Three trips to Canada's European battlefields over the last five years has left me with several unique experiences each visit. While I have fond memories of private tours of locations most do not see, meeting veterans and becoming close with others on the tour, I have a new favourite moment.
This May our group of university students met with a class of third grade Belgian Children at Adegem Canadian War Cemetery in Maldegem, Oost-Vlaanderen, Belgium.
Before our arrival in Europe the children had practiced a lovely little ceremony to welcome us. Upon entering the cemetery the group was guided to the cross of sacrifice where the children placed flowers and a wreath in honour of our nations fallen soldiers. After they presented everyone with a laminated card containing a maple leaf, a poppy and the words "Thank you for the peace."
From the nearby town of Sint-Laureins the children had an impressive knowledge of Canadians buried in Adegem. When searching for a specific fallen Canadian for student presentations, the name only needed to be mentioned and a group of children would run to the exact location. Their kindness to us and knowledge of our nations soldiers was flattering and inspiring.
Joining us was the Canadian ambassador to Belgium as well as the Polish ambassador. They were present as a large number of Polish soldiers are also buried at Adegem; the Canadians and Polish fought together often during the Second World War and as a sign of our nation's shared history Canadian students placed little Polish flags on each grave.
As students handed out Canadian flags and other small gifts to the children, gradually the time for our visit came to an end.
While everyone slowly packed back into the vans, reluctant to leave the beauty of Adegem and the kindness of our hosts the children saw us off with smiles and vigorous waves goodbye.
It was the perfect bookend to a unique experience.