VIMY RIDGE MEMORIAL, FRANCE: April 9, 2012 is the 95th anniversary of the start of the battle of Vimy Ridge. It was the first time that Canadians would fight together under Canadian command. It is, for many, ‘when Canada became a country’. The Canadians were given an almost impossible task. French and British attempts to take the ridge had failed. In the course of the next six days, 3,598 Canadians would die and another 7,000 were injured. The highest point on the battlefield was Hill 145. That is where Canada’s Vimy Ridge Memorial now stands. In 1922, the French government gave the Hill and its surrounding to territory to Canada, in appreciation for defeating the Germans in one of the pivotal battles of World War One. Every Canadian should visit the Memorial at least once in their lives, in tribute to the terrible losses that day and in recognition of a defining moment in Canada’s history.
Photo by John Ecker | pantheon photography
CANADIAN MEMORIAL, VIMY, FRANCE: I’ve visited Canada’s Memorial a few times over the years. Each time, the skies have been mostly gloomy, adding an even great sense of solemnity. When the clouds do break, and the sun shines on the bright white stone, the sight’s true beauty emerges. The memorial overlooks the Douai plain in northern France, about ten kilometers from the town of Arras.
On April 9, 1917 the Canadian Corps was ordered to seize Vimy Ridge. The heavily-fortified seven-kilometre ridge held a commanding view over the Allied lines. Previous French attacks had failed with over 100,000 casualties.
The names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and whose final resting place was then unknown are carved into the stone. Facing the Douai visitors can see other places where Canadians fought and died. 7,000 plus more are buried in 30 war cemeteries within a 20-kilometre radius of the Memorial.
At the base of the Memorial, these words appear:
To the valour of their
Countrymen in the Great War
And in memory of their sixty
Thousand dead this monument
Is raised by the people of Canada
The Memorial was designed by Canadian architect and sculptor Walter Allward. The foundation of the memorial is a bed of 11,000 tonnes of concrete. It is reinforced with hundreds of tonnes of steel. The figures were carved on site. The large cloaked figure on the front (east) side, was carved from a single, 30-tonne block.
Over the decades, the memorial became weather worn and damaged by the elements. In 2007 a major re-construction and restoration project was completed. The work was massive. The main elements of the memorial were pretty much dismantled. The monument was re-pointed; damaged stone was replaced; lighting and draining was improved.
Many people assume that the ‘front’ of the memorial is on the approach from the parking area. On the contrary the front is actually on the opposite side. To full appreciate this sculpture, it is necessary to walk to the edge of the lawn in front of the monument, with your back to the Douai plain.
Nearby the memorial is the Vimy Canadian Cemetery. Row, upon row of graves– many without names.
Photos by John Ecker | Pantheon Photography