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Joshua Coutts-Smith

We Are The Grateful Living, pt. 2

By | 2016, Europe | No Comments

In my previous blog entry I wrote on how I experienced two very difficult day trips, one to Mauthausen, the other to Vimy Ridge. It has been about three months since we came back from the trip, and these moments (and other moments learning about the World Wars) still affect me. The effects are not as strong as they were, but when something comes up reminding me of those visits, I still feel both sad and angry.

In the last entry I purposely left out that, while we visited these locations, it felt like I could hear everything happening in these spots during the Wars. The whips, the gunfire, the bombs, even the cries of pain or for help. I left this out mostly because I did not want to be seen as being crazy, but also because I did not want others to know how strongly these experiences affected me. Please do not misunderstand, I did enjoy these experiences, and, in fact, I would go back to these places or to other locations about the World Wars.

One of my other favourite locations was the In Flanders Field Museum. This museum had lots on the Great War (First World War), and how it affected the local Flanders area. One of my favourite pieces in this museum was a painting. This painting originally caught me because of the colours of flames contrasted against a starry and smokey night sky. After looking at it for a bit though, I realized that the building I was watching burn down was, in fact, the same building I was standing in.

I cannot wait to go back to Europe sometime, and learn even more about the Wars from a European, and local perspective. I want to help do my part in keeping the memories of these tragic events alive, so that the potential of history repeating itself in these events can be reduced.

We Are The Grateful Living

By | 2016, Europe | No Comments

I have been struggling for weeks trying to think about how I can summarize my two month trip into 250(ish) words. Do I only write on an event that happened after the last blogs were posted (ensuring I won’t write on the same topic)? Do I write on my favourite thing I’ve seen or something funny that has happened? Or what about the most beautiful thing I’ve seen?
None of those things touch on the topic that has impacted me the most this trip. That’s because none of those questions look at the ugly topic of death.
Jokingly, I have become the resident vampire on this trip because of my strange fascination with graves, tombs, and crypts. I have literally started “punch dancing” at times because of my excitement.
The two events that have impacted me the most, though, were not due to excitement, but to sorrow. These two events were visiting Mauthausen and Vimy Ridge.
Mauthausen was the hardest. This was my first time seeing a concentration camp and really understanding the depth of what happened in World War II. The hardest part for me was walking into a room about the size of the Red Room, hearing that around 200 people slept there every night, and, at the same time, being hit by a scent that reminded me of happiness and summer vacation with my family.
Vimy was also very hard for me, but in a very different way. We were standing on Canadian soil learning about how catastrophic World War I was. It felt a bit like home, and I started to feel a connection to the Canadians who died there. This connection was then amplified when I saw (for the first time as far as I can remember) my mother’s maiden name twice in the list of Canadians who died there. I did not expect to be as impacted as I was, but for the rest of my time at that colossal monument I could feel my heart racing. Questioning if I was related to these two soldiers, if I had other family I didn’t know about, or even what the soldiers were like.
Over all, these two events really opened my eyes to the sorrows, and to the hopes that these tragedies will someday end.