Vimy Ridge is not foreign soil
Green Cove monument will undermine aura from world-famous site
I recently heard an erroneous remark in the media by the promoter of a proposed memorial in Green Cove to the more than 114,000 Canadians killed during the First World War, Second World War, the Korean War, numerous peacekeeping missions and other international conflicts.
In the interview, the promoter indicated that many of these veterans were lost in battles on European soil and buried far from their families, on foreign soil.
This is not completely accurate.
The 100 hectares (250 acres) of land on which the celebrated Vimy Ridge Memorial sits, as well as the austere and befitting somber Forêt des Ardennes that surrounds it, is Canadian territory.
It was a gift made to Canada in 1922 from France and its citizens, in gratitude for the sacrifices made by Canada in the First World War and for the victory achieved by Canadian troops in capturing Vimy Ridge in April, 1917.
It also serves as the place of commemoration for First World War Canadian soldiers killed or presumed dead in France who have no known grave.
If some private benefactors contributed to the project, their names are not mentioned. That land is Canadian territory and there are arrangements between France and Canada (Veterans Affairs) to maintain the monuments, grounds and graveyards that are manicured and kept beautifully year round.
Hundreds of graves are impeccably lined up. On each: a cross standing, a rose and a plaque bearing the name with mention ‘Mort au Champ d’Honneur.’ There is no name if the remains were unrecognizable.
Huge books are kept at the entrance of the cemetery with all the names. It is all very sober and respectful of each soldier. There is beauty, respect and taste in everything in Vimy.
The National Vimy Memorial was designed by Walter Seymour Allward, a Canadian architect and sculptor, and unveiled in 1936. Twenty sculptured figures grace the monument. They were carved where they now stand.
Allward once said that his inspiration came to him in a dream. The two pylons represent Canada and France: ‘ Two nations beset by war and united to fight for a common goal: peace and freedom for the Allied Na- tions.’
To some, the pylons may seem like twin sentinels, silently guarding a peaceful world. A beautiful statue of peace. Carved on the wall are the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in action in France during the First World War.
You will see no names of donors in Vimy. It is not a ‘charitable’ enterprise with tax deductible advantages, It is citizens paying their due to the brave soldiers. In other words, Vimy is al- together a very meaningful and symbolic monument, loaded with memories.
By contrast, the monument planned for Green Cove is vulgar and is located in an isolated place where it will stand in complete solitude for most of the year.
Building the monument planned for Green Cove will take the aura from Vimy Ridge, which is so meaningful to the world, and will bring nothing of value to our gone soldiers.
A private outfit is not needed to keep memories alive. Schools and society at large are doing a good job and our young people are aware of the sacrifices suffered by our soldiers.
I visited Vimy and I was amazed at the number of school buses with Canadian students brought there by their teachers. All the guides were young Canadian students absorbing the reality of war and the sacrifice. It was indeed a little piece of Canada.
In fact, it was my grand-daughers who initiated the trip to Vimy. They were very interested to go there. All these young people were confronted with the reality of the battlefield. There was enough left, kept meaningfully: a wet trench with a primitive table and chair, a water jug and a small basin to wash yourself, and a primitive oil lamp.
Outside, bombshell craters had been left intact and brought vividly to your imagination the horror, pain, screams, agony and fear that the fighters endured.
It is a vivid unforgettable experience. People come from all over the world to recognize their bravery and pay their respects.
I have heard talk of digging out earth or maybe even remains in Vimy and returning them to Canada. What a sacrilege! What disrespect!
Please let our martyrs remain where they are celebrated year round by people from all over the world. Let them rest in the company of their companions of misfortune. Let them rest in peace.
Don’t tear their souls and spirits away from Earth a second time.
The National Vimy Memorial is dedicated to the memory of Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War. It also serves as the place of commemoration for First World War Canadian soldiers killed or presumed dead in France who have no known grave. It took 11 years to build and was unveiled in 1936.