Local student attends war memorials
When thousands of Canadians gathered at the site of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 9, to mark the 95th anniversary of the fight, Airdrie’s Anna-Marie Lewrenz, 14, was among them.
On an educational trip, the home-school student spent nine days in France and Belgium visiting First and Second World War memorial sites from April 6 to 14.
“It was an amazing opportunity to learn so much history about the world wars,” she said. “We went to places I never knew existed and never would have thought of going to.”
The list of visited sites were varied and included Belgium’s Ypres, the site of four major battles in the First World War, Juno Beach, where thousands died and Canadian soldiers made a name for themselves on D-Day, and Dieppe, where almost 2,000 Canadians were captured in 1942.
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial at France’s Vimy Ridge played host to 5,000 Canadian high school students, as well as Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney and David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada, during a special ceremony to mark the anniversary.
The cold, rainy morning was one of the most memorable moments of Lewrenz’ trip.
“We felt what it must have been like 95 years ago,” she said. “It was rainy and windy and cold and we had been there for hours. I didn’t realize how big the ridge actually is, it is so high up and you could see how the Germans could shoot down so easily, but the soldiers still went up. It showed their bravery.”
Visiting the Vimy Ridge cemetery was also touching, as Lewrenz visited the gravesite of a fallen Montreal-area soldier she researched and wrote about prior to the trip.
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, Belgium, which marks the resting place of more than 54,000 soldiers with unknown graves who died during all four battles that took place in the area in the First World War, was another memorable site for Lewrenz.
She was also able to visit the Wellington Quarry, where thousands of soldiers were billeted underground just steps from no-mans land before staging a surprise attack on the Germans on April 9, 1917 during the Battle of Arras.
“It was cool, we got to see where they celebrated Easter Sunday Mass,” said Lewrenz, adding the battle coincided with the Vimy Ridge battle.
Juno Beach was also eye-opening for the history buff.
After visiting the site, Lewrenz was amazed at the tenacity of the Canadians, who landed during low tide and were forced to fight their way several kilometres to the shore, amidst German machine gun fire and mines.
The Juno Beach cemetery was sobering, said Lewrenz, “It was sad to see how many died.”
In all, Lewrenz’s group of 13 students visited nine memorial sites and the teen came back changed.
“I think she probably has more appreciation for what the soldiers had gone through,” said Sheila, Lewrenz’ mom. “She has a better appreciation of how awful war is.”
According to Sheila, her daughter developed a keen interest in studying the world wars, which was first piqued by a Dear Canada book.
As a home-schooler, Lewrenz was able to develop her knowledge on the subject through her studies.
The trip also gave Lewrenz a new appreciation for being a Canadian.
“I really know how lucky I am to live in a place so peaceful and not have my brothers go off to war,” she said.