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In Honour of Remembrance Day - A note from Sam at the Battlefield Tours

See Above: Scroll through the slideshow to see some of our most memorable moments on tour this year - hover over the image for a detailed note


Today marks the 99th year of Remembrance.

That's a lot to think about.

For those living through the First World War, almost a century ago - I can't help but think - we’re almost through this thing. And yet, it's going to get worse. The First World War becomes tragically repetitive as the days progress, and the effects and the reactions that come in the final year ahead, irrevocably created the world we live in today.

To me, Remembrance day is not simply a day to take 2 minutes to stop and remember the fallen. It's a day to reflect on it too. I think about the impact that was created when those loved ones fell - and on that scale, how I think how about how that affects the surviving generation - emotionally, physically, mentally, and socially.

This year on tour, we've been exploring the many open scars of the World Wars, both on and off the battlefields. We traversed the cratered landscape - and we tried to imagine the pain. But it's not just on the pock-marked buildings we see these open wounds still healing, we also see it on the faces of the people we connect with every day.

Over this past year especially - with the overwhelmingly large commemorative events: Vimy 100, Dieppe 75, Hill 70 100 and the Passchendaele 100 tour - this was a year for meeting and connecting with some incredible people willing to share their incredible connections to this battlefield story.

To me, the people I've travelled with this year have reminded me of 2 things; a fact that fascinates me, and another that terrifies me.

(1) Is that after 99 years, we are still putting the puzzle pieces together on the battlefields we explore, and to me that's exciting! For our team, it makes every time we visit a site a unique, and different experience.

(2) The archives I’ve explored, the diaries I've read, and the research I've done - on paper, the casualty numbers can all feel somewhat benumbing after awhile - but when our travellers and community share their story, it reminds me - although the casualty rates rise higher and higher, we're still talking about individual stories of pain and suffering. It's all real, this isn't fictional - and that's kind of terrifying.

Watson, Remembrance Day, Battlefield Tours, Services Ceremony

You've probably heard the metaphor before, but only because it's so poignant: All the pain from each war, the heartbreak, the devastation - they're like pebbles dropping in a still pond, and the ripples reach outwards, touching all of society.

Collectively, we wind up with millions of people impacted like this - the ripple effect projects outwards - and it goes on, and on, affecting tens or even hundreds of millions people and its subsequent generations.

And for just a moment, we take a day, two minutes, to stop, to take a breath, to be silent, and we think about that. Wow.


Bud Weeks, former radio operator, conquers a Sherman at the Hartenstein Hotel in May 2015

Have we fully gained the perspective needed to understand what happened a century ago? Do we get how it impacts our world today? Have we fully uncovered the many facets of this story? The motives? Do we understand how it could ever get that bad after such a wonderful, century-long peace, like the turn of the nineteenth century enjoyed? Today, do we recognize the effect those changes had, not only in communities throughout the world, but in our own society? Do we appreciate the devastation and ruin that the World Wars left modern citizens and countries to deal with in areas such as the red zones of Russia, France and Belgium?

WW2 Veterans Bud Weeks & H Rowden discussing events at our group dinner in Normandy, 2014

When Im on tour, I’m not thinking of the emotional impact, really. On tour, I like to talk about human endurance - what a human body is capable of handling is fascinating to me - or perhaps the sheer amount of resources and logistics it takes to co-ordinate a certain tactic, for example. Im thinking facts, figures, whilst juggling coach schedules, check-in times, and allergy lists.

Back of the coach on the 2014 Normandy Tour - Courtesy of Mary Pilon

But on Remembrance Day, I get these two minutes to stop, and reflect - and I can’t help but succumb to all the emotional pain that comes with the facts and figures I absorb all year - the emotional sacrifice a generation from 99 years ago endured, is still very raw to me, and it hits me all at once.

In my reflection, I thought about the people I’ve met in the last few years. The knowledge, the passion, and the willingness to continue to honour and remember our military history provided me with a new understanding of how we see Remembrance Day.

Veteran Bud Weeks and Battlefield Guide Glenn Edmonds, shake hands along the Thank You Canada Parade

I've learned by working and travelling with these people that the theme of Remembrance is no longer “Will our children remember them?”, instead, we’re asking questions like: "What have we learned from this, and what more could we learn?" There is no question, that the Millennial generation is making the same comparisons (Source: I'm one of them).

To all of you that I’ve met, both on and off the battlefields, thank you. It is your passion that I find so inspiring, and more importantly, encouraging.

Samantha with veterans [left to right] Frank Fordham, Bud Weeks, George Skerkowski, Ray Lewis in Bergen-Op-Zoom, May 2015

In my reflection, I am thinking about you all. I’ve been so privileged to meet with, work with, and connect with you.

To those I’ve travelled with: the experiences we shared are everlasting. Some of you have reached out to me over the weekend, telling me how your journey overseas changed your life - but your input changed mine too. The resources we’ve gained together, the knowledge we’ve shared among each other, and the perspective we now have has undoubtedly impacted all of us.

I’m overwhelmed with what I’ve learned this year, and from what I continue to learn. It has been an exciting year, but it certainly came with its



Our Coach parks in the parking lot of the new Hill 70 Memorial, which was inaugurated in August 2017

For the support we received throughout

the year, I’d like to thank the following people who made *my* Remembrance journey a series of exceptional experiences:

To the Caribou Royal Newfoundland Regiment Tour, to the Vimy 100 groups, to Jayne Poolton, Mark Cadeau, and to every single traveller who joined us on the Every Man Remembered Dieppe 75 Project - a heart-felt thank you.

Walking the Canadian Tunnels of WW1 underneath the city of Zonnebeke

Battlefield Tour Guide Glenn Edmonds talks to the Zonnebeke excavation staff at the head of the tunnel, August 2017

To the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s historical team, and the Last Post Association - I thank you. To the Jubilee Association & the Je Me Souviens organization, I love you all!!

To guys like David O’Keefe, Mark Zuelke, Dan Carlin, and Andy Robert Shaw - thank you for keeping our history captivating and alive - you’re all superstars to me.

To our Battlefield community - Marg, Ruth, Frank, Hedy, the McLaren Clan, Sharon Weeks, Don, John Laycock, Ellen, Maureen, Glenn, Adam, and anyone else I’ve missed - thank you - you are the reason our programs are what they are today, and I’m so fortunate be able to continue to share in this passion with you.

To the rest of the Battlefield Tours Team - what are we without you? To Glenn Edmonds, Jennifer Edmonds, & Jeremy Edmonds - to Ruijs Coaches & DH Tour. To Vermeeren, and the International Guild of Battlefield Guides - to Jon & Allison at the Old Blighty - Thank you, thank you, thank you.

New interpretation center at Vimy Ridge Memorial Park

But most importantly I’d like to give thanks in my reflection, to men like Bud Weeks, Ray Lewis, George Skerkowski, Mr. Rowden, Jack Poolton, John Sejevick, and so many others - you guys are my heroes, and some of you will never know how much of what you’ve shared about your past means to me. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to talk about this stuff - but you changed my life in the process — Some of you guys are already gone, but the time you gave will be forever cherished.

I am thankful, I am thoughtful, and I will continue to remember them.

Wishing all a peaceful Remembrance,

Sam Cowan

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