Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Day Six morning. Vimy Ridge Memorial

Once again, it's hard for me to verbalize the emotion that enveloped me visitng Vimy Ridge.  It was truly breathtaking and left us in awe.  It was a place for reverance, rememberance and thankfulness.  It is said that Vimy Ridge is truly where Canada first came of age as a nation.

The First World War was the largest conflict the world had every seen.  That skirmish that was only thought to last a couple of months and be over turned  into the "War to end all Wars" between 1914-1918.  Sadly it would be followed a mere 20 years  later by the even more destructive Second World War.

In 1914, Canada was considered part of the British Empire and as such when Britain was at war so was Canada.  The 1st WW opened with great patriotism in Canada with 10's of thousands rushing to join the military in the first months of the conflict.   The war ground on for more than 4 years, killing more than 10 million people in fighting that would revolutionize warfare with high explosive shells, powerful machine guns, poison gas and warplanes.

The Vimy Ridge National Monument stands on Hill 145, the highest point of the 14 km ridge.  In the first World War the Ridge was a significant part of the German defence system.  French troops had pushed the German line eastwards, they failed to take the Ridge which became strongly fortified.  Canadian troops would achieve this goal.

At daybreak on April 9th, 1917 all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fighting together for the first time, stormed the Ridge.  Preceded by perfectly timed artillery barrages the Canadians advanced and by mid afternoon had taken all their objectives except Hill 145, with was captured the following day.
The battle was swift but not without cost.  Out of 10, 602 casualties 3598 Canadians gave their lives.  The Victory at Vimy was  significant landmark for the Allied fortunes the first World War and back home in Canada.  It United Canadians and brought honour and pride to our young nation.

Carved in the walls of the monument are the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and whose final resting place was unknown.  Altogether over 66, 000 Canadian service personnel died in the first World War.

This monument honours all our dead and the country from which they came.   It would be fitting if every Canadian could visit and pay their respects and I was honoured to have the opportunity to do so and to have my children share the experience.

(Thanks to Veterans Affairs Canada literature for the above descriptors)

 To the Valour of their countrymen in the Great War and int he memory of their sixty thousand dead, this monument is raised by the people of Canada.

Reality hits

As you stroll through the grounds you can see the craters left from shelling and craters from bombs.  It's eerie and solemn.   The signage that follows reminds you of the several thousand kilos a year of unexploded artillery that is recovered to this day in farmers fields.

No, you may not throw your brother over the wire.

Craters evident

Too many graves

I took this as this highschool is not far from us.  There was a pilgrimage of highschool students from Canada recently.  It was nice to something from home

As you  continue to meander you come upon the trenches and tunnel systems.  We waited for our guide and Dad explained the trenches to them.

A larger crater (but not as big as ones we would see later in the day and tomorrow in Belgium)

These trenches are obviously not originals.  Although they may be in the same location they are certainly wider than the real trenches would have been and not as deep.

It all just puts so much into perspective seeing it in real life

We head into the tunnels that are the command centers.

Walking through these tunnels  I couldn't help but think of my Grandfather.  Miner's were used to dig and secure these tunnels during the war.  While my Grandfather did not fight in the war I couldn't help but think of him, as a young boy digging in the coal mines in Wales and eventually Northern Ontario in Canada.   It really brought home the horrific conditions these men lived in day in and day out.  We had been to the tunnels in Dover with my older boys but those were almost like living at the Ritz in comparison to what this must have been like.

These bunks would have been stacked at least three high on each side

Officers room

Canadian soldier leaving his mark in the stone

Mortar launcher

From here we bought some books. My daughter wanted Letters of Adar Adamson.  He was a Canadian soldier who wrote his wife daily through the war.   It's a fascinating look into that world and has been published into a book.   We headed back to the car once again humbled by the experience and made our way to our next stop in Ypres. (Iepes) Here we settled into our Hotel (Ariane...highly recommend...it was fabulously comfortable, roomy, and included an excellent breakfast buffet), and met our guide for the afternoon.

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