The Mouldering Memorial: Abbaye D’Ardenne & 18 Canadians forgotten

6 Nov

As many of you know, I recently returned from a trip to Europe. A significant portion of that trip (one that has remained deep within my heart) was to revisit the areas of France where Canadians sacrificed their lives during battle. In this week to honour courage, I am compelled to say something possibly controversial: We must work harder to remember our heroes.

Abbaye D’Ardenne Memorial

Why do I say this? Well, I came across a monument dedicate to 18 Canadian soldiers who were POWs and murdered at Abbaye d’Ardenne in the chateau garden. Apparently they were part of a larger POW group, but when the prisoners had to move, these men were singled out and taken to the garden from which they never returned.

Can you imagine it? Being directed to you death, having fought hard for a cause that was close to your heart, after mustering courage despite the overwhelming fear. . . can you imagine it? These men are a representation of the huge loss incurred to Canadian (and non-Canadian) lives, and they are a symbol for POWs abused; they gave their lives and died in their acts of courage.

But you should have seen the monument, it was an unkempt and tired commemorative plaque. Not even the locals realized the Abbaye d’Ardenne offered a Canadian memorial – and this is from an area that has Canadian street names and a strong sense of gratitude toward Canadians even to this day.  The memorial was a disappointment – I was disappointed we had chosen to forget.

Visiting the Abbaye d’Ardenne was incredibly moving, filling me pride for my Canadian heritage, and yet simultaneously horrified me that the heroics could so easily be forgotten . . . overgrown, buried away, lost.

How can we honour this Canadian legacy of the 18 Canadians? How can we make sure their sacrifice and courage despite huge fear is discussed in class rooms and shared in our culture?

On Sunday in October 2012, I stumbled upon a Canadian memorial to 18 murdered POW Canadians. Let me repeat, I stumbled upon a Canadian memorial. So what comes next? The impact these men had is surly resonating even today in that we are living free and with our values having been defended. Can anyone at Veterans Affairs let me know how this memorial was allowed to slip into a state of despair? And for everyone reading this post, how can we now, today, in our busy times, preserve the courage of our Canadian veterans?

Wearing a poppy is a starting point, listening to and learning the stories from the war is another, and maintaining monuments that honour the courage and the valour of men who gave their lives . . . well, to me I think that’s incredibly important.

How do you feel on memorial and honouring courage – should we allow that legacy to slip away, or fight to keep the stories remembered? I would love to hear your thoughts on this, and if you have any ideas please share them in the comment section.

This post is dedicated to the memory of:

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2 Responses to “The Mouldering Memorial: Abbaye D’Ardenne & 18 Canadians forgotten”

  1. Lorna November 9, 2012 at 05:17 #

    In the UK David Cameron has announced plans to send schoolchildren on a trip to the WW1 battlefields. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2216074/First-World-War-Centenary-David-Cameron-orders-school-visit-First-World-War-trenches-mark-100-years-conflicts-outbreak.html
    In times of austerity, that’s quite a big spend, and I wonder how many of them will actually take in what they are being shown? After all, they live on a diet of war games such as Tour of Duty, which offer war as a kind of violence pornography. I don’t suppose those games ever have an episode where you have to sit and write a letter along the lines of “Dear Mrs. Jones, I am very sorry to have to tell you…”

    I recently visited several WW1 cemeteries in Flanders, and the Menin Gate. I never knew any of those men personally, though a few were related to me – Canadians and New Zealanders as well as Brits. My uncle is in a cemetery in Normandy. He was 22, and was killed on the beach. There are servicemen’s bodies being flown home to the UK practically every week. Who thinks about them, apart from their families?

    Bigger and better monuments don’t mean better memorials. The best way to keep these men’s memory alive is to keep telling their stories. Not just of how they died, but of how they lived too.

    • sisterleadership November 9, 2012 at 10:23 #

      Thank you so much for your comment, Lorna. I fully agree that storytelling is the best way to maintain the memory of those who have passed, though also believe that memorials are part of that storytelling. They are a reminder to those who didn’t know the uncles, brothers, cousins (particularly as time moves forward) that young men and women were dying for this cause. I’ve also visited the cemeteries in Normandy . . . it was mind opening to walk along the rows upon rows of graves and markers – stop to read a name, see how young the man was, where he might have come from and then imagine what their lives must have been like. Without doubt countless stories are being told in those experiences.

      I like to think memorials are the “Once upon a time” openers for those who come across them. Once upon a time there were young men who died for their country. We stop to look and read the plaque, and it makes us wonder and reflect. It is a starting point, which is why I feel it’s so important to maintain these memorials. They are the representation of a story that needs to be passed on. And often, there’s nothing like being in the place and living the history to have children and adults alike put away their daily thoughts (including the video games 🙂 ) and focus on the story and the lives lost.

      Again, thank you for your comment. I very much agree that the story needs to be told.

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