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100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

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Remembrance of Vimy

Post by Guest on Sat 22 Apr 2017, 09:21

Remembrance of Vimy


St. Albert and Sturgeon residents are on the ground at the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Saturday, Apr 22, 2017


BOOTS ON THE GROUND – Roughly 3,600 pairs of black boots were arranged around and on the Vimy memorial to represent the thousands of Canadians who died in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The final two pairs were placed by Prince William and Prince Harry.

It's the boots that he will remember most, said Simon Pagé.

It's April 9, 2017. Pagé, a teacher at Sir George Simpson, is at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France as part of the official Canadian delegation for the hundred-year anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

A century ago, this place was a maelstrom of wet snow and exploding shells as nearly 100,000 Canadian troops surged from the trenches to attack German forces on the ridge, running headlong through machine gun fire and a sea of mud and corpses.

Today, the land is a verdant moonscape of grassy craters. The sun is high and scorching, and the Vimy memorial stands tall.

Around and on it are some 3,598 pairs of used black boots, many of which have red poppies on them – one pair for each Canadian soldier who died at Vimy, Pagé said. Canadian students under his supervision spent about three hours placing about 800 of them in four straight lines – one for each division in the battle – leading up to the monument. Prince William and Prince Harry of Britain placed the final pairs on the monument itself.

“The kids really understood their role,” Pagé said of the students, and treated it with great respect.
“They had the lives of a soldier in their hands.”

Duties of delegates

Some 25,000 people attended the April 9 ceremony at the Vimy memorial, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and François Hollande, the president of France.

Some 10,000 of the attendees were students, 34 of whom were from Sturgeon Composite.

Grade 11 student Amanda Porter said it was her first visit to the memorial.

“I'm really interested in Canadian history. I find it quite fascinating how much the Battle of Vimy Ridge developed Canada as a nation.”

Sturgeon Composite teacher Mike Johnson was there as a bagpipe player with the RCMP Regimental Pipes and Drums. He and his group played at the monument in the days before and after the ceremony and marched during it.

Pagé was one of the two teacher chaperones for the 26 high school and university students picked from across Canada to represent the nation's youth in the April 9 ceremony.

Pagé said he and his delegation travelled with Canadian veterans to many cemeteries and sites around Vimy, France, to learn more about First World War history. The students had to research and report on a First World War Canadian soldier while there. Some of them recited the official pledge of remembrance for a film crew that aired their remarks during the April 9 event.

The students were excellent public speakers and great ambassadors for their nation, Pagé said. The veterans found them very easy to chat with, and many “adopted” kids from their home provinces.

Pagé was also busy, placing 30-odd small wooden crosses decorated by Simpson students at various war graves. He also delivered a flag from the people of Vimy, Alberta to a delegate from Vimy, France.

The big day

Johnson said he first got to the Vimy site near sunrise on April 5.

“You can see why it (the ridge) was a strongpoint for the Germans,” he said, as it has great sight-lines and is visible from miles away.

Every home they passed on the drive up was festooned with Canadian flags and had residents outside cheering them on, he said.
“That was really kind of touching.”

Seeing the monument take up your entire field of view was a surreal experience, said Sturgeon Composite student Spencer Theroux.
“It goes to show how important people think it is and how important it really was.”

Theroux said he and his classmates got to explore some of the trenches that had been restored around the monument. Despite being widened for tourists, they were still very cramped.

“You can understand how claustrophobic it would have been for those people tunnelling down there.”

The tunnels would have been constantly wet, too, as the porous soil let the rain right through. Theroux said he couldn't imagine living in that darkness.

“It's absolutely insane.”

Whereas the memorial site was grey, windy and cold on April 5, it was bright, still and a scorching 25 C on April 9, Johnson said – and he was in nine yards of wool kilt.

“It was ridiculously hot,” he said, and the medical tents were full of people with heatstroke.

It was often hard to move around on April 9 between the thousands of people and the security measures, Johnson said.

The ceremony featured speeches, interpretive dancers, First Nations singing and drumming, a fly-past of five First World War fighter planes and dramatizations of the lives of soldiers at Vimy. Porter said the latter helped personalize the battle, which we often talk of in terms of statistics.

Announcers also recited the names of the 3,598 Canadians who died at Vimy – a list that never seemed to end, Theroux said.
“You get a real (sense of the) scale of how many people died there.”

Theroux and Porter said they hoped to continue to honour those who fell at Vimy and to carry on their lessons of the importance of peace and co-operation.

Pagé said he had faith that the memory of Vimy Ridge would live on. The students he worked with all took pledges to get involved with Remembrance Day activities, talk with veterans and pass on their experiences at Vimy. He himself planned to speak to Simpson and Paul Kane students about his trip soon.

“It's now up to the youth to carry the torch.”

http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/Remembrance-of-Vimy-20170422


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Re: 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Post by Bruce72 on Sun 16 Apr 2017, 14:57






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Re: 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Post by Guest on Sun 16 Apr 2017, 14:36

Thanks for the pictures guys.

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Re: 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Post by Bruce72 on Sun 16 Apr 2017, 13:58

It was a pleasure to meet you pinger. Beers again on our next visit!

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Re: 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Post by pinger on Sun 16 Apr 2017, 13:18

The NEW visitors center is really nice, better than I assumed. Went there with bruce on the first day it opened.
Here are a few pics...from one week ago.









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Government of Canada delegation travels to Ottawa for unforgettable experience

Post by Guest on Tue 11 Apr 2017, 17:18

Government of Canada delegation travels to Ottawa for unforgettable experience



Delegates mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the First World War at Vimy 100 events and ceremonies

OTTAWA, April 11, 2017 /CNW/ - Last week, 30 delegates traveled to Ottawa to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the First World War. The delegates were nominated by Veteran organizations across Canada based on their personal connection to Vimy Ridge. The group participated in a number of commemorative events and activities in the nation's capital to mark the significance of the battle in Canada's military history.

During their stay in Ottawa, the delegates toured Rideau Hall and enjoyed a reception with His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada. The delegation also explored the Peace Tower and the Memorial Chamber at Parliament Hill, attended an Indigenous ceremony at the Aboriginal Monument, and shared their stories with the Encounters with Canada youth delegates. The delegation also attended special events at the National War Memorial this weekend, including the evening of remembrance on April 8 and the commemorative ceremony on April 9.

The delegation was also invited to attend a Citizenship Ceremony on April 7 at the Canadian War Museum. On this day, they witnessed 30 people from 18 countries become Canadian citizens after taking the Oath of Citizenship in the Barney Danson Theatre.

"It's been a once in a lifetime experience to be here as the Silver Cross Mother representing all those who have lost a son or daughter in the military. The ceremonies in Ottawa were wonderful. They were emotional, real, and they really gave me a greater understanding of how important this battle was in Canada's history. There have been many real connections made here this week. You almost feel like close friends and family."
Colleen Fitzpatrick, 2016 National Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother

"I thought the week was very informative. The people were very friendly and it was emotional hearing their different stories and experiences. It brings back many memories. I was especially impressed with the visit to Parliament Hill and the Vimy Exhibit at the Canadian War Museum."
Donald Gillespie, Government of Canada delegate in Ottawa

  • As there are no longer any First World War Veterans alive, Veterans Affairs Canada invited Veteran organizations across Canada to nominate a representative who has a personal connection to the Battle of Vimy Ridge or the First World War.

  • Veterans Affairs Canada asked Encounters with Canada to nominate 26 youth to join the Government of Canada delegation at events on April 8 and 9 in Ottawa. These youth, aged 14-17, have a keen interest in our country's military history and participated in the Encounters with Canada's "Vimy: Canada's Coming of Age" theme week.

  • An official Government of Canada delegation traveled to France to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The delegation included Veterans from Veterans' and Indigenous organizations guests who have direct family ties to soldiers who fought in the First World War; and parliamentarians.


http://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/government-of-canada-delegation-travels-to-ottawa-for-unforgettable-experience-619163464.html

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Re: 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Post by Bruce72 on Sun 09 Apr 2017, 16:24

Sorry for the sideways pictures. I don't know how to fix it.

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Re: 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Post by Bruce72 on Sun 09 Apr 2017, 16:23





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Re: 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Post by Bruce72 on Sun 09 Apr 2017, 14:39

Today was a very moving day. The ceremony was incredible. I was honoured with being allowed to sit with still serving members of the Forces. Lots of pictures to share when I figure out how to post them to CSAT.


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The Germans considered it a victory, too

Post by Guest on Thu 06 Apr 2017, 17:27

The Germans considered it a victory, too: Rare images showing everything you didn’t know about Vimy Ridge


By Tristin Hopper  April 6, 2017 12:34 PM ET


Bringing in the wounded at Vimy Ridge in April 1917.

Whenever Vimy Ridge is mentioned, it’s usually paired with the declaration that the 1917 battle was the “birth of a nation” or Canada’s “coming of age.” Cloaked in so much mythos, very few Canadians know the precise details of what happened just outside Arras, France in April, 1917.


Before it became a hallowed word, Vimy Ridge meant many things to Canadians. Below, vignettes of some of the lesser known elements of Canada’s most famous military engagement.

The bloodiest day


Canadian troops photographed at the crest of Vimy Ridge.

“As far as you could see, in any direction, there were men with rifles heading for that dreadful column of smoke and exploding earth ahead where the shells were falling,” is how Vimy veteran Percy Taylor described the scene after whistles signalled the start of the advance. That day remains the bloodiest in Canadian history. Official records have April 9, 1917 as the date of death for 2414 Canadian soldiers. In most prior Canadian conflicts, that kind of death toll would have been beyond obscene. In the pivotal Battle of the Plains of Abraham, less than 200 soldiers were killed on both sides. In the entire Boer War, Canada had lost 267 men. Some First World War soldiers would have grown up around aging veterans of the Fenian Raids, which saw only 22 Canadians killed. But in the context of the First World War, Vimy was still a “cheap” victory.

High ground


An overhead view of the Vimy Ridge battlefield taken in November, 1917

This image, taken eight months after the battle, shows the crest of Vimy Ridge from above. For the average soldier from Halifax or Vancouver, this slight rise in the middle of prairie-flat French farmland wouldn’t have seemed like much of a “ridge.” But when viewed by prone men ducking under barbed wire and machine gun fire, even the mildest slope could seem like an insurmountable peak. Like most First World War battlefields, Vimy Ridge is notable for how much carnage it contained in such a small space. The battle took the greatest combined military force ever fielded by Canada and funnelled it into  a front about six kilometres wide; roughly the distance between Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway and the CNE grounds. Go to the site today and it takes about 15 minutes to walk from a Canadian trench line to the site of the memorial at the ridge’s peak.

How to win a battle


A German machine gun emplacement photographed after the battle.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was renowned for its planning. In a war known to “spend” whole battalions on a bad hunch, the Canadians boasted that their assault had not “wasted” a single soldier. “Their generals believed in common sense applied to war, and not in high mysteries and secret rites,” is the British war correspondent Philip Gibbs described the Canadians. Still, scenes like this illustrate just how quickly a wrong move could cause an entire village’s worth of young men into names on a monument. This is a German machine gun emplacement at Vimy that survived the pre-battle bombardment. Across treeless land with little cover, the attacking Canadians would have needed to slip past the nest and kill the gun’s crew with either grenades or close-quarter bayonets.

An open graveyard


Fragments of boot held in the collection of the Canadian War Museum.

Held by the Canadian War Museum, these are fragments of a boot recovered at Vimy Ridge, possibly some of the only remnants of a soldier who had been blown apart by shellfire. By the time Canadian troops were rotated into the battlefields of Northern France, 300,000 Allied soldiers had already been killed in attempts to captured the ridge. For context, Canada’s largest city at the time, Montreal, had only 470,000. Among them was a young Claude Rains, in fact, who was gassed during an unsuccessful assault on the ridge. Those mountains of British and French dead were still there when the Canadians began planning for their assault. As veterans recalled, it was hard to put a shovel in the ground without turning up the ragged scraps of a British khaki tunic or a pair of French red trousers.

An “astoundingly successful” attack


The April 9, 1917 front page of The Day, a daily paper in New London, Connecticut.

This is the front page that greeted newspaper readers in New London, Connecticut on April 10, 1917. The United States had only declared war on Germany four days before, and as young Americans enlisted in droves it was now blared across the country that their Canadian cousins had done in Europe what the French and English could not. One dispatch, reprinted in newspapers around the world, referenced the “astoundingly successful” attack by the combined Canadian forces. Wartime press censorship was still in full swing, of course, which might explain why some of these first reports are so eerily upbeat: Vimy Ridge was a “grand scrap” preceded by a “wonderful barrage.”

A German cockup


A German helmet recovered from Vimy Ridge, now in the collection of the Canadian War Museum.

Despite their stunning skill for trench warfare, the Canadians also benefited from a cascade of German failures. German armies had recently debuted a new tactic called “defence in depth.” Rather than stubbornly defending every foot of captured French and Belgian ground, German armies would allow attacking troops to probe into their territory just far enough to be beyond their supply lines — and then destroy them in a counterattack. The strategy was mercilessly effective, but the largely Bavarian defenders of Vimy were given the old-fashioned order of holding the line at all costs. As a result, when Canadian tactics quickly overran the front line defences on April 9, the Germans were left without reinforcements or a viable Plan B.

They came from everywhere


A wartime portrait of Japanese-Canadian Vimy veteran Masumi Mitsui, as well as his medals and a photo of Matsui at 98 years old.

There are photos of Masumi Mitsui, a Japanese-Canadian veteran of Vimy Ridge. The modern Western Front, which contains the world’s highest concentration of young men’s graves, is “dotted with reminders of how far men travelled to die,” wrote the historian Adam Hochschild. By the time of Vimy Ridge, the battlefields of Northern France had sucked in peoples from every continent except South America and Antarctica. Nowhere was this more true than in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. While the ranks still included plenty of Smiths and Thompsons, Canada assaulted Vimy Ridge with Cree, Metis, Chipewyan, Sikh and boys who had grown up in German-speaking households. Most notably, while European armies were filled with conscripts, at this stage the Canadians were all volunteers.

Note: The original draft of this post misspelled Masumi Mitsui’s name. The National Post regrets the error.

What did it accomplish?


A photo from one year after the battle showing the ground at Vimy being prepared for potatoes.

This photo shows Vimy Ridge one year after the battle, when it was being used as a military farm. Vimy Ridge was the greatest single success of the wider Battle of Arras, but the clash was no Juno Beach. Like so many First World War battles, immense human cost was expended to capture a small stretch of shell-blasted ground — and then the front simply reverted to stalemate a few kilometres to the east. Despite their mistakes, the Germans would soon be portraying the battle as a victory. They had, after all, prevented an Allied “breakthrough” of German lines. “The fierce battle over Vimy Ridge was fought to a standstill. To be able to call oneself a Vimy fighter, was from then on a high honour!” wrote one German writer. Vimy Ridge certainly thinned the ranks of the Kaiser’s army by a few thousand (the precise casualty lists were destroyed during Second World War air raids), but historians still aren’t sure whether the war would have any ended sooner than November 11, 1918 if the Allies had simply spent the rest of the war staring at a German-occupied Vimy Ridge. As the Canadian military historian J.L. Granatstein wrote, “Vimy did not change the course of the war.”

Afraid of Canadians


German prisoners captured at Vimy Ridge.

These are German prisoners of war captured at Vimy Ridge. Their smiles are no accident; the captured soldiers of Vimy Ridge were described as unusually cheerful. In the spring of 1917, Germany had just suffered through the “turnip winter,” a period of such profound food shortages that adults were living on as little as 1200 calories a day. Meanwhile, these particular soldiers had just suffered through weeks of nighttime trench raids by the Canadians. A member of the Kaiser’s Army could not go to sleep without the fear that they’d be woken up by Canadian with a blackened face holding a knife to their throat. These men were also lucky to have been able to surrender safely. All along the Western Front, Canadian troops had a grisly reputation for failing to take prisoners. At the outset of Battle of Vimy Ridge, one platoon officer told his men, “remember, no prisoners. They will just eat your rations.”

The injured


A 1936 newspaper clipping taken from the scrapbook of Curley Christian.

The man on the left is Curley Christian, a Vimy Ridge veteran who lost all four limbs at the battle. To the modern mind, the sacrifice of Vimy usually conjures up images of neat, white crosses maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. But to the citizens of postwar Canada, the sacrifice was much more visceral: Women in mourning veils, Armistice Day parades filled with amputees and exuberant young men who came home as dead-eyed alcoholics. One Vimy Ridge veteran, George Chisholm, blamed the trauma of the battle with causing him to drown his two young sons 10 years after the war. “No man could do as Chisholm did and be normal,” Chisholm’s lawyer said at his murder trial, which included testimony from his former army buddies . Another veteran, Jim Wilson, spent 61 years in a London, Ont. psychiatric ward after he returned from Europe so mentally scarred he couldn’t function. “He didn’t really spend a great deal of time doing anything other than being in his own isolated thoughts,” one of Wilson’s nurses said after his death in 1992.

“I never wore any of those bloody medals”


Five months after the battle, Canadian MP Sir George Perley visits Vimy Ridge.

In September, 1917, after much of the dead had been buried and the victors sent back into the line, Canadian MP Sir George Perley dropped by in a three piece suit to see what Canadian boys had done. Even among the Vimy veterans who were proudest at what they achieved, that did not mean there wasn’t also bitterness at why they had been asked to do it. “I got medals, but I never wore any of those bloody medals … They didn’t represent anything but a disgraceful episode,” one of the last surviving Vimy veterans, James Flanagan, said in 1989. Another veteran, Roy Henley, was only 14 when he fought at Vimy Ridge. “When you see a man take a whiz-bang (high velocity shell) in the stomach, you lose a lot of patriotism,” Henley said in a 1987 CBC documentary. “We cut off so many that would have been such a great asset to the country.” Winnipeg woman C.S. Woods lost eight sons in the war. After seeing the preserved Vimy trenches in 1936 she told King Edward VIII “I just can’t figure out why our boys had to go through that.”

Glory


Happy Canadians who captured Vimy Ridge returning to rest billets on motor lorries.

This is the standard photograph used to illustrate Vimy Ridge in Canadian textbooks; a truckload of soldiers celebrating after the victory. Canada is a bit of an odd duck in how it remembers the First World War. The likes of Australia, New Zealand, Britain and France widely recognize the bravery and sacrifice of their war dead, but they generally see the conflict as having been a senseless tragedy. “To us today, it seems so inexplicable that countries which had many things binding them together would indulge in such a never-ending slaughter,” said then-British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012. Last year, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott began a speech at the Turkish battlefield of Gallipoli with the words “we aren’t here to mourn a defeat or to honour a success.” Compare that to an official Canadian government write-up on Vimy Ridge, which speaks of a “distinctly Canadian triumph” that “raised our international stature.”

The making of a myth


The Vimy memorial at its 1936 unveiling.

This image, from 1936, shows the official unveiling of what is now known as the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Around the memorial are more than 6,200 Canadian veterans and their families. The buzz surrounding the “Vimy pilgrimage” also appears to be the first time that the term “birth of a nation” was applied to the battle. In the first months after the war, the average Canadian would have found it somewhat odd that Vimy would come to completely dominate how their country viewed the Great War. When Canada was looking for a place to put a monument to its 11,000 war dead with no known graves, Vimy was shortlisted alongside other battlefields whose names have been almost completely forgotten: Dury, Bourlon Wood and Saint-Julien, among others. But it was Vimy that got the nod — and potentially for practical reasons. Vimy Ridge was accessible and also far enough away from Ypres that it didn’t risk being upstaged by another planned mega-monument, Britain’s Menin Gate. “The myth that Vimy represents the birth of a nation is a relatively recent invention,” wrote historian Jean Martin in the Canadian Military Journal. “One might wonder whether the battles of Passchendaele or Hill 62 would be regarded … as founding events of the Canadian nation if the principal memorial had been built there.”

Another war


Adolf Hitler touring the Vimy memorial in 1940.

This, infamously, is what the memorial looked like a mere four years after its unveiling. Nazi German occupying forces would demolish several First World War memorials, particularly ones that featurd jingoistic elements like a German eagle being stabbed. But Adolf Hitler reportedly took a shine to the Canadian monument at Vimy. Or, at least, that’s what he wanted people to think. These photos were taken as German propaganda in an attempt to assure a watching world that the Nazis were responsible custodians of an occupied Europe. It was only 23 years after the battle, and Canada was once again at war with Germany.Several Vimy veterans would be among the new Canadian armies heading back to Europe.

http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/the-germans-considered-it-a-victory-too-rare-images-showing-everything-you-didnt-know-about-vimy-ridge



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Re: 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Post by Bruce72 on Thu 06 Apr 2017, 17:05

https://youtu.be/mi6MZXi22iQ

Replica WWI aircraft fly for Vimy centennial.

Video supplied by VAC YouTube channel.

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Re: 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Post by Bruce72 on Mon 03 Apr 2017, 18:23

Thanks Trooper, I'll try and get pictures posted from Vimy next weekend.

No sign of my luggage..... (insert cricket sound)

Update April 4th, luggage found and delivered. Meltdown averted.


Last edited by bruce72 on Tue 04 Apr 2017, 07:51; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : update)

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Re: 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Post by Guest on Mon 03 Apr 2017, 16:09

bruce72 wrote:Well, I just arrived in Paris and next Sunday I'll be attending the ceremony at the Vimy Memorial.  I'm also meeting pinger (a veteran and member of the CSAT forum) on the 8th and we'll go to Vimy together.

I wish every veteran could make the trip.


Foot note: Never fly WOW airlines,  they've lost my luggage.  I'm trying not to have a meltdown. I keep telling myself why I'm here and that my inconvenience is nothing compared to the suffering of the men who I'm here to honour and pay reverence too.

Thanks for the update Bruce.

Sorry to hear about your luggage, hopefully it will make it to you soon.

Nice to hear your being able to meet up with pinger.

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Re: 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Post by Bruce72 on Mon 03 Apr 2017, 08:50

Well, I just arrived in Paris and next Sunday I'll be attending the ceremony at the Vimy Memorial.  I'm also meeting pinger (a veteran and member of the CSAT forum) on the 8th and we'll go to Vimy together.

I wish every veteran could make the trip.


Foot note: Never fly WOW airlines, they've lost my luggage. I'm trying not to have a meltdown. I keep telling myself why I'm here and that my inconvenience is nothing compared to the suffering of the men who I'm here to honour and pay reverence too.


Last edited by bruce72 on Mon 03 Apr 2017, 09:11; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : added a foot note)

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The event that recast the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Post by Guest on Sun 02 Apr 2017, 08:34

The event that recast the Battle of Vimy Ridge


A 1936 visit by thousands of Canadians to the memorial's unveiling was an early turning point in how Vimy is remembered.


King Edward VIII at the 1936 unveiling of the Vimy Memorial. Many Canadian veterans returned to Europe for the first time since the war to be there.

BY EXCERPTED FROM VIMY: THE BATTLE AND THE LEGEND

Sun., April 2, 2017

Military historian Tim Cook’s latest book, Vimy: The Battle and the Legend, examines the fighting at Vimy Ridge, and the continuing battle over its meaning. The unveiling of the Vimy Memorial in 1936, 19 years after the Canadians’ victory, in some ways marked the beginning of the battle’s outsized legacy. It would be decades until anyone called it “the birth of the nation” (a view the author does not share). But the emotional pilgrimage of Canadian veterans and civilians to France in 1936 began influencing how Vimy is seen today.

Sunday, July 26, was a warm, sunny day, and the pilgrims — drawn from across Canada and Britain just like the Canadian Corps 19 years earlier — moved “up the line.” They walked or rode along the main road to the memorial, which was lined with 650 maple trees that had been sent from Canada a decade earlier. During the morning and early afternoon, the pilgrims explored the ruined landscape, still pitted and cratered from the hundreds of thousands of shells that had crashed into the terrain during the war.

Unlike most of the other former battlefields along the Western Front, Vimy continued to display the war’s scars, with thousands of grass-covered shell craters and strange undulations to the land evident, a result of mines or trenches. Tens of thousands of replanted pine trees were beginning to repopulate the landscape, but it was untrue, as myth would later suggest, that a tree was planted for each Canadian soldier who fell in the war.

Walking among the new growth, a few of the Manitobans from the 44th Battalion trekked up the Pimple [a strategic point] to the memorial that had been erected there after the battle, which was now crumbling. Some of the gunners wistfully looked into the distance for the artillery memorial at La Tilleul Corner, but it was too far to walk there from the memorial. The restored trenches, with their concrete sandbags and parapets, offered a tangible link to the bitter warfare that lingered in the veterans’ imagination. There were long lines to make the descent into Grange Tunnel. Some of the pilgrims had been in Grange 19 years earlier and, according to one eyewitness, “They saw the names of their comrades pen-knifed into the chalk, memorials to Canadian youths long since dead, but who unconsciously perpetrated their memory in the careless scratching and the crude carvings on the walls.”

With at least 50,000 French civilians honouring their liberators of old, the pilgrims were escorted forward to a privileged spot in the large amphitheatre in front of the memorial. Before that, some took the opportunity to send letters and postcards from “somewhere in France” (invoking the oft-written phrase from the war), taking advantage of a temporarily constructed French and Canadian post office erected on the site. At the amphitheatre, companies of veterans formed up around tall, numbered banners and emblems intended to guide veterans to their pre-arranged groups. The khaki-beret-wearing veterans were placed in front of the memorial, while civilian pilgrims were on the veterans’ flanks.

Some 500 French children were gathered in a place of honour, a request made by the Canadian organizers so that, according to one document, “these children would remember the Canadians with kindly feelings” and would continue to care for the monument over the years. As part of the ceremony, an honour guard from HMCS Saguenay stood on the south side of the pathway that runs across the memorial, while a party of 120 veterans stood to the left of the sailors. The Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Band and a composite band from various Canadian Highland regiments, as well as buglers, were also on parade.

French-Moroccan cavalry men, wearing their traditional blue-and-scarlet uniforms and mounted on white Arabian horses, added to the pomp. Though the bearded warriors represented the French who had fought hard for Vimy in 1915, there was little place for them at the ceremony. Vimy had long since been seized by the Canadians as a national site of significance. There would be little sharing of the glory with other combatants at Vimy previous to the Canadian capture of it, other than a small plaque in tribute to the Moroccan Division erected in 1924 near the memorial.

The Germans, despite losing tens of thousands of dead defending the position, had almost no presence on the ridge after the war. Like the Australians and New Zealanders who edged out the British and French at Gallipoli in the constructed memory of that 1915 battle, the Canadians had long since driven other European powers — who had contributed many more troops to the campaign — from the ridge’s memory.

Shortly before the King arrived at the monument, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC), the forerunner of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., began a one-hour-and-35-minute live broadcast. The CRBC used the shortwave facilities of the British Broadcasting Corp. to transmit the ceremony to Canada over the national radio network, while the British shortwave broadcast was heard worldwide. A bilingual announcer was demanded by the Canadians, so that the ceremony could be presented in both languages and by an announcer without a British accent. The program, according to the Winnipeg Free Press, enabled people in Canada to be “present not only in spirit but as auditors.”


Tim Cook stresses that Vimy was an important battle in many ways, but some of the legends took on a life of their own.

Following his ministers, King Edward moved towards the dais draped in national colours, and with his fair hair tossed by the wind, he began his address in French. Grey clouds had temporarily overcast the skies, but the sun broke through as the King turned to speaking in English, creating a near-holy effect for the thousands of pilgrims who listened in rapt attention.

The King said that the memorial “crowning the hill of Vimy is now and for all time part of Canada.” Summoning powerful sentiments, he told the British Empire listening in on radios that the world “will long remember” what happened here, “and Canada can never forget.” The Dominion during the war stood shoulder to shoulder with France and Britain, as an equal: with this monument, “Canada shall stand forever.” The final dramatic action by the King was to reveal Canada Bereft by letting drop a Union Jack flag that draped her.

Notably absent from the speakers’ roster was Walter Allward. The artist was an old man now, with thinning hair, glasses and a deep curve to his shoulders. The death of his son Donald in 1934 at age 28 had revealed to him the grief that thousands of wartime parents carried with them. Allward was not asked to speak at the unveiling of his own memorial. He was mentioned by all the dignitaries only a single time, and almost as an afterthought.

The official records offer no explanation as to why he was excluded, and Allward did not commit his feelings to paper. But the slight must have wounded him. Perhaps the many cost overruns and delays had made him something of an embarrassment; perhaps artists will always be shoved aside when politicians and a King are involved in solemn national rituals.

Amid the talk of sacrifice, death, and Canada’s soul being revealed on that ridge, one wonders what the returning veterans thought of the experience. A contributor to The Canadian Veteran wrote that during the ceremony, “the mists of time momentarily [lifted], and once again [veterans stood] in the jumping off trenches waiting for the zero hour . . . Even the soft splash of snow and rain on steel helmets [could] be heard — then that crashing crescendo of a tornado of bursting shells, with the obligation of a thousand machine-guns the attack [began].”

These words seem a bit dramatic, but no doubt those veterans who had been at Vimy 19 years earlier were drawn back to the battle as they stood on that same ground — ground that the speakers described, over and over again, as being haunted by the war dead. Forty-two-year-old Jimmy Crossby, a wartime sergeant in the 27th Battalion, remembered years later hearing the King’s speech but having his mind wander to the battle he had fought in years earlier: “Furtively at first, but then with an overpowering rush, memories of . . . companions, of dirty days and worse nights, came back.”

When the official ceremony came to a close, veterans moved forward to inspect the memorial. Hundreds of wreaths representing units, Legion Halls and communities from across the Dominion were laid against the cold stone. Perhaps even more powerful was the act by dozens of mothers who took off their silver crosses, issued by the government after the war to commemorate their fallen sons, and stacked them upon each other. The grieving mothers, some choking back sobs, then formed a circle around the tower of crosses and stood in silence.

Soon the memorial was thronged with pilgrims. They searched for the names of the missing, running their hands over the sandblasted letters that represented friends, uncles, sons, husbands and fathers.

This was their Canada captured in stone. And PPCLI veteran Bill Garvock reflected on the fallen with no known graves “who came from many other lands besides Canada and the Mother Country. Represented on the monument are names of men from the steppes of Russia, the rice fields of Japan, the vineyards of Italy, the dairies of Denmark, the forests of Sweden, the ranches of Australia, the bustling cities of United States and the factories of Belgium. There are names of German-Canadians whose next-of-kin resided in Germany, while they were serving in the Canadian Corps.”

There was immense power in those names, and pilgrims took photographs or made tracings of the characters to bring home and cherish. For many pilgrims this was their emotional closure for a death two decades in the past. The scattered dead were reconstituted: a silent army of names in waiting. Lost men had finally been found. One of the pilgrims was to write, “Each has gained a glorious grave.”

The Vimy pilgrimage, in the words of veteran Walter Woods, a civil servant who had devoted much of his life since the war to aiding his fellow veterans, was “by far the most momentous event in the lives of Canadian ex-servicemen.” In France and Britain there was intense interest in the expedition. The King’s presence was instrumental in making the unveiling an Empire-wide event.

Canadians were no less enthralled by the unveiling, the memorial and the pilgrims, countless numbers having listened to it live on the radio. Others read about it in newspapers that highlighted the accomplishments of the Canadians, specifically at Vimy and more generally in the war. The strong Canadian contingent of ministers, the playing of “O Canada,” and the prominent place of Canadian veterans and their deeds at the ceremony validated the idea expressed by many of the speakers that Canada had come of age at the ridge in 1917.

In the shadow of the Vimy Memorial, the battle was recast as an iconic, nation-changing event. While no one used the phrase “birth of the nation,” the sentiment was stark and clear, even though the memorial itself was infused with themes of grief, loss and elegy. The idea of the Great War as the fulcrum upon which the nation had matured may have been present for some time, but there had been few opportunities to allow for the expression of such ideas in such a public way. Now was the time.

Canadians would build on the July 1936 ceremony and continue to remake Vimy in the coming decades, grafting new meanings onto the battle and the memorial. The monument at Vimy was distinguished forever from all the others, even the moving “Brooding Soldier” at Ypres, and soon the battle, too, would be elevated above all others, with Vimy cementing its place in Canadian history while the Battle of Second Ypres faded in relevance. With the past seeping into the present, and the present into the past, a new Vimy legend was born on that battle-haunted ridge.


Excerpted from Vimy: The Battle and the Legend by Tim Cook. Copyright © 2017 Tim Cook. Published by Allen Lane Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2017/04/02/the-event-that-recast-the-battle-of-vimy-ridge.html

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