Reid Gomme has developed an understanding of the Great War that few have the opportunity to do.
The 19-year-old University of Alberta student studying political science and French is a Vimy Memorial tour guide with the Canadian Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
After a yearlong application, the Salmon Arm Secondary grad landed the coveted job at the memorial in northern France.
“I took this post because the site at Vimy helps visitors, Canadian and otherwise, to be educated and remember the Great War in a way no other place can,” he says of his four-month position that ends on Dec. 14.
“I first visited the site in the spring of 2014 with my grandparents and I was stunned by the many shell and mine craters pocking the land, trench lines weaving their way around these gaping holes.”
Gomme says visiting the site gave him a glimpse into the horrors soldiers experienced some 100 years ago. It is then he discovered the Canadian government employs several dozen students every year to help educate visitors about the history of Canadian soldiers and the Great War.
After working as a guide for two summers at the local Salmon Arm R.J. Haney Heritage Village and Museum as a tour guide and historical interpreter and actor in Firewatch and Nellie Truehart’s Encounter with Pureville N.E., he had garnered enough parks experience to qualify.
Gomme provides the grim history of the site against a backdrop of “a pulverized landscape.”
“It gives terrifying meaning to the words machine gun, mortar, shell and mustard gas, unlike anything they could read in a textbook or see in a documentary,” he says. “My job is to help people imagine and remember the harsh realities of war, and the sacrifice made by so many Canadians at Vimy and all over the fields of France and Belgium that changed the course of our country forever.”
Gomme asked the Observer for information on the names on the local cenotaph. He was given a list and description of each soldier compiled by Salmon Arm Legion member Harry Welton.
Gomme says being far away from home and the people he usually joins at the local cenotaph will give new meaning to his Nov. 11 reflections.
“It is the Salmon Arm community that shaped my understanding of remembrance,” he says. “It now haunts me to consider the losses of those enshrined on the Salmon Arm cenotaph and the effect those losses must have had on our small community in its relative infancy.”
Being where the mostly young men gave their lives is something Gomme describes as “harrowing.”
“When I reflect on Nov. 11, it seems right that I should think back to my origins. I am reminded of how fortunate I am to be over here at this very moment, aided by those family and friends that have supported me in my home community,” he says. “And I am reminded of how important it is to remember those service people who made this same voyage for the sake of their friends, family and country in a very different context a century ago.”