Tuesday, July 20, 2010

History in-Context

I have one of the best jobs a student can have. Honestly, I live and work in France with 14 other Canadian students, could it get much better? I love my job and most mornings I look forward to driving up to the 34 meter structure that is Canada's National Historic Site in France- granted there are always mornings when I want to sleep in, but that is just because I enjoy my sleep as well!

It may sound bizarre, but while it is one of the best jobs around, it is a job that makes you want to cry almost everyday. I work on and around the battle fields of the First World War and everyday people come with stories of their grandparents, their great-grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, other friends and family members- and some come with the stories of people with whom they have no relation to. These people put a face to the history that we talk about everyday, to the names of the people whose stories we use to put history into context...they give us, as guides, the context within which these stories exist today.

I met a woman on the Canadian monument at Vimy Ridge last week. She was from Newfoundland and her grandfather had been a part of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, he fought at the Battle of the Somme and was one of the few Newfoundlanders to make it home.
She was the first one of her family to come to the Canadian Memorial, as well as the Newfoundland Memorial.

When she walked into the interpretation centre at the Newfoundland Memorial, she saw her grandfather's name listed around the centre as one of the first men to enlist as a member of the Newfoundland Regiment. She didn't know much about her grandfather's past, he didn't like to talk about his time in France. She was the first member of her family to come over to France, and see the memorials since they had been constructed. She was in tears about this, because if she hadn't come- if she had not stopped to see the interpretation centre and the monuments, no one in her family would have ever known that their grandfather and his efforts during the First World War were recognized and commemorate beyond their own community. While he passed years ago, she was telling me, he couldn't have known his name was listed throughout the Newfoundland Memorial site as no one from their family had been back to France since the war and a story like that would certainly have made its way through the family at some point.

The thought, that for years and years no one knew, neither he nor his family, that he was commemorated and recognized in some way...

Like I said, I have an amazing job, but nonetheless it is one that really humanizes what happened here.

Below an image of the gravesite where the soldier who rests in the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa was taken from. There are 11, 285 names listed on the Vimy Memorial, representing those who fell in France with no known resting grave. On the Menin Gate there are 6, 940 Canadian names inscribed, commemorating those who fell in Belgium with no known resting grave.

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