BELGIUM - The significance of his presence in Passchendaele for the 100th anniversary of the end of an epic First World War battle was not lost on Cpl. Mitch DeEll.
The Kentville resident stood where soldiers staring grave danger in the face stood in 1917. He marched where Canadian soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice.
“You’re honouring the sacrifices of the 16,000 people that were wounded or killed over there during that battle,” said DeEll.
The Canadian Encyclopedia speaks to the mayhem faced by allied soldiers attempting to liberate the town in an article entitled “Canada and the Battle of Passchendaele.”
“The Battle of Passchendaele is a vivid symbol of the mud, madness and the senseless slaughter of the First World War. In the late summer of 1917, the British launched a major offensive against German forces holding Passchendaele ridge, overlooking the city of Ypres, Belgium,” the article reads.
“The battlefield became a quagmire. Canadian forces entered the fray in October, capturing the ridge and Passchendaele village at a cost of 15,600 casualties — a high price for a piece of ground that would be vacated for the enemy the following year.”
DeEll, a 16-year member of the West Nova Scotia Regiment, was part of a Canadian Armed Forces contingent selected to travel to Belgium to participate in the 100th anniversary events.
“There’s Canadian flags everywhere over there… in Passchendaele pretty much every house had a Canada flag flying. That was pretty awesome.”
DeEll was honoured to take part in a Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres. The town holds a Lost Post Ceremony on a daily basis to remember the sacrifices made by allied soldiers killed or wounded while defending their town.
“The war was there and they carry the memory,” he said.
DeEll was touched to experience the memorial tributes planned by the Belgians firsthand.
“It’s almost like the Canadians were rock stars over there in a way… they’ll never be forgotten, especially by the Belgians,” he said.
“That whole country was pretty much a battlefield in 1914 to 1918, and Canada played a big role in that.”
DeEll visited historic war memorial monuments, gazed upon the graves of unknown Canadian soldiers buried at Tyne Cot cemetery, participated in the Canadian Forces Guard Marching exercise at the Hill 62 Memorial, marched from Crest Farm to the Passchendaele village centre and attended a Remembrance Day ceremony in Ypres Nov. 11.
“That whole town was rebuilt after the war because there was nothing left,” he said.
DeEll is thankful his regiment and employers at Camp Aldershot made it possible for him to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to honour the bravery of Canadian and allied soldiers from both the Battle of Passchendaele, and the First World War.
“It was amazing.”