We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants
I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend the 2014 RMCC Battlefield tour. The trip was insightful, inspirational, and entertaining. During the day, we received guided tours of many significant Canadian battlefields, including the Somme, Beaumont Hamel, Vimy Ridge, Dieppe, the beaches of Normandy, and others. Professors Boire, Delaney, and Coombs drew from their extensive knowledge and experience in order to provide us with strategic, operational, and tactical insight into how the battles unfolded. At night, we visited Arras, Ypres, Dieppe, Caen, and Paris, surviving on a diet consisting primarily of French baguette with the occasional sampling of French wine and Belgian beer.
Much gratitude is owed to Ian Mottershead (Class of 1962), our generous benefactor, and the RMCC Foundation who provided the funding which made the trip possible. This trip has been an invaluable part of my formation as an officer.
The most moving part of the trip for myself and many others was the visit to the Dieppe Canadian Military Cemetery. In fact, if you want to see a busload of cadets cry, bring them to Dieppe. First, we had the opportunity to walk the beaches of Dieppe, Puys, and Pourville. Having seen the place where the failed assault cost the lives of many Canadian soldiers, we entered the cemetery with heavy hearts. Each commonwealth cemetery is a little different, and also different are the ways in which different people visit those cemeteries. I preferred to walk up and down the rows of graves, reading the inscriptions on the gravestones. Some were simple, saying ‘Known Unto God’ for a soldier whose remains could not be identified. Others contained inspirational or religious sayings and quotations, while still others were decorated by loving messages from family members.
And then I found the grave that defined the trip for me. Lieutenant Boyd, killed August 31st, 1944, a little over two years after the date of the first attack on Dieppe. Written across the bottom of the gravestone is “Truth. Duty. Valour”. At its best, TDV (the college motto) is a set of guiding principles which remind cadets of the long, proud tradition of the college; at its worst, TDV is an easy punch line, or a prefix for the other, unofficial, college motto (DGC – Don’t Get Caught). Standing before Lt. Boyd’s gravestone, I was deeply moved. All those jokes about TDV immediately lost their flavour. No longer can I entertain flippant, dismissive conversation about the college motto. Seeing it written on Lt. Boyd’s gravestone made it more real, more tangible. For Lt. Boyd, and for others, TDV was a motto to live and die by. I will never be able to hear or read those words again without seeing in my mind the image of Lt. Boyd’s gravestone, and with it the thousands of other gravestones I saw.
Although there often seems to be a vast distance between our time at RMCC and our future military careers, seeing “Truth. Duty. Valour.” written on a gravestone serves as an effective reminder to me of the reason why I am here. The reason why I study, complete assignments, undergo inspections, exercise, and show up for work every day is so that I can serve as an officer in the Canadian Forces upon graduation.
The Battlefield Tour was an amazing opportunity to both learn about the Canadian involvement in the two World Wars, as well as reaffirm my commitment to serve. Were it feasible, I would encourage every single Cadet to attend. The monuments, cemeteries and Canadian flags all over France speak to the legacy we have inherited from our predecessors. All the research and reading I could possibly do pales in comparison to the effect of standing on the actual ground where wars were fought.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. Never before have I fully understood those words.
26361 OCdt (III) Roderick Manderson DCSL, 4 Sqn
Note from Editor: Excerpt from The Royal Military College of Canada Review – June, 1942.
Reflections at a War Grave
I don’t know why, but it makes me sad,
I didn’t know them, and yet, standing here
Staring at the headstones row on row
Makes me feel like I have a connection, a debt, a thank-you
To each one.
All Canadian; headstones unified by a simple Leaf.
And this is what you get. An RCAF crew fights together,
And now lies together.
By rights they shouldn’t be here.
Some plans wrought with pride, stubbornness and miscalculation,
Others successful: What a waste.
By all rights they shouldn’t even be here.
But here they lay
Unified by sacrifice and by the inscriptions of love and remembrance.
My boots leave footprints on the grass:
A soggy, mossy, muddy carpet.
But all are silently, respectively kept, even ages later;
A free gift from our hosts.
My footprints leave a track in the grass,
Stopping at a grave, then moving on.
It’s like the trail of memory
That has left scars on the loved, were loved, and lost.
“They shall not grow old.” But we will press on
We will see sunsets glow,
But the scars, like my remembrance, will live on.
This one is special. They’re all Canadian.
“Blow out, you bugles…” I’m beginning to understand “the rich dead.”