Chilliwack middle school teacher Janet Crawford and 11 of her students are on their way to Vimy Ridge today.

Chilliwack middle school teacher Janet Crawford and 11 of her students are on their way to Vimy Ridge today.

An education in war beyond textbooks

Eleven Chilliwack middle school students will be participating in the 95th anniversary celebration of Vimy Ridge.

Fifteen year old Julia Hendley can’t wait to travel the grounds her great, great grandfather covered while fighting the first world war.

From April 3-10, Hendley will be among 11 Chilliwack middle school students participating in the National Student Remembrance Tour for the 95th anniversary of Vimy Ridge.

“I think it will be kind of cool to see what he saw and walk where he walked,” said Hendley.

Hendley’s great, great grandfather Harry Hendley was a sergeant in the Scots Guards, serving in the First Platoon, First Battalion, First Brigade, First Division, First Army Corps of the British Expeditionary Force in France.

His young boots marched from Le Harve to Mons, through the Battle of Marne, and then the Battle of Aisne.

Had the Germans had their way, he wouldn’t have made it out alive.

In one day, Hendley was hit by German bullets on three separate occasions – in his middle finger, right leg, and neck, which pushed his tongue up making it so he couldn’t speak until the “spent” bullet was later removed.

“The Germans were evidently out to finish me off,” he was quoted in a 1957 article.

Hearing the stories of her great, great grandfather makes Julia want to learn more.

“You can’t forget the past,” she said. “Because if it wasn’t for the past, there would be no present and future. If it wasn’t for my great, great grandfather, there would be no Julia.”

When CMS teacher Janet Crawford heard about the national student tour, which is organized by EF Educational Tours, she knew her students had to be a part of it.

“It’s the 95th commemorative ceremony – it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Crawford said.

Instead of reading about the war in textbooks, the different battles, and the Canadian lives lost in a time so far removed from today’s youth, these kids are going to be touring the sites, visiting cemeteries, seeing the names of Canadian soldiers inscribed in headstone after headstone.

They’ll tour the Normandy region and see the trenches where the soldiers waited for weeks before attacking. They’ll walk the landscape still marked from masses of artillery shells. They’ll visit other notable war locales including Dieppe and Juno Beach. They’ll pay respects in the Nine Elms Military Cemetery, and Villers-au-Bois Cemetery where seven Chilliwack men are buried. They’ll attend the last post ceremony at Menin Gate in Vimy Ridge, and visit the Vimy Ridge memorial where 99 Chilliwack men are listed.

And on April 9, the 95th anniversary, the Chilliwack students will join thousands of others in honouring Canada’s legacy in the all-day Vimy Ridge ceremony.

With them, they will be carrying a nine by three-and-a-half foot remembrance banner featuring Chilliwack’s history in the war.

Four CMS students will also be introducing Canadian band Spirit of the West to the festivities.

It’s an education you can’t get in textbooks, said Crawford.

“It’s one thing to read about this stuff in books, but a completely other thing to see it first hand.”

That’s the sentiment of mom Tracy Marendiuk, who will be accompanying her 14-year-old son Mitch and the rest of the group on the trip.

Marendiuk’s family, who hails from Scotland and Versailles, has a long history with war. Her grandfather Armond Quesnel was a French soldier, carrying information across enemy lines on a Harley. Her grandmother Jean Tracey was a nurse in the war. Her other grandfather, Harry Robertson, was a proud Scottish soldier, who got shot in the shoulder and never missed an opportunity to show off his plastic shoulder.

This experience was too important for her son not to be a part of.

“Our family is in the history books,” said Marendiuk. “It’s important for [Mitch] to know.”