A week has passed since the trip, and wow! What a trip. Two weeks of amazing memories, and unforgettable experiences. For me, the trip was a highlight reel; each day full of learning, emotion, discovery and of course, our honorary mascot Guillaume Miguel Hyboud-Peron. Guillaume was our bear, was shared amongst us, bought us together and was our French guide (originally from Indonesia) who took us on the tour of a lifetime.
I feel the best way to describe the trip, is by using the word reflection. A reflection on history, the losses and turmoil that we faced only 100 years ago, a reflection on the shaping of the world we live in today. At times the reflection was vicarious, when we walked the same trenches of the Somme, saw the same battlefields and read the recounts of the stories of horror and loss. Above all, finding familiar names of New Zealand soldiers on memorials and on Gravestones truly bought the war up close and personal to us in 2016. For me, my challenge was to comprehend the ‘why’ of the war. When we went to the memorial of the Christmas Truce of 1914 I faced my challenge as to me, the truce epitomises my feelings surrounding the ‘why’. Where enemies shook hands, played sport and put humanity back into a time where war had desensitized men to be soldiers. Understanding why such terrible things happened was my challenge, and although I learn of the history and the nationalism and the circumstances my challenge still remains.
However despite my challenge, the most overwhelming feeling that this trip gave me was one of hope. I made so many connections on the trip, with my host family, with the schools and above all with the other Young Ambassadors. When people talk about the warmth of the North, they normally aren't talking about the weather, but when we were there we felt both the warmth of the sun and of the wonderful people. At Lycee, receptions, and especially with the host families we were treated with such hospitality and I only hope that the connections I made, will last a lifetime. Having my French teacher on the trip was great, as we were able to really connect with the schools and look to the future with projects connection our communities. I am so grateful to the supporters of the trip especially the Rotorua Energy Charitable Trust who provided me with funding under their Role Model Fund. This trip has enabled me to connect with the school and work towards sharing our histories and commemorate the war into the years to come.
Being in my last year of school going on this trip, meant going back to a country and culture that I love to finish my discoveries and learning about the War, whilst seeing the start of a new era of projects, commemoration and connections. It was truly bittersweet, as I finish one phase of my life at school and go out and have the opportunity to live, something that more than 14,000 New Zealanders and over a million French didn’t have the chance to fully do. And I realise, that a way to make their lives matter is make to make my life matter, to learn and share their stories and look forward with the knowledge of history to be a part of a better tomorrow.
The youngest soldier of the war was 14 year old John Condon who died in Flanders fields of mustard gas poisoning. The oldest soldier was 67 years old Henry Webber who died of a shell blast. George Santayana said “Those who know nothing of history are doomed to repeat it”