6 years ago – a really special, hilarious old man entered my life. In between jokes about trying to live his elderly life as a blind man, he often told me stories from his pilot days in the second world war. His two brothers were drafted into different divisions of ground infantry, and he was drafted as a pilot. Serving as a pilot trainer, he was hailed as one of the best; and taught most of the Canadian pilots.
This past weekend was the 2nd anniversary of his death, and although he was part of the second world war, I realized there was a ton of world war history in Belgium and I could pay my respect to all the Canadian soldiers buried here.
When people think of Belgium – it’s easy to get lost in all things Belgian; chocolate, beer, diamonds, waffles. Belgium is home to so many war history sites, cemeteries, memorials and actual preserved war items.
Diving into Canadian war history (both first and second world wars) here in Belgium – I researched a few places and decided to visit the two most commonly known Canadian tributes – Tyne Cot Cemetery and Hill 62.
Tyne Cot cemetery is by far, one of the most beautiful cemeteries I’ve ever been to.
Tyne Cot is resting place to;
8963 Britons (6627 unidentified)
1369 Australians (791 unidentified)
1011 Canadians (560 unidentified)
520 New Zealanders (322 unidentified)
90 South Africans (66 unidentified)
3 German (2 unidentified)
Walking the 39 thousand square foot cemetery, your heart-strings are tugged by the emotional statements that accompany the names on the graves.
Thousands and thousands of graves, beautifully decorated with flowers, vines and shrubbery – it’s a peaceful resting place if I’ve ever seen one.
Also on this lot is a small one-room museum filled with artifacts found around the area during clean up; shoes, helmets, medals, notes, photos, etc. Entering this room, an audio loop lists off the name, age, rank and nationality of the fallen soldiers buried there.
This museum is a favourite of mine because of it’s memorabilia, story telling ability and emotion – all packed into one room.
HISTORY OF THE AREA:
The village of Passchendaele (the nearest town) fell into German hands in 1914. During the 3rd battle of Ypres (July 1917-November 1917), the allies tried to take the village. After 3 months of battle, the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade took charge.
The Germans regained the village in the spring of 1918. They remained there until the Belgian 4th Regiment recaptured the village in the final Allied offensive.
Until the end of March 1918, the dead were brought to this area and buried; and this was the start of the cemetery. Once the war ended, the cemetery was expanded to bring in the fallen from the battlefields of Langemark and Passchendaele.
The area is also home to several preserved war trenches, which we were unable to see due to the operating hours of the site.
Overlooking the nearby towns, it’s easy to imagine the battles that have taken place over the fields just a short time ago. This is a beautiful place to be if you’re a Canadian visiting in Belgium and would like to honor our fallen soldiers – as it is the only war memorial in Belgium dedicated solely to Canadians.
HISTORY OF THE AREA:
The hill’s summit is about 62 metres, hence the name of the memorial site.
This hill is known from the FIrst World War, when it was often used as an observation point due to the height.
The allied troops were here from the German lines. The lines in this area were staffed mostly by Canadian soldiers.
In June of 1916, the German’s bombarded the Canadian forces for several hours, followed the the attack of the German infantry on foot.
The following day, a counterattack was executed. The Canadians attempted to better strengthen their lines, but failed, ultimately being overtaken by the German forces.
A very hilarious old pilot used to say to me;
“We’ve been fighting for thousands of years. You might not live long enough to see it – but one day they will realize; no one knows what they are fighting about anymore.”