William Roubicek is a recent graduate of Charles Hays Secondary School and member of the Captain Cook Sea Cadets. This is the fifth of six columns that chronicle the journey by his corps to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
When I went to France I expected to be moved by the anniversary ceremony at Vimy. I anticipated inspirational speeches.
But I didn’t realize the people we met would have the greatest impact.
After the official program ended, our corps was waiting to board the bus. It was crowded and hot. I chatted with a friend about flavours of ice cream — a perfectly natural thing to discuss following a solemn act of remembrance.
I told him how I liked strawberry ice cream better than chocolate.
Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. A grandmotherly voice asked, “Are you okay?”
I studied the elderly couple next to me. My mind raced. Did I look sick? Had I done something stupid?
“Strawberry ice cream over chocolate? Really?”
I laughed at her question. We started a conversation. We talked about ice cream, how she met Pierre Trudeau, and peanut butter and banana sandwiches. After 30 minutes, we were like old friends.
Aboard the bus, we met a Canadian soldier stationed at a NATO base. He described how he regularly travels to war memorials. Sometimes he’s even had picnics at Vimy Ridge.
And then he did something we didn’t expect: he asked my Cadet corps if we were hungry.
The soldier began to take food out of his cooler. He handed out boiled eggs, sandwiches and apples.
Our bus left the trenches of Vimy and travelled through surrounding French villages. Familiar red and white flags fluttered in the streets. A century after the Canadian victory of April 12, 1917, the maple leaf still symbolizes valour and gratitude.
I realized what commemoration of the battle meant to me: a tragic event had transformed into a celebration. We were savouring the friendships and freedoms won by a generation that gave us the opportunity to live.