Vimy trip leaves in­deli­ble mark on stu­dents

The Drumheller Mail - - SPORTS - Pa­trick Ko­lafa The Drumheller Mail

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.

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