Lest We Forget … A Trip To Vimy Ridge

paris-2016-1428

A PILGRIMAGE TO THE CANADIAN NATIONAL VIMY MEMORIAL IS A MEANINGFUL JOURNEY

*

It is November 11th … Remembrance Day.  This day will have added significance from now on because of our visit to Vimy Ridge and the Canadian National Vimy Memorial to pay our respects to the tens of thousands who lost their lives during the war. This journey was taken closer to the end of our trip, but I wanted to write about it today when it would have the most significance.

*

paris-2016-1465

THIS IS ONE OF MANY HEADSTONES FOR A SOLDIER THAT COULDN’T BE IDENTIFIED

*

In 1914, World War I gathered force and a call was put out to Canadians to support the efforts of the Allies.  Conscription did not exist in Canada, so those that answered the call volunteered their services willingly.  We were a young country at the time … officially only 47 years old.  The population of Canada was only 8 million people and only 18% of those were eligible to go to war.  8% of the entire country went … as volunteers … to defend their loved ones, both in Canada and in Europe where ties were still strong.

*

paris-2016-1422

ONE WOULD THINK THAT THIS WAS A PERFECT PICNIC SPOT, NOT THE SITE OF A TERRIBLE WAR

*

When the soldiers arrived, they were sent to camps along the front.  At Vimy Ridge, the front lines between the two opposing sides were a scant 37 feet apart.  Young soldiers were asked to spend long periods in tunnels dug under the ground, or the trenches, where they were sent on training raids to try and capture a prisoner from the other side and bring them back as a prisoner of war.

*

paris-2016-1392

WORLD WAR I WAS ABOUT TAKING LAND

*

Ultimately, the war was about a desire for the German Empire to expand their borders and the surrounding countries defending that soil.  Soldiers were fighting to take high points of land which would give them an advantage over the enemy and allow them to see what was coming and defend it.  Generals planned assaults and calculating casualties was part of the job.  At the Battle of Passchendaele, not far from Vimy Ridge, it was accepted that to take the high piece of ground, 16, 000 soldiers would be sacrificed. This was considered an acceptable loss.  The ground that was gained on that day, was reclaimed by the opposing side two weeks later and those 16 000 lives were spent and could never be recovered.

*

paris-2016-1415

THESE ARE THE GUIDES WHO TAKE YOU ON A TOUR OF THE SITE

*

Visiting Vimy Ridge is a way to get a first-hand look at the human cost of war.  A visit to the site begins when you enter the information centre.  16 Canadian students are relocated to France for a four month job, taking tourists around the site on free guided tours and explaining its importance.  The tours are done in both French and English.  The land has been ceded to the Canadian Government and will be maintained in perpetuity as a living legacy to help Canadians understand the value of the freedoms we have today and the tragic costs of war.

*

paris-2016-1399

PETE FOLLOWS NICO, OUR TOUR GUIDE, DOWN INTO THE TUNNELS

*

The tour of the tunnels may not be suitable for anyone who is claustrophobic.  Our guide took us down 40 feet underground and showed us the various places where soldiers were tunneling beneath the enemy in the hopes that they could set explosives up, and then let them go off … caving in the land above.  Then the troops would swarm out of the hole created and attack the enemy.  The tunnels were also used as passageways for communication lines.  Our guide was very careful to point out that during this terrible war … both sides used gas, both sides took prisoners, both sides sustained casualties.  The Vimy Ridge site isn’t about who was right and who was wrong … it is about the cost of human lives in the face of conflicting ideals.

*

paris-2016-1407

THE TUNNELS ARE NARROW AND ROUGHLY HEWN

*

When one comes out of the tunnels, there is an opportunity to walk through re-creations of the trenches.  The enemies were literally a stone’s throw away from one another.

*

paris-2016-1408

THIS TRENCH AND SOME BARB WIRE WAS ALL THAT SHELTERED THE MEN AT THE FRONT LINE

*paris-2016-1421

I TOOK THIS PICTURE OF PETE FROM THE CANADIAN TRENCHES.  PETE IS STANDING IN THE TRENCHES OF THE OTHER SIDE.  THAT IS HOW CLOSE THE SOLDIERS WERE TO ONE ANOTHER

*

So what is the significance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge?  It was a mainly Canadian contingent that fought at this site from April 9-12, 1917.  The four divisions of the Canadian Army fought together for the first time, and through a combination of shelling, bombing and raiding, gained control of the 7 kilometre ridge.  3, 598 soldiers were killed and 7004 were injured.  Although the battle was perhaps not as significant as the D-Day attacks at the beaches of Juno, it was recognized as a time when Canada became a key player on the world stage, influencing the overall outcome of the war.

*

paris-2016-1410

THE LAND IS POCKED DUE TO SHELLING AND UNDERGROUND EXPLOSIONS FROM THE WAR

*

    We spent close to an hour between our guided tour and walking around the trenches, trying to imagine what it must have been like to be a soldier.  How did they survive such terrible conditions, and how did they maintain the strength to go on?  We made our way somberly to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, which is about a 1 kilometre walk along a road from the trenches.

*

paris-2016-1424

THE CANADIAN NATIONAL VIMY MEMORIAL WAS UNVEILED ON JULY 26, 1936

The monument to the war efforts of the Canadians took 11 years to build.  When one approaches it from a distance, it is hard to believe the sheer size and scale of the monument.

*

paris-2016-1432

THE INSCRIPTION OF NAMES TOOK OVER 3 YEARS TO COMPLETE

60,000 Canadians were killed in World War I. Over 11,000 of those died in France but they have no known grave. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial has the inscribed names of the 11,168 missing Canadians killed in action in France whose remains were never found or identified.

*

paris-2016-1440

THE WEEPING WOMAN STATUE FACES THE BATTLEFIELDS

*

Wandering around the monument is a sobering trek.  The weeping woman statue weeps for all of the casualties of war.  In the end, the total loss of life in World War I was 17 million including close to 7 million civilians who were caught in the path of the battles.

*

paris-2016-1449

ONE MUST STAY IN DESIGNATED AREAS WHEN WALKING IN THE VIMY RIDGE AREA

*

Remnants of the war still hide beneath the ground.  Vast areas of the land have signs and fences to keep people away from undetonated shells still lying below the surface.

*

paris-2016-1434

THE TERRAIN IS DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN AND HEAVY MACHINERY MIGHT SET OFF THE SHELLS BENEATH THE SURFACE

*

An odd juxtaposition is the sheep that peacefully graze around the monument.  There are dangers in maintaining the grounds of the area, and lawn-mowers would have trouble coping with the pocked landscape not to mention the risk of setting off shells beneath the ground.  As a result, sheep maintain the grass of the grounds and are allowed to wander freely.

*

paris-2016-1455

PRIVATE AISH WAS ONLY 16 YEARS OLD WHEN HE GAVE HIS LIFE TO WORLD WAR I

*

Men of all ages fought in the First World War.  Graves in the graveyards show ages that range from 16 to men in their 30s who had partners and children at home.

*

paris-2016-1463

THIS INSCRIPTION MOVED US

*

Our guide told us about a stone that had a name, but no age and an inscription at the bottom that read “In Remembrance, Until We Meet Again Mother”.  He researched the soldier and discovered it was a young man who was just over 6 feet tall.  He had lied about his age to get into the army.  He was killed just shortly after his 14th birthday.

*

paris-2016-1412

SOLDIERS FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY CAME TO FRANCE TO AID IN THE WAR EFFORTS

*

paris-2016-1414

THIS QUILT WAS PART OF A PROJECT HONOURING THE NEWFOUNDLANDERS WHO FOUGHT IN THE WAR

*

To get to Vimy Ridge, you can take a high speed train from Gare du Nord in Paris to the town of Arras.  There is no direct bus or shuttle service to the site, but we booked an excellent bilingual taxi driver by the name of Bruno Lecuyer.  He charges 25 Euros each way.  If you arrange in advance, he will pick you up at the train station.  After spending your time at the Vimy Ridge site (we spent 3 hours), you can go into the information centre, where they will call him, and he will take you back to the town.  You can reach him by phone at 06 31 25 01 23 or by email at brunolecuyer0536@orange.fr

*

What would you be willing to give your life for?  It is a tough question to answer.  But seeing this monument and the gravesides and the fighting conditions, it makes one understand that the loss of life through senseless violence was something that must never happen again. On November 11th, and every day, it is important to try and find ways to express love, create peace and negotiate away from acts of violence and war.  It is easier said than done, but one person at a time, we CAN make a difference in the world. And one way to ensure we don’t do it again … is to remember. And so we share these photos … Lest We Forget …

*

paris-2016-1459

Fenton & White

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s