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