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The Weight of History - First World War reality felt by students during Vimy visit


Published on August 24, 2017

Haley Frail was among 14 students from North Queens Community School in Caledonia, NS who travelled to Vimy Ridge in April. Frail shared her experience with the community Aug. 17.

©Aethne Hinchliffe

CALEDONIA, NS - After going to Vimy Ridge in April, 18-year-old Hayley Frail’s perception about the First World War is not the same.

Fourteen students from North Queens Community School in Caledonia, NS left for Europe on April 6, 2017 to participate in the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Almost every grave in that gravesite had a note or had a picture or had a thank you beside it.

Haley Frail

Frail presented photos and spoke about her trip at the North Queens Heritage House in Caledonia Aug. 17.

The first photo Frail presented to her audience of about 30 people was one of a small group of North Queens students standing with their backs to the camera, wearing their red Vimy jackets.

“This was the night that it kind of became real to me that we were going to go on this amazing adventure that we had,” she said.

The North Queens students started to plan for their trip about three years before it actually happened.

Amsterdam

The group’s first stop was Amsterdam, where students visited the Anne Frank Huis (House).

The Frank family went into hiding during the Second World War to escape from the Nazis. Anne was among a group of seven who hid in a secret annex. After more than two years in hiding, the group was discovered.  

“We got to see where she (Anne) stayed while they were hiding,” said Frail. “For those of you who have read her diary, you will have read about how the door into their apartment was behind a bookshelf that was built into the wall.”

Frail described walking through that doorway and realizing she was somewhere incredibly important. She said that moment – the idea of being somewhere so significant - set the tone for the rest of the trip.

Menin Gate

“The Menin Gate is right in front of the entrance to Ypres in Belgium,” explained Frail.

This was the group’s initial First World War stop.

“It was another place where the gravity of it kind of hit you,” she said.

Inside the gate are the names of Canadian soldiers with no graves. There are also names of all the other soldiers from the commonwealth countries.

“You start to realize, like I said, where you are and what it means to be where you are,” Frail said.

A little further along is a placard in Belgian, French, German, and English. The sign reminds people the Last Post sounds every evening at the Menin Gate Memorial at eight o’ clock.

Canadian Great War Project

Frail said every student who went to Vimy Ridge had the opportunity to research a soldier from her or his hometown or province. Students got to visit the grave of the soldiers they had learned about.

Frail did research about Bruce Malcolm Cameron from Mahone Bay. Students were asked to take a small token from home that represented their soldiers.

The day Frail headed to Halifax for her flight, she stopped in Mahone Baby and got a shell and rock to take to Cameron’s grave.

She said the most touching thing was seeing the gravesite.

“Almost every grave in that gravesite had a note or had a picture or had a thank you beside it.”

Students also took notes from the community to add to the gravestones. Frail said there were about five for each student.

Read next week’s issue of The Queens County Advance to hear more about North Queens Community School’s trip to Vimy Ridge.