Pilgrimage of remembrance
What are pilgrimages? Prior to WWI pilgrimages to battlefields rarely existed. In the years following WWI the idea of returning to a battlefield became more prevalent as there werenumerous reasons for veterans, war widows and families to return.
During WWI Canadian fallen were not returned home but rather buried where they fell or close to the site.
- The pilgrimage provided widows and families the opportunity to visit their lost loved ones and to pay their respects.
- For many it was the closing of a chapter of their lives, for most it was the beginning of Remembrance of lives lived, lives lost and the sacrifices that were made at home and abroad.
- For veterans, the return to a battlefield allowed them the opportunity to visit their fallen brothers in arms and comrades.
- Strong bonds were forged on the battlefield between comrades, bonds that were probably never possible in a peacetime environment at home.
A pilgrimage also permits veterans the opportunity to make sense of the carnage, destruction and mass confusion that war brings to a battlefield, but this time in silent reverence. All of these things marked generations of our forefathers and are still very much a part of their daily lives.
But what about us, the younger and non battle tested Canadians of today? Why do we conduct pilgrimages? To answer this question, let us take a brief look at the history of Legion pilgrimages.
In reality Legion pilgrimages started in 1928 when at a Dominion Convention a resolution was passed for the Legion to commence investigating and possibly organizing a pilgrimage to Vimy France for the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial scheduled for 1931 or 1932.
Even through the initial stages of the Great Depression of the 30s the difficult and demanding task of organizing such a venture continued. In total, 6,200 veterans and members of their families made the voyage to Vimy on five ships from Canada. A further 1,500 Canadians who were living in the United Kingdom also made the trip.
The total cost per person for a return trip to Montreal was $160.00 (Ocean fare, $119.60; land tour, $36; and equipment, i.e., beret, armband, guide book and badge for $4.40). On 26 July 1936 there were an estimated 100,000 Canadians, British and French at the memorial site to commemorate the unveiling of the monument.
In the interwar period and during WWII there was no pilgrimage activity. However, in 1962 with the assistance of the Netherlands War Graves Committee the Legion organized a pilgrimage to Holland for 79 persons. Total cost per person was $200 of which $50 was paid by the Netherlands War Graves Committee. This was the first of 17 such trips conducted in the following 10 years and more than 2,000 Canadians made the voyage and were hosted by Dutch families.
In 1986, a proposal was put forward to send 10 younger Legionnaires, representing each command, to Vimy for the 50th anniversary of the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial. This program was intended to spread the concept of remembrance to generations that were untouched by war.
After a three-year gap, the program resurfaced in 1989 as the Legion's Pilgrimage of Remembrance. This program continued as a yearly event up until 1997 when due to costs, it was decided that the program would be conducted every second year. Initially the pilgrimage started out with a veteran tour guide who was able to relate events to specific areas along the voyage. However, over the years, that has changed due to the advanced years of the veterans.
Today=s pilgrimage now encompasses some of the most important, as well as some of the least known events of both WWI and II and is conducted over a 15 day period. Pilgrims will experience and be guided through the trenches of WWI and the beaches of Normandy. They will also be able to experience the emotions of the veterans and of those that they liberated. As well, the pilgrimage will conduct ceremonies of Remembrance at the cemeteries where young Canadians have found their final resting place.
All this leads back to one of the original questions: Why do we conduct the Pilgrimage of Remembrance?
As leaders in your community, you play an important role in working with youth and other groups and associations; you play an important role in the development of youth and in continuing the spirit of Remembrance. In keeping with the spirit of the program developed in 1986, you have been selected by your command to go to the battlefields where many Canadians have paid the supreme sacrifice, to learn and to perpetuate Remembrance to those Canadians who may not be as fortunate as you to have the opportunity to visit these areas themselves.
If you need any other reasons as to your role on the pilgrimage, you should look once again at the purposes and objects of The Royal Canadian Legion and to our Articles of Faith. It is up to you as Legionnaires to never forget and to pay homage to those who paid the sacrifice for our freedoms of today. For if we do not learn and teach our younger generation, we may possibly repeat some of the horrors of our past.
The 2013 Pilgrimage of Remembrance will take place from 06 to 20 July 2013. During this 15-day experience, Pilgrims will tour battlefields, pay their respects in cemeteries, reflect at memorials and explore museums throughout France, Belgium and the Netherlands. A maximum of 40 people will participate in the tour, which will include Command representatives and paying (self-funded) pilgrims.
Pilgrimage Brochure--download (PDF)
Each Command is invited to select a provincial representative to participate in the Pilgrimage. The name of your official delegate, including their completed application form and the attachment outlining their post Pilgrimage activities, is to be forwarded to the undersigned by Friday, 11 January 2013 for review by the Poppy and Remembrance Committee.
In choosing the Legion member to participate as your Command’s official delegate, please note the following requirements:
- must be of the age of majority;
- must be a member of The Royal Canadian Legion and possess proper Legion dress while on the Pilgrimage;
- must be active as a leader of youth groups/youth programs, youth education and other community groups;
- must have a valid passport; and
- must attach a separate document outlining their post Pilgrimage activities, specifically, how they expect to pass on their Remembrance experiences gained from the Pilgrimage to youth groups, Legion branches, the media and other organizations upon their return. This individual must also be able to develop their own video or slide presentation and Provincial Commands are to determine the expectations for presentations.
You may also wish to consider sponsoring a veteran to participate in the Pilgrimage. If you intend to do so, please advise Dominion Command at your earliest opportunity.
The cost for the ten Provincial Command representatives will be borne by Dominion Command. This includes domestic travel, international air and coach travel, hotel accommodations, meals, museum admissions and out-of-Canada medical insurance. It does not include gratuities for the tour guide and coach driver or any items of a personal nature. Please note that accommodation is based on double occupancy.
Once your official representative has been selected, a personal and medical information form will be sent to them by Dominion Command for completion and return to our office. Also required will be a head and shoulders photo, approximately 2" x 3", as well as a copy of the information page of their passport.
In the event that a Command representative elects to cancel their participation in the Pilgrimage prior to departure, the respective Provincial Command is to provide Dominion Command with the name of a replacement candidate. Their confirmation as a delegate will be contingent upon the ability to effect the required changes; one major determining factor will be flight availability as simply changing the name on an airline ticket is not possible.
Provincial Commands are to be aware that they will be responsible to reimburse Dominion Command for all non-refundable expenses associated with the cancellation of a Command representative. In addition to airfare, these expenses could include accommodations and meals as these arrangements must be confirmed and paid well in advance of the Pilgrimage. It will be the Provincial Command’s decision whether or not to then seek reparation from the Pilgrim who cancelled for the expenses re-paid to Dominion Command.
Individuals interested in registering as a paying (self-funded) Pilgrim will be encouraged to contact Dominion Command directly. Reservations for paying passengers will be on a first-come first-served basis and are subject to receipt of a medical certificate. Tour costs will be the responsibility of the individual or sponsoring organization. The 2013 Pilgrimage will cost $4250.00/person, which will include breakfast and dinner; it does not include lunches, add-on airfare to the departure point (Toronto) or medical insurance
Should you have any questions or require any additional details, please contact me at your convenience.
William (Bill) Maxwell
Secretary, Poppy and Remembrance Committee