I guess now that I am home and rested I should update my blog!
First off I want to make a half apology for not updating whilst I was actually in France. I along with the rest of the Young Ambassadors was preoccupied with the wonderful sights and sensations that France and Belgium offered us. I had an incredibly amazing time and really want to thank everyone who supported me in getting there! You are incredibly generous people and I would like to mention you here:
· La Cloche Café in Wellington
· Ngaio Medical Centre
· Khandallah New World
· Hell Pizza Khandallah
· Khandallah Video Time
· Trading Post Bar and Eatery, Khandallah
· Crofton Downs Countdown
And all my friends and family, whether you gave me money, bought raffle tickets/sausages, or gave encouragement you are the best xx
The actual trip presented all of us with incredible experiences and with whole new ways of thinking about the world and the war. Paris was incredible; we got to explore and discover many interesting things in the central city and are now comfortable and familiar with the metro.
Our days in Paris have sort of blurred into one in my head, I think we saw the editor’s choice of Paris! The small time we crammed in so much stuff it was unbelievable. The visit to Les Invalides in the first full day set the scene for us all in regards to the WW1 aspect of the trip.
The highlight of our time in Paris was certainly the Bastille Day commemorations and the fact we got to sit right at the end of the Champs Elysees. The parade was an interesting insight into how the French government was interested in commemorating past wars and showing their current military strength. The beginning of the parade was marked by a march of soldiers dressed in the uniforms of the First World War. This is something New Zealand has also done in our ANZAC day commemorations and seems to be a common way of helping people connect to the soldiers of the time. It helps if they look real; there is almost something about it which is like seeing a ghost.
Lots of the commemoration in Paris on Bastille Day seemed to be about giving people a chance to interact with people of the war and with allowing you to gain a sense of what it all looked like. At the Jardin des Tuileries there was a setup with people dressed in uniform and in character showing the different lives of those in the War.
The time we spent in Arras was perhaps my highlight of the trip. My host family was amazing and it was lovely to have a homey experience and connect with locals. I think our experiences with our host families will stay in our memories for a very long time! They were incredibly welcoming and very keen to show us all Arras had to offer.
One of the weekends we were there my host family was kind enough to drive me to Armentieres where Julian is buried at Cite Bonjean cemetery. It was a very emotional experience for me and it was an honour to be able to visit his grave. I found myself truly moved by the trip, not only due to seeing Julian’s grave, but also just at the sheer numbers of graves in this small cemetery. The number of graves without someone to come visit them really affected me.
The trips we did as a group around the area of the Somme also left me with a similar feeling. All of these places, filled with graves, just treated as normal parts of the landscape. It seems odd to us as Kiwis, that the war would still be affecting people in places like the Somme. However when you look at the number of cemeteries and memorials, it is an inescapable part of daily life to not just the French but the Belgians as well. Museums like the one in Perroné were invaluable resources for our projects. It is also interesting seeing the way different regions chose to remember or educate. It seems to be a challenge in these sorts of places to create a museum that can do history justice whilst actively engaging people in a subject that they have been talked at about for so long. The number of War museums our little group visited during the two week period was perhaps significantly higher than other groups, however I could always find something new or a refreshing take on the same narrative.
It was an emotional time leaving our host families to head off to Belgium however we now have a second family to visit when we return to France. Belgium itself was also a little bittersweet as it meant we were soon to be leaving France and each other :( The other people with me on this trip were incredible and I know I felt a little sad to know that it was our last few days on the trip. Belgium however was a real eye-opener. I had been to a few of the sites we visited on a previous trip with family however coming back and viewing things with a different lens was a real experience. One of the biggest honours of the trip was getting to be one of the three, alongside Ailish and Josh, who got to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate. For me personally this was an incredible experience and a somber occasion. It is hard not to be affected when surrounded by all those names of lost men. The experience felt almost surreal, but I will have that memory for life.
I guess the thing which always gets me about Belgium is how much the people still care about the war. The willingness and want to share information and experiences is one of the best things about Belgium. Almost everyone we met took a keen interest in what we were doing and went out of their way to accommodate us and tell us their countries story. This was something we found too in Les Quesnoy in France where we were welcomed earlier in the trip. People wanted us to share their past with them, and were keen to help us understand our own. For us as New Zealanders, the war may be out of living memory however for the French and Belgians it lives on every time they see a cemetery or poppy.
I am extremely honoured to have been picked for this trip and to have had the opportunity to share this experience. This is an overview blog and I know there will be heaps more on the way about specifics, but for now I think this should do.
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Last modified on Wednesday, 30 July 2014 20:51