Travel TopOfBlogs Past and future wanderings of a travel bug . . .: Lest we forget...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lest we forget...

Lest We Forget...
I know I am fortunate to live in a country that has not known modern warfare, at least within our own borders.  Despite this, we have not been untouched by war as brave Canadian soldiers, both men and women have served our country preserving the freedoms that we enjoy as Canadians.  Other places in the world have not been as lucky.


Today in Canada we recognize Remembrance Day.  It's a sombre day of reflection and thanks as well.  I have many memories of past Remembrance Days that I hold close.  One of these was doing a reading at a school assembly when I was in first or second grade.  I read (In Flander's Fields I think) to the entire school and guests.  Even though I couldn't fully comprehend the meaning of the day then I still knew it was important.  In high school I was involved in another school assembly for Remembrance Day as my drama class presented several scenes with themes of wartime.  By this time I already knew the fear of potential of war from when the Golf War erupted back when I was in junior high.  I was afraid that war might touch my home.  And to some degree it did.  In my lifetime Canadian forces have been engaged in several conflicts both as peacekeepers and in an active combat role such as in the current conflict in Afghanistan.  Today we remember all those involved in these missions as well as in the First and Second World Wars and Korea.


One of the many freedoms that we enjoy is that of being able to travel.  As Canadians we are welcome to visit many countries around the world.  Visiting places touched by some conflicts has moved me more than I would have ever expected.  Here are five places I have visited that have touched by war in some way or another in the 20th century.  I think that all of these are worth a visit if you are visiting the area.


1.  The Memorials and War Cemeteries surrounding the site of the Battle of Gallipoli
The Battle of Gallipoli was fought in 1915 between Allied and Turkish forces.  The casualties were heavy on both sides.  The conditions were horrible and a strange camaraderie developed between enemy soldiers.  This is demonstrated in many of the stories told and in the Respect for Mehmet├žik Memorial which depicts a Turkish soldier carrying an Australian soldier back to his trench.
There are more than 80 cemeteries and memorials dedicated to both Turkish and allied dead which included soldiers from Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, India and even Newfoundland (which at  that time was not yet a part of Canada).  I visited several sites including ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) Cove and Lone Pine Cemetery.  Though I know of no personal connections to any of the dead here the visit stuck a chord with me as I wandered between the graves, watched the waves crash against the rocks and saw the trenches that still exist.  To learn more about these sites and others on the Gallipoli peninsula check out the Turkey Guide.  ANZAC day is observed on April 25th each year and services are held at the site. 


2. Orkney Islands, Scotland
During WWI and WWII, the site of Scapa Flow was used as a Royal Navy Base.  After WWI the German fleet was brought here until a decision was to made on its future.  A number of these ships were shipwrecked and this remains a place that divers come to explore.
After the start of WWII the HMS Royal Oak was sunk by a German U-boat at Scapa Flow.  The Italian POWs held here were put to work building barriers (also known as the Churchill Barriers) to stop access to some of the channels.  These barriers had the added result of becoming a way to travel from island to island by road.  Today once you take the ferry to Orkney from the mainland you can see the rest of the islands by car.  These prisoners also built the Italian Chapel which is situated on the island of Lamb Holm.  The small but ornate church is a main attraction on the island.


3. Placa Sant Felip Neri, Barcelona
Wandering through the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona I was struck by the sheer amount of history.  The beginnings of this area were as a Roman village. Today there is a mix of old and new buildings standing side by side.  The streets are winding and you never know quite what you are going to find as you turn the next corner.  The Placa Sant Felip Neri is a tiny square tucked away in the quarter that is filled with history.  During the Spanish civil war it was here that people were rounded up and put to death by firing squad against the facade of the church.  The wall is riddled with marks left behind from the bullets and also damage from the air raid of January 30, 1938.  Today the square is tranquil and shady but it remains a symbol of the suffering of the Spanish during the Civil War.


4. Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
Not far from Munich lies the site of Dachau, the first concentration camp that first held both political and Jewish prisoners during the Second World War.  When you enter the gates you see the sign Arbeit macht frei which means "work will make you free".  Sadly for many of those that entered those gates this was not true.  Over 25 000 people died in the camp.  Today it is a memorial site and museum.  When I visited in November 2007 the day was cold and it was just beginning to snow.  I imagined those imprisoned who were without adequate food, shelter and clothing living in this site in the cold.  Imagine being forced to work outside for long hours without so much as a jacket or a pair of shoes.   The air was crisp and silent as I walked between the barracks and along the path to the gas chambers and the crematorium.    The experience was sobering and one I expect never to forget.


5. The Vimy War Memorial, France
The Battle of Vimy Ridge represents a defining moment for Canada as a nation. It was the first time that Canadians fought as a national force rather than as a part of the British Army.  This event remains a symbol of of both achievement and sacrifice.  In honour of this sacrifice France has given use of a part of the former battleground to Canada to build a memorial site.  Part of the site is also considered Canadian soil. Unveiled in 1936 the Vimy Memorial is located on the highest point and can be seen from a distance.  It took 11 years to build.  You can see a few of the trenches up close but most of the area is closed off for safety reasons as there are still dangers such as exploded munitions.  The structure is awe inspiring and sobering at the same time.  The memorial is one of two National Historic Sites of Canada located outside of Canada. 


All of these sites left their mark on me.  Visiting them and many others helped make the history more real.  And this Remembrance Day I remember those that fought and still fight to make sure that we remain free.  I hope you will remember them too. 

2 comments:

  1. Hellow!

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    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Permanent Traveler! Glad you enjoy the site. I've returned the favor--it's just too bad I have yet to learn Japanese!

    ReplyDelete

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