POSTWAR PIL­GRIMS

Vet­er­ans were ea­ger to at­tend the un­veil­ing of the Vimy mon­u­ment.

Canada's History - - VIMY 100 -

Pri­vate William Howie was sta­tioned on the front line at the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge when he heard a ter­ri­bly loud noise — a mor­tar ex­plo­sion so close that a piece of loose shrap­nel flung up, hit his face, and pierced his eye, dam­ag­ing it be­yond re­pair.

“When we were kids our favourite pas­time was to watch him take out [his ar­ti­fi­cial eye] and have him show it to us,” said granddaughter Marie Kerr from An­caster, On­tario.

Howie en­listed De­cem­ber 7, 1915, and served in the 19th Bat­tal­ion, Ar­gyle and Suther­land High­landers of Canada.

In 1936, Howie and his wife, along with 6,200 other vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies, were in­vited to Europe for a pil­grim­age to the former bat­tle sites, which would cul­mi­nate at Vimy Ridge for the un­veil­ing of the Cana­dian Na­tional Vimy Memo­rial.

The Howies trav­elled by train to Mon­treal, where they boarded the SS Mont­calm, one of five ships con­tracted for the round-trip voy­age. Bands played, fire­works erupted, and crowds cheered from the Mon­tréal docks as the ships cast off on July 16. When they ar­rived in Europe, the cou­ple trav­elled by train, vis­it­ing var­i­ous bat­tle­fields in France and in Bel­gium. When they got to Vimy, as many as a hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple — most of them French civil­ians — were there to at­tend the cer­e­mony. The un­veil- ing of the mon­u­ment by King Ed­ward VIII was held in the mid-af­ter­noon and broad­cast live by ra­dio.

Along with the other vet­er­ans, Howie stood in a priv­i­leged spot in a large am­phithe­atre at the front of the memo­rial. Wear­ing a beret and an arm­band, Howie beamed as the King in­spected the troops. Kerr said she can re­mem­ber him talk­ing about go­ing to the ded­i­ca­tion: “It was quite a big thing, to get to go.… I’m sure it must have been a proud mo­ment for him.”

Pri­vate William Howie, far left, watches as King Ed­ward VIII, holding a top hat, chats with Cana­dian vet­er­ans dur­ing the un­veil­ing of the mon­u­ment.

A com­mem­o­ra­tive en­ve­lope and stamp is­sued to William Howie the day of the un­veil­ing of the Cana­dian Na­tional Vimy Memo­rial.

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