Tom Douglas is a friend and fellow writer. He is also an accomplished war historian. What does that have to do with travel? Plenty! Did you know that 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the
First World War and the 70th anniversary of
D-Day? Tom will soon be featured during a "Great Canadian War Memorial Tour" organized by
Globus that runs April 4-14 and includes stops in Paris, Caen, Dieppe, Vimy Ridge and Ypres.
My own experience of exploring the
battlefield at Ypres was deeply moving. I toured the Belgian trenches and observed the
killing fields up close. I climbed down into fortified dugouts that held
our brave soldiers, and I was told about the terrible grey mud that claimed so many lives of the unfortunate wounded souls who literally were drowned and smothered in the clutching craters.
If you have been watching the TV series, Downton Abbey, as I have, you have experienced the bitter visual taste of that terrible war. The upper crust Grantham family and their array of servants must endure the war with members from both upstairs and downstairs intimately involved in the merciless fighting. By November, 1916, the Great War has rendered everything and everyone changed and damaged. Downton Abbey is transformed and made into a convalescent home for wounded officers while at the front, Mathew and William, representing both classes must face untold daily horrors.
One terrible scene displays the ultimate futility in the trenches when one agonizing night, the young servant, Thomas, deliberately holds a candle in one up-stretched hand above the trench, and is instantly shot be an enemy rifle, crippling and returning Thomas to England.
I remember that when I returned home from Ypres, having absorbed its history, the first thing that I did was grab as many of
Pierre Berton's detailed books as I could, and read them all. And, I had to re-read Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae's famous poem, "
In Flanders Fields".
For Tom Douglas, the upcoming historical trip combines two loves - Canadian military history and travel, and it includes a stop at the
Beny-sur-Mer Canadian war cemetery, where Sgt. Murray Oliver Kirby, the best friend of Tom's father, is buried. Kirby was killed on D-Day at age 27.
Douglas has written
several best-selling books about Canada's participation in the two world wars, including Canadian Spies: Tales of Espionage in Nazi-Occupied Europe During World War II and Valour at Vimy Ridge: Canadian Heroes of World War I. His D-Day, Canadian Heroes of the Famous World War II Invasion, has sold 30,000 copies. That book will be given to each couple who participates on the spring trip.
Tom tells me that he has toured war sites in Europe approximately twenty times since 1962, but he is excited that he will still see some locations for the first time in April, including the Last Post Ceremony at the
Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium.
Another highlight will be the
Imperial War Museum in London. He has explored
Vimy Ridge before, but not since its restoration was concluded in 2007. He and his wife, Gail, organized a 50th anniversary D-Day cruise aboard
Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1994 with all 900 cabins sold out. Special guests were Vera Lynn, Bob Hope, Walter Cronkite and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Quite a trip!
This journey starts with two days in Paris, a third at the landing beaches to Caen, from Caen to Dieppe, and Dieppe to Amiens and Arras. Day six is at Vimy Ridge, day seven at Ypres, then to Dover and two days in London. The tour is one of three that Globus is organizing for Canadian travellers in the coming year. "People are starting to think about our military heritage," says Tom. Land portion cost of the Great Canadian War Memorial Tour is $2,760. Single supplement is $905. For information, call 800-268-3636.
Of course, if you want to experience the Great War closer to home, I recommend Ottawa's impressive War Museum. Plaster casts of the Vimy Memorial will be a sure highlight.
You can rent "All Quiet on the Western Front," my favourite classic 1930 film or drive to Toronto to take in the Mirvish production of "War Horse" at the Princess of Wales Theatre. I also recommend reading Jane Urquhart's novel, "The Stone Carvers," a 2001 Canadian novel that follows three generations of a Canadian family, focusing on the lives of a wood carver's two grandchildren as it explores the building of the Vimy Memorial to commemorate
Canadian war dead in France.
Courtesy of Tourism France and Visit Britain
Mike Keenan: War Museum
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
From the History Department of the US Military Academy West Point