We just returned from a wonderful camping trip exploring Wales. Many beautiful places and cool sites were seen. Whilst in Snowdonia, we experienced the worst weather there in a hundred years. We decided to pack up and head home, skipping our week in Scotland. Until I get the blogs written of all of our adventures, enjoy a little taste of our trip.
Having lived through the snow and mayhem that followed last December, we knew that although the snow would be beautiful it would throw the country into a tail-spin. We went to Tesco on Friday and I left without purchasing anything. The queues were worse than anything I had seen at Christmas. We then went to Sainsbury’s and made some progress. We had originally planned a trip to Hay-on-Wye in Wales to explore the book shops. We cancelled this. England does not have the equipment to deal with snow and the drivers are not used to it. Driving on those twisty turny roads to Wales in the snow was not a good idea. We would just curl up and watch the snow fall. I had not planned our meals well and another trip to Sainsbury’s was required yesterday morning. It was mid-morning and I thought that we would be fine. No so much.We had to follow shoppers leaving the store in order to get their parking space. Just like in Canada, the bread shelves are on of the first to be emptied when bad weather is coming. We rushed through the store and made it home without too much drama. Before any storm, I love to have the house all nice and tidy. That way I can sit back and enjoy being house-bound and not be distracted with household chores waiting to be done. We could then relax and enjoy our snow day together. Watching some telly, reading, eating and napping.
The first flakes started to fall mid-afternoon yesterday. We bundled up and the poodle had on her mittens, sweater and soft-shell (she really minds the cold in her old age). Brittany loves the snow. She was racing around like a lunatic and acting like a puppy. The horses in the field behind our house were wearing their jackets and seemed to be confused by the snow. Snow always brings out my inner child. When I was taking the recycling out, I started to throw snowballs at Andrew. He was inside at the kitchen window. Later that night, I was at the kitchen window, waiting for Andrew to come back from the garage with some pop. He started throwing snowballs at the window. I went to the door and opened it to tell him to hurry up with our drinks. At the same time, he threw a snowball…and…SPLAT…right in the face. We both broke into fits of laughter remembering days gone by and childhood snowball fights.
Nothing excites me more that waking up to the world covered in snow. I crawled out of bed early and began an hearty breakfast. A walk to Burton Dassett was awaiting. We bundles up and set off. The road was filled with families pulling sledges. The snow was turning to slush and the hilly road leading to the top was becoming slippery. Cars were sliding down at the half-way point. The morning had a party feel. The top of the hill was covered in a shroud of gauzy fog. The sheep were gathered together waiting for the farmer to deliver their feed.
We walked home with rosy cheeks and smiles on our faces. Andrew turned to me “Our biggest decision today is deciding if we are having white or dark hot chocolate?.” Now that is a day to be celebrated, to be embraced, to be enjoyed.
Not matter the weather, there is always beauty to be found. You just have to be brave enough (and dressed for the weather) to get out and explore.
We welcomed 2012 surrounded by history and beauty, fresh air and exercise. We welcomed all that 2012 has to offer with a smile on our face and the wind in our hair (or the wind in her ears for Brittany).
Three years of marriage has brought us good times and bad, laughter and tears and a lot of seperations. We have lots to celebrate. An incredible life that we are creating together. Being together. Loving each other truly, madly, deeply. Dreaming dreams and making them come true…together.
As in previous years, we celebrated our anniversary on the Saturday. We were on the road early and headed into London.Our first stop was Leicester Square for theatre tickets. The discount ticket booths that line a side street of the Square offer great deals on tickets. We had no real preference. We just wanted to see a fab show. We got discounted tickets for the matinee to Billy Elliot. Our next stop was Portobello Road. Saturday is street market day. The place was crowded. If you have money to spend and are the hunt for the unique, antique or vintage Portobello Road is the place to be. We had time for a quick lunch of crepes before heading to the Victoria Palace. Wicked is running just down the street and the tube was filled with women wearing fab green witch hats and beautiful green feather boas. On our big list of shows to see is Wicked and I will be sure to have my green hat and feather boa.
Billy Elliot was a wonderful movie and I was beyond excited to see the theatre production. Singing, dancing and great acting. A perfect way to celebrate. The Victoria Palace is a stunning building complete with balconies and private boxes. I could just picture Queen Victoria sitting in her box watching a show. After much anticipation the curtains rose. The sets were incredible. The actors pulled you in and made you cheer and cry with them. The singing. The dancing. I laughed. I cried. I enjoyed. I remembered how much I loved performing in dance shows and drama plays when I was in high school.
Most places were closed by the time the show was over, except for Tate Modern. As darkness fell we walked the streets of London holding hands. We crossed the Thames on the beautiful Millennium Bridge eating our hot caramel roasted peanuts bought from a street vendor. There was a slight chill in the air. The night was perfect. London is magical at night.
Tate Modern is a beautiful modern building housing a collection of modern art. The collection was interesting and I felt very grown-up walking through the rooms looking at art and trying to figure out the meaning. For the most part, I really had no clue about the meanings but I did enjoy the art.
We then walked along the South Bank towards London Bridge and Big Ben. Along the way we got to see the London Eye up close. It is beautiful especially at night. Our day was drawing to a close. We got to celebrate our third anniversary in a beautiful city together. We got to celebrate the life we are creating together. On the drive home we talked of the future and dreams.
Happy Anniversary my love. Thank you for being you. I am looking forward to many more years of living our dreams and walking hand in hand as night falls and the world goes quiet.
Andrew and I work well together, in life and in travel. We have our plans but if something comes up we are flexible. We let the day unfold, the adventure happen. If we discover something interesting along the way we can stop and explore. Part of the adventure is knowing as you head hits the pillow that you managed to get where you needed to be, where you wanted to go, that you found food and that you found a place to sleep. All in a new city or new country. A travel guide is our companion. When we first arrive in a new place we get a map. Such a simple thing, maps. If there is a bus tour, especially those wonderful hop-on hop-off ones, we take that. It is a great way to explore a new place and get the lay of the land.
It struck me that on a bus tour, you are driven to where you need to go, taken to where you will eat and shuttled off to where you will sleep. It does not require the same amount of participation as our kind of travel. It is travel for those who like to be comfortable.
We take public transportation, sleep in cheap hotels or hostels and eat where we can. We get dirty. We are often tired. We eat supper very late. We carry our stuff in backpacks and have aching feet. And we have fun. We have an adventure. We know that we did ok in a foreign city, in a foreign country.
We arrived in Arras and had to search for our hotel. We kept missing the tiny dark side road we needed to take. We finally arrived and after our long drive and very long day we dragged our bags to our rooms. During the drive I had changed my shoes. Despite it being almost 11 in the night we still had not had supper. Off we went in search of food, any place that would be open. I was never so thankful to see a chipy. We pulled into the hotel parking lot and the car headlights acted like a spotlight on something. I went over to see what someone had dropped. It was my shoe and sock. It had fallen out of the car when I was carrying in my bag. Andrew joked that my shoe was trying to make a get-away. We all laughed and laughed. Supper that night was fish and chips and burgers. Moments like that are what travelling are all about. Part of the fun was trying to find food in a town that was closed up (really closed up, houses and businesses were closed up with shutters). It was the type of adventure that would never happen on a bus tour.
The joys of travelling are to leave the comforts of home behind. To get uncomfortable and explore a whole new world.
“As much as I am enjoying my travels, I can’t wait to get back home. There is no place like home.” This came up in a conversation with some other travellers. I did not feel this way. Which shocked me. It got me thinking about home. I tried to picture home. I thought of our house in England. Because of Andrew’s work, we move…a lot. It would be difficult to think of a place I lived 3 moves ago as home and wishing that I was there. Each place we live feels like home. I do not have a desire to be anywhere else. I embrace each and every place we live. Some places are better than others but each place is home…for the time that we are there. So what is home? Home could be where your stuff is. Most of our stuff is in storage back in Canada. Even before we started buying antiques and only had a few boxes of our stuff in England, we were home. For me, home is where my heart is. Home is where Andrew is. I have discovered that I have traveller’s heart and a wanderer’s soul. Travelling is not just discovering new places – it is also discovering new things about yourself. Home is where you want to be…at that moment. Home is living in the moment and embracing it.
What does home mean to you? Where are you from?
As a child, my nan would take us to the graveyard. She would trim the grass and tell us about our families. We would have picnics with our great-grandparents…on their graves. This may seem weird to some but it was normal for us. To visit a grave is something that 54,896 families were denied. Nothing in my life has ever made as sad as that.
I thought that Canada had a great respect for it’s veterans and honoured them with touching tributes on Remembrance Day. Travelling through the Somme and the D-Day beaches in France and visiting Ypres in Belgium showed me the true meaning of Remembrance. Flags of all of the Allied countries fly everywhere. Not tattered flags with frayed edges. Perfect flags flying with pride. Flying to say “Thank You”. Thank you for World War One and World War Two. In Europe, Remembrance is lived each and every day by all generations. I mean no dis-respect to the way we remember in Canada. It is just different in Europe. The scars of war can be seen everywhere and that is something that is lived with every day. It is something that is remembered everyday.
We arrived at Ypres mid-afternoon. Belgian chocolate had to be bought. The city centre was explored. It was like something out of a fairy tale. The architecture was stunning. It is hard to believe that this ancient city lay in complete ruins in 1918. After the most expensive meal of our holiday (Belgium is not cheap), we explored Menin Gate. As the sun was setting, the crowds gathered. Crowds that have been gathering since 1928. Each evening, along with the Last Post, there is a wreath laying ceremony. War had denied these men a proper grave with a proper headstone with their name. But, They are not forgotten. Every night they are honoured in a ceremony that was more moving than anything I have ever seen.
Menin Gate is a two-storey enormous gate filled with names that seem to go on forever. And these are just the men who died in the fighting at Ypres who have no known grave. It is one thing to read about war in a history book – it is another to be at Menin Gate for Last Post. Out of the brutality and inhumanity of war, Ypres has risen to show the very best of humanity.
If Ypres can take time EVERY evening to remember, we should feel ashamed if we do not take time on November 11th to remember.
After Beaumont Hamel, we headed to Vimy Ridge. For years I had watched the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the Vimy Ridge Memorial. The site, like Beaumont Hamel and Juno Beach, is staffed with Canadian students. Like Beaumont Hamel, Vimy Ridge has been left as it was. The mine craters dot the area. Sheep graze the area and act as lawn mowers since it is not safe to have people in certain areas. The trenches still exist and can be toured.
The Battle at Vimy Ridge, fought between the 9th – 12th april 1917, was a huge victory for the four divisions of the Canadian Corps. It was the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Corps had fought together.The ridge protected a vital part of the German war machine. The German position was very well defended and they were not going to give up without a fight. The Canadian and British soldiers had to fight their way across No Man’s Land, avoiding machine gun fire, mine craters and wire defences. Their objective was to reach the German Front Lines and push them back, to take away land from the enemy. It could take months and cost thousands of lives just to push the enemy back a few feet. The Canadian Corps obtained their objective. The Vimy Ridge Memorial stand as a monument of the fighting spirit of the Canadian Corps.
We took a tour of the trenches and tunnels that have been preserved since The Great War. As bad as the conditions were in the tunnels, there was at least cover from gun-fire. A maple leaf is carved into the wall of one of the tunnels.
Growing up I had visited our town library a lot. Behind the desk was a plaque filled with names. Names of all of the men from Grand Bank who had died fighting in World War One, World War Two and the Korean War. For a very small town there were a lot of names. Those names were a part of my life growing up. It is one thing to see all of those names in a library in Newfoundland and quite another to visit the place where so many of them died. Beaumont Hamel is a pilgrimage site for many Newfoundlanders. On the morning of July 1, 1916, the men of the Newfoundland Regiment went over the top. A great tactical error led to a bloody slaughter. My great-grandfather, George Riggs was one of those men. He was found days later in a trench, shot and lying under his dead comrades. The Newfoundland Regiment was decimated on that morning. The Dominion of Newfoundland answered England’s call when war broke out. But, Newfoundland did not want to have their soldiers swallowed up by the British or the Canadians. Newfoundland wanted her own regiment and to fight together. The Newfoundland Regiment was made up of volunteers and not professional soldiers. After the massacre at Beaumont Hamel, the Newfoundland regiment continued to fight. The distinction of “Royal” was bestowed on the regiment. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment earned a reputation of being fearless – of being “Better Than the Best”. The battle at Beaumont Hamel marked Newfoundland as much as it marked the landscape in France. Entire communities had lost all of the men of that generation. Long before Canadians wore a poppy for Remembrance, Newfoundlanders wore the forget-me-not.
The trenches that were there on that July morning in 1916 are still there. Newfoundland had no money to build an expensive monument so the battle field was left as it had been. It is still possible to see the stakes that held the barbed wire that filled no man’s land. No amount of money could have built a memorial as touching as the site that greets visitors to Beaumont Hamel.
The Newfoundland Regiment began that fateful day in a trench that they had dug earlier – St. John’s Road. It was a supply trench back from the front lines. The plan was to use the communication trenches to reach the front line.
The metal spikes that held the wire that littered no man’s land is still visible. The Y ravine can still be seen.
The men were unable to go through the forward trenches to reach the front lines. The trenches were filled with the dead or wounded from the first two attacks. The Newfoundland Regiment did not let this stop them. They had a job to do and were determined to do it. The Newfoundlanders went over the top at St. John’s Road and were met with the full force of the German guns. The Essex Regiment was supposed to go over the top at the same time but found the trenches blocked with bodies and stayed put. Some managed to reach the front line trenches and fought their way to the small area where the wires had been cut. A bottleneck was created and the men of the Newfoundland Regiment were sitting ducks. The Germans just had to aim their guns at these gaps. There was one place where the guns were not aiming for. A lone treee. The Danger Tree. The men made for this tree as a safe place. The Germans saw the men gathering at the tree. The aim of the guns was changed. No where was safe. The soldiers were wearing bright metal triangles on their backs to identify them to their own aircrafts. These same triangles acted as a perfect target for the German guns. There was no going forwards. There was no going backwards. There was only the hope of a quick death. A few Newfoundlanders made it to the German lines. The German barbed wire was not cut by previous bombing as planned. The men were tangled in the wire and killed. In just 30 minutes the Newfoundland Regiment had been descimated. An order was issued to gather up the unwounded and to carry on with the attack. This order was revoked by wiser heads. That night, the search for survivors began. Only 68 men answered roll call the next day. In just 30 minutes 710 men were killed, wounded or missing. Most were struck down before they even reached their own front lines. The Regiment had been wiped out. Just as they had not let the blocked trenches stop them, the annihilation of their regiment did not stop them. Newfoundlanders are made of stronger stuff than that.The Newfoundland Regiment, comprised of all volunteers, went on to fight until the end of the war.
Beaumont Hamel still has the scars of all the shelling that took place during the battle.
Sheep graze on the battlefield. The land is too riddled with craters and un-exploded bombs for lawn mowers. The battlefield is also the final rest place for many soldiers. So far not one sheep has been blown up.
The original Danger Tree was lost. A replica stands in that infamous spot. The day we visited Beaumont Hamel a mist hung in the air. On that day, the air would have been filled with the smoke of battle. Guns would have been firing non-stop. Men would have been cut down by bullets. Blood from your comrades would have covered you. If there is a hell on earth, Beaumont Hamel on that morning would have been it. Today, the site is peaceful and respectful. You can still feel the presence of all of those men as easily as you see the mine craters. Despite the sadness, peace reigns at Beaumont Hamel today. Finally, the men are at peace.
The caribou is the emblem for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. A proud bronze caribou stands atop a cairn of Newfoundland granite, facing the enemy with his head held high in defiance, facing the direction the Newfoundlanders were headed. There are four other caribou memorials in France and Belgium. The sixth caribou is in Bowring Park in St. John’s.
On the other side of the battlefield, in the countryside of France, many Newfoundlanders were laid to their final rest. We did a tour of the site with one of the young Canadian guides. With the exception of one, everyone else was from Newfoundland and had family who had taken part in the battle. Many Newfoundlanders make this same pilgrimage to find the grave of a family member. These soldiers are not forgotten. Tears streamed down all of our faces as we looked at all of the graves. Emotions overflowed as a family found the graves of their long dead family memebers. I read every name. Wanting so much to take them home with me. To that home by the sea. The home that they no doubt had longed for. The home that kept them going as they lived through hell. So many of them did not have names. To be buried with no name. That affected me more than anything else. A name tells the world who we are, who we belong to. I know that it is not true, but to see all of those graves with no names, felt like they did not matter, that they were not important, that they did not exist. I wanted with all of my heart to give them back their names. To give them back the life they had, to give them back their families.
Headstones touch when people have died together – have died together in such a way that it is impossible to completely separate them. So, they are buried as they died. Together. Side by side.
There is a beautiful visitor centre at Beaumont Hamel which resembles a traditional Newfoundland saltbox house. University students from across Canada do 6 month stints in France as tour guides. In charge of the students is an employee of Vetrens Affairs Canada who is in France for a one year posting. The staff is only too happy to help find information on family who fought at Beaumont Hamel.
Pilgrimage A Guide to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in World War One, revised edition by W. David Parsons traces the regiment through the Great War. I will be using this informative book to visit other battlefield sites.
This is one of the hardest things I have ever written. I am so afraid. Afraid that my words will not capture the courage of The Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Afraid that my words will not due these brave men the honour that they deserve. A picture is worth a thousand words. My pictures were taken with tear filled eyes, sobs fighting to be released. How can mere words convey the hell that was Beaumont Hamel on that bloody morning? How can mere words describe a battle that changed Newfoundland forever? How can mere images capture a place that so many travel to even today with tears rolling down their faces?
War erases people. War takes away names. War takes away dignity. War takes away families. War takes away. War takes.
On our trip to France and Belgium we saw many memorials from both the First and Second World War. None struck my very heart and soul as much as Beaumont Hamel. I have poured all of my heart into this post and I hope that I have created a fitting tribute for the men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment