By Peter Stoffer
On April 6, 2017 a group of 40 students from Cole Harbour District High School, Nova Scotia, along with their principal, four teachers and myself along with my wife took a journey of remembrance from Nova Scotia to the battlefields of northern Europe. For most of these students it was their first time on a plane and their first trip overseas.
The itinerary included Passchendaele, Menin Gate, Wellington Quarry, Vimy Ridge, Beaumont-Hamel, Juno Beach, Abbaye d’Ardenne, Paris and London.
The lead teacher and organizer of this trip was Dave Denike. His efforts working with EF Educational Tours, the parents and with very active fundraising allowed these young people to have an experience of a lifetime.
I personally have had the privilege of visiting these sites of honour in the past, but never with such a large group of wonderful students. We laid wreaths and paid our respects to the fallen. Three events during this trip stand out for me.
We brought along with us a First World War-issued bible that belonged to John James Searle from Truro, Nova Scotia. The bible was discovered in Maitland, Nova Scotia about 19 years ago. Written on the back pages are detailed descriptions of the events at Vimy Ridge, from April 6 to April 9, 1917. Searle was injured at Vimy, sent to England and onward to Halifax, where he then survived the Halifax explosion of December 6, 1917. His grandson, Duncan Searle, allowed us to bring the bible back to Vimy, where it had been 100 years ago. Breanna, one of our students, read a passage from the bible as did John Searle’s great-granddaughter, Serena Matthews.
The second event that stood out for me was when Bill Quiqley, from Ontario, upon hearing that students from Cole Harbour were going over to Vimy, asked if we could lay a wreath at his great-uncle Private Robert L. McInnis’s gravesite. No one from the family had ever had the opportunity to visit the site. We laid a wreath, poppies and a photocopy of the silver cross that McInnis’s mother had received on his gravesite. McInnis, who served with the 25th Battalion, was from Caledonia Mine, Cape Breton.
The third event was at Abbaye d’Ardenne, where the murder of 27 Canadian soldiers took place between June 7 and 8, 1944. These heroes of our country came from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and the Sherbrooke Fusiliers. While laying our wreath at the site I noticed that all the students were very quiet. It then dawned on me that the students realized that there are some things more important than your own life, that the meaning of SERVICE BEFORE SELF is what all those heroes of Canada and her allies truly understood.
The students understood what the terms honour, valour, duty, sacrifice, loyalty, remembrance and what PRO PATRIA mean to the men and women who serve today. It was an incredible honour to travel overseas with such a tremendous group of young ambassadors of our municipality, province and country.
If any of our Esprit De Corps readers had any concerns about the youth of Canada today, I wish to assure all of them that … THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT …