1. In front of Mont St. Michel
2. Making our way up the single street below the abbey, Mont St. Michel
3. In front of the Caen memorial
4. With Sophie, our guide at Juno Beach, very cold!
5. Ryan reads the inscription on the central cross of the Candian WWII cemetery near Juno Beach
After settling the boys into Les Trois Petites Chochons (Three Little Pigs) room and the girls into La Petite Sirene (Little Mermaid) room, we had a good first sleep at The Family Home, a youth hostel situated in a quiet farmhouse just outside of Bayeux. The difference between this place, which we had all to ourselves, and Charlie Rockets is night and day, or smoke and clean air, or noise and quiet, or…whatever.
Our morning started with a hearty breakfast, featuring Nutella on every table. It was good to see Madam Lefevre again, now 71 and as harried and stressed as ever from running two youth hostels.
We left for Mont St. Michel in a bit of rainstorm, but we drove through it and ended up with just wind on the famous abbey on a rock in the ocean. We had a scavenger hunt which the parents were extremely excited about (I’m not being facetious) and they managed to drag the kids through it to. Actually, I think the kids enjoyed it as well, but those parents were mapping out strategy and trying to sneak answers out of James and I even before we arrived. I guess I should mention that Jackie Krumhardt, Ben Franklin, and Cam Lynch (and whatever kids they were with?) won by two points. Mont St. Michel is an active abbey, and being there on a Sunday for the first time was interesting as the monks and nuns, who are rarely seen on other days, were out on the grand inner staircase. There presence reminded us that this and many other places we visit are sacred to many people, and these kids have been so very respectful and such great ambassadors for Canada as we tour. There were other school groups at Mont St. Michel that day, and the behaviour and enthusiasm of the Fundy kids was in stark contrast to the behaviour, and especially the foul language of some of these other kids. Makes me proud to be a Fundy teacher.
The theme of the rest of the day was WW II, as we visited the Caen Memorial, which tells the story of the second world war through an amazing array of multimedia and historical artifacts. My favourite part of it is the first part, called the Failure of the Peace, which details the flaws of the Treaty of Versailles, signed at the end of “The War to End all Wars” (WW I) and how the conditions of the treaty helped push Europe into a war which ultimately took 50 000 000 European lives. 50 million; that’s every person in Canada today with 20 million to spare. Ending the visit with the best documentary film on D-Day I have ever seen was perfect, as our next stop was Juno Beach.
Juno Beach was, like last year, being blasted with high winds, but with the addition of rain. It was really cold. The kids and parents toughed it out as our Canadian guide Sophie (English as a second language, but obviously studied very well), explained how 14 000 young Canadians, most of them just a few years older than these kids, toughed out a stormy trip across the English Channel to land at this beach and take part in one of the greatest military operations in history. The people of the nearby village of Courseulles-sur-Mer were so grateful to be freed from Nazi tyranny, and so surprised that many of their liberators spoke French! Sophie told us the older people in the village still talk very fondly of their Canadian liberators. We then visited the nearby Canadian WW II cemetery (one of three in the region) and paid our respects to the young men buried there. Shelly pointed out to me later that a group of boys was excitedly talking about what they had learned at Juno Beach and how proud it made them to be Canadians. I don’t think I could ask for anything more from the experience.