In October 1916, a 16-year-old boy decided that the war happening in Europe was something worth fighting. He lied about his age and enlisted in Toronto.
Six months later, on April 9, 1917, he was part of a successful, three-day push forward by the combined Canadian Expeditionary Force through three lines of the German forces – the first time that all the Canadians fought together in one battle – a defining moment in the maturing of my country. He had just turned 17. It is believed he died on the first day: April 9, 1917.
It was for him that I visited Vimy Ridge a few years ago. The first member of my family to do so since the Vimy Ridge Memorial, built on land given to the people of Canada by the government of France, was commemorated in July 1936. My throat fills with emotion just thinking about the impact of driving through the Maple Tree lined avenue that leads to the monument, and the physical impact of my first view of it hitting my heart and imagination.
The beauty surrounding the Memorial haunts.
The memorial’s position on the battlefield: it isn’t evident in this photograph, but grass-grown craters and trenches fill the land on which the memorial lies.
Justice, Hope, Charity, Faith, Truth, Knowledge and Peace, reaching a torch high, crown the monument.
A tourist poses with the Sarcophagus that represents Canadian soldiers lost in the war. Their names are carved in the walls – 11,285 men who don’t have graves.
‘Sympathy of the Canadians for the Helpless’ – they rest at the north corner of the face of the memorial, looking out and mourning for the people of the lands beyond.
The trenches of both Germans and Canadians were preserved in concrete. In places they are less than 100 feet apart.
It’s difficult to describe the feeling of walking through these concrete corridors.
A Mauser became encased in the mud of the tunnel, preserved in cement when the tunnels were opened to the public.
The craters, left so that we might never forget this cost of war, are healed by nature.
One of two cemeteries at Vimy.
They lie where they died, in a place made beautiful.
Their ages range from boy to middle age.
His family have been, their hearts have ease knowing where he is.
Nobody knows who he is, but they know why he died.
Their graves are tended with love and care.
Mother Canada looks down upon the Sarcophagus below and the lands beyond, where the battles occurred.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
– Major John McCrea, May 1915 after the Second Battle of Ypres
A Canucks Eye View
I'm a Canadian who loves our planet and the people living on it. I also love to travel and take pictures. I'd like to think I've improved a little, but am pretty sure there's room to be better.
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2 thoughts on “Why Remember?”
A wonderful, heart-felt post – thank you.