

In British Columbia and the Prairies, forecasters are calling for above-average snowfall levels

NDP Leader John Horgan, left, speaks as local candidate Ravi Kahlon listens during a campaign stop at Kahlon’s home in North Delta, B.C., on April 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

In this undated photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Moderna chairman says Canada near head of line for 20 million vaccine doses

Trudeau created a firestorm when he said Canadians will have to wait a bit to get vaccinated

Most Read