Sunday, 9 April 2017

Vimy Ridge Centenary


Today is Vimy Ridge Day, which commemorates the First World War battle that has become a Canadian symbol of achievement, nationhood and sacrifice. Mainstream historical interpretation holds that Canada became a truly independent nation at Vimy Ridge, no longer viewed simply as part of the British Empire.

2017 is the centenary of the battle of Vimy Ridge and it is being marked across Canada this weekend by many events.


Vimy Ridge is an escarpment in France near Arras. The German army captured it at the beginning of the war in 1914. Neither the French nor the British succeeded in taking it back and, as a result, they believed Vimy Ridge to be untakeable.

But on April 9-12, 1917, the Canadian Expeditionary Force captured Vimy Ridge, thanks to "a mixture of technical and tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery support, and extensive training, as well as the failure of the German Sixth Army to properly apply the German defensive doctrine." (Wikipedia)

Like all such victories, however, Vimy Ridge came at a terrible price -- 3598 Canadian soldiers killed and 7004 wounded. German casualties are unknown but 4000 prisoners of war were taken.


Today, a hundred years later, the landscape of Vimy Ridge is still heavily scarred from the battle, scars which are easily visible in the following aerial photograph. The whole area remains honeycombed with tunnels, trenches, craters and unexploded munitions. As a result, much of the site is closed off for public safety. Only sheep are allowed to wander those spots, in order to graze and keep the grass short.


Vimy Ridge is now dominated by the huge Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Designed by Canadian sculptor Walter Allward, the Memorial is constructed of white limestone bonded to a cast concrete frame and features 20 sculpted figures. Its towering twin pylons represent Canada and its ally France. The Memorial took many years to design and build after World War I. Its purpose is not to glorify war but to memorialize our national grief about the human price of victory.


Our country's grief at the terrible cost of Vimy Ridge and World War I is encapsulated in the central figure of the Memorial -- standing at the front, framed between the twin pylons -- the statue called Canada Bereft. She stands on the high parapet, looking down at the stone sarcophagus of the war dead found at its base. Before her stretches the Vimy battlefield. She is facing east, where each new day dawns.


Designed to evoke the Mater Dolorosa, the grieving mother Mary of Michelangelo's Pieta, Canada Bereft grieves for all time, on sunny days and in the rain, day and night, in summer, winter and all the other seasons of the turning year. The laurels of glory and victory hang forlornly from her hand.


The only personal connection my family has to World War I is a soldier named Charles Walker who was mortally wounded at Vimy Ridge and died about a month after the battle. I will post his story next month on May 8, the centenary of his death.

34 comments:

jadedj said...

Wow.This post left me with a lump in my throat...as it should have. You are a beautiful person, D

anne marie in philly said...

thank you for the history lesson. a somber reminder of what war takes away.

DEZMOND said...

that is not such a high number of victims, given that my country had lost one million people in the WW1 and then another million in WW2 :(
The monument is very poignant and beautiful

Marie Smith said...

Beautiful post, Debra.

Kay G. said...

Thank you for showing this on your blog. What a magnificent monument, "not to glorify war but to memorialize national grief about the human price of victory."
In England, they have been doing wonderful things to remember the cost of human lives in World War I, I think this is most important.

mistress maddie said...

That was an interesting read this morning. It has never crossed my mind Canada was in war. I think we forget. It is a beautiful monument. And it's interesting to read about the unexploded munitions. Very dangerous stuff. Lately here , I believe in the north and south, lately many findings of unexploded munitions, and during construction projects, I have heard on the news of some of some cannon balls actually going off. One museum has some like 400 cannon balls alone.

Willym said...

A beautiful post. This morning on CBC a young reporter spoke of the ground at Vimy appearing to be "angry" - the result of the intense bombardment all those years ago. I thought it a remarkable observation.

Rosemary said...

The Canadian monument is both very sad, moving and poignant - let us never forget.

Rain said...

That was very nice to read Debra :)

Birdie said...

This post made me cry. I know about Vimy Ridge and was going to write about it but my words could not convey all that you managed to do so beautifully. Great post, Debra.

Janie Junebug said...

Damn wars.

Love,
Janie

greekwitch said...

This made me shiver! Such a powerful post! Can you imagine a world without war? Where humanity would be by now?

Lynn said...

Golly - it's such a peaceful looking place now. It's amazing that much violence and carnage happened there. So sad.

Leeanna Henderson said...

A wonderful powerful history lesson as always.

bill lisleman said...

Thanks for this history. Battles are important historical stories especially when told with the personal background stories. I believe Ken Burns' Civil War documentary really changed people's thinking of that war. That's a very thoughtful reflective statue.

Insomniac's Attic said...

I've never seen pictures of that statue before - it's lovely. An announcer on the news last night informed us that the battle of Vimy Ridge happened during the second World War. Wow, I'm even more out of touch than I thought. ;)

Adam said...

With all those wars, you'd think every square inch of France was haunted

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

Beautiful post, Debra. That statue is beautiful. And haunting.

Mark said...

That is a beautiful memorial. Very well designed as well. Every little detail has some significant meaning. The Canadians are a lot tougher than people give them credit for. They fought hard and bravely, and history rememebers them.

Miss Val's Creations said...

Beautiful write up. :)

Jim Serrett said...

Yes - so interesting a post and story, but what is striking is the emotions expressed in this monument.
It is beautiful and tragic at the same time.
Why don’t we create stuff like this anymore?

e said...

"The laurels of glory and victory hang forlornly from her hand." Victory and Glory mean nothing compared to death. Thank you for the write up.

I saw a picture of Justin laying a wreath at the memorial.

MrsDuncanMahogany said...

Thank you for this. As a military wife, this post brought me to tears. Beautiful. xo

Missy George said...

Very interesting..Always nice to learn something..Thanks..Enjoy your week..

Susan said...

A beautiful and powerful memorial.

The Happy Whisk said...

Wow, loved the photos. Thanks, Debra.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

I'm thinking about how nice it must be to live in a country whose history and present you have reason to take great pride in. Oh, Canada.

Thanks for the feel good, informative post.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Great post. I was going to do a post about Vimmy myself but I should just borrow yours.

Anne Johnson said...

That aerial photo is chilling. The monument is extraordinary.

Davoh said...

Um, Deb .. this looks a bit like the Australian 'celebration'? of ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) day ( April 25th each year).

The landing on the Gallipoli peninsula. It wasn't a "Glorious Victory" - more of a celebration of a 'sensible retreat'. And Yep, Aussie troops were also at Vimy Ridge ...
but, perhaps more importantly - the citizens of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villers-Bretonneux (couldn't remember how to spell it .. meh) - remember the Aussies well.

Davoh said...

Also, cannot attend any ANZAC ceremony without tears. My Father died close to the North-west coast of Australia in a B24 Liberator crash in 1945. Also, to add insult to injury (so to speak), not even in a 'notable' battle, and about four weeks before the surrender of Japan.
His body was never found.

Am, of course, a determined 'Anti- war' sort of person as a result.

Magic Love Crow said...

A beautifully written tribute Debra!

cullasaja said...

I lived in France in the late 80's and visited the site. It is very impressive and stark sitting in the field. I remember it being fenced off around the monument to keep people away from the mine field.

Fundy Blue said...

Thanks for reminding me of the details of Vimy Ridge which have become blurry over the years. The memorial is poignant and beautiful. I'm listening to Trump right now, and I'm worrying about the mounting tension with North Korea. I hope things don't spiral out of control leading to more Canadian, American, and other deaths. It's important to remember the cost of freedom and peace.