One of the memorable moments for me was the dawn service in Longueval to commemorate the 100th anniversary of New Zealand’s involvement in the Battle of the Somme. It was 6.00 am when we were walking towards the New Zealand memorial. It was still dark, and only starting to lighten up with an eerie mist hanging around. As we walked between the flat, exposed fields towards the memorial, you could only start to imagine that this was where the soldiers fought 100 years ago. And overhearing from someone that a machine gun during the First World War could’ve had a range of 3km, you begin to realise how absurd the idea of climbing over the trenches and running across the low lying fields would’ve been for the soldiers. And I think moments like this are going to stay with me for a long time as not only did I learn about the place, but I was also there to experience and feel it for myself.
But with so many memorials and cemeteries scattered all across Northern France and Belgium, in between fields and in the middle of farms, sometimes you did get overwhelmed by it all. And it was sometimes hard to keep in mind that each tombstone, each name on the memorial walls were human lives, as the scale of some cemeteries and memorials were so big to even start to comprehend the human casualties involved. Because I’m pretty sure most people like me, we usually read and hear of casualty figures in books and history classes, but to actually stand at a cemetery and to imagine that each tombstone represents a soldier, it makes you think again about the human cost of the war.
But aside from all the serious stuff that we did, staying with my host family was a big thumbs up. They welcomed me and made me part of their family for 2 weeks so I can’t thank them enough. They treated me with the delicacies of the North, showed me around the place and it’s these connections that I’ll value the most from this trip.
The connections that I’ve been able to make with the people and the place have been great. To the other young ambassadors and Pacific Island students as well, it was only a week or two that we spent time together but by the end of it, we were a pretty tight unit and hopefully everyone will stay in contact with each other for years to come.
Through the end of all this, it’s these connections that are most important I think. Though I can’t say that I’m fluent in French, my host family and the students at the local school approached me with warmth and looked after me so well. And even though they didn’t understand everything I was saying and vice versa, we still got along, so I think this just shows how connections can be made even when there are differences present, as long as everyone makes an effort to understand each other and accept their differences. And this is what I’ve appreciated the most from this tour; just being able to get along with new people in a new environment while still having the time of my life.