In early October I was travelling in Belgium, and while there, decided to take a tour out to Flanders Fields. It became a real highlight of my trip.
Philippe, our Belgian guide, who also drove the small bus, had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Great War (WWI) and imparted to us the lasting impact it had on Belgium.
He showed us the place where his grandmother grew up and that the whole northwest part of Belgium was wiped out during the war; not one tree or building remained standing. The people were evacuated and Belgian soldiers tried to defend that critical region, helped by thousands of Allied troops. The casualties were almost incomprehensible.
I think everyone on the tour relived along with Philippe what it was like in the mud and the trenches and the horrors of No Man’s Land. We visited The Brooding Soldier monument to the 2,000 Canadians who were the first victims of gas warfare.
Of the many immaculate cemeteries in the Flanders area with their beautiful memorials, we visited three of the largest including a cemetery dedicated to German soldiers. Listening to Philippe talk about the importance to the Belgians of maintaining these cemeteries made me realize the immense weight these people still carry from the war that ended 100 years ago.
Canadians are held in high regard in Belgium and Philippe was delighted that there were three Canadians on his tour. One of the stops was the dressing station where Canadian-born Dr. John McCrae worked on wounded soldiers. A bronze plaque of his famous poem, In Flanders Fields, was mounted there, in McCrae’s original handwriting. It was very moving to hear Philippe read aloud in his Belgium accent the poem that every Canadian knows so well. He remarked that poppies germinate in disturbed soil and that the acidic soil of the battlefields allowed them to proliferate. He told us, “This year we did not see poppies anymore after June as it was too dry for them.”
My next column will recount more about the tour but people will want to know about the next Elphinstone Community Association (ECA) meeting. It will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 7 p.m. at the Frank West Hall. Due to the municipal elections, this will be the first regular ECA meeting of the season. Apologies to the folks who wrote to me, saying they showed up at the hall the second Wednesday in October – notice should have been placed on the door! New SCRD director Donna McMahon will be on hand to field questions and report on her first (official) week as director. Advance notice that the ECA is planning another November Social at Chaster House on Saturday, Nov. 24 from 5 to 10 p.m.