Vimy trip leaves indelible mark on students
It was truly a once in a lifetime experience for youth from DVSS who took in the ceremony to mark the centennial of the battle of Vimy.
In all, about 80 students, teachers, and chaperones travelled to Europe on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the defining World War I battle that cemented Canada’s place in the world. Former teacher Lynn Hemming led the excursion. She said the trip brought great meaning to the students.
“I have done eight trips to Europe with kids, and every one of them I would do again,” she said.
Before going, each student was assigned a soldier who was laid to rest in the fields of France, and they researched the men and visited the graves. One of these soldiers was from Drumheller.
Liam McDougald was assigned the grave of Conrad Radocy. Prior to leaving, they were in contact with his granddaughter who lives in Vancouver. They learned that Radocy had perished overseas and never had the chance to meet his daughter. His granddaughter followed the Drumheller trip and passed along photos for Liam to leave on the grave.
“We sent her photos right away because they had never been over, any of the family, and they didn’t even know where he was buried,” said Hemming. It was moving for all of us but I think to find that Drumheller connection was very special.”
There were even more family connections. The day after the Vimy celebrations they drove throughout the countryside and Hemming said it was powerful to see Canadian flags hung on homes in thanksgiving.
They stopped at a cemetery as members small of the Bertsch family, who were along on the trip are distantly related to a soldier named John George Pattison who was one of four soldiers who received the Victoria Cross at Vimy. Pattison saved a number of Canadian lives by jumping into a German machine gun station and neutralized it by bayoneting five German soldiers. He died the next day.
What made this even more special was they met a local knowledgeable about the event who was able to take him to place where this wartime drama unfolded a century before.
“At the same time, a farmer who works the land near the cemetery started to tell the kids what it is like to farm the land between there and the Vimy hills. There are underground tunnels throughout the entire land and how his tractor dropped six metres because a tunnel collapsed when he was seeding,” said Hem- ming.
The farmer was able to lead the students to a World War I sniper hole that still exists today.
‘It was a moment where every kid was in tears, it was the real deal and had a real impact,” she said.
Another memory that stands out for Hemming was when the students had a picnic on Juno Beach. They were the only people there that day.
“I will always have this picture in my head of our Grade 12 boys standing on the shore of Juno Beach looking out across the English Channel,” she said. ” You knew what they were thinking. They were picturing the transports and boats coming in and imagining what kind of courage that would have taken to run against machine gun fire across the beach.”
She said the experience was outstanding and she is grateful for the chaperones who were able to guide the students through the educational and logistical experience safely.
DVSS students picnic on Juno Beach during their European trip to mark the centennial of the Battle of Vimy.
The Bertsch family gathered at the grave of distance relative John Pattison, who earned the Victoria Cross at Vimy.