Sunday, April 8, 2007

Vimy Ridge and Canada at war

Tomorrow, April the 9th, is a significant day. First, it's my birthday.

But not foremost in importance.

This April 9 is also the 90th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. This battle has been credited by historians as being the turning point in Canada shedding its colonial forelock tugging to Britain and coalescing as an independent nation.

Tomorrow, at Vimy, there will be a ceremony attended by tens of thousands, including 5,000 high school students from across Canada, marking the anniversary and the restoration of the monument. The Queen and the Prime Minister will attend. What is generally not known is that the land around the monument was deeded by the government of France to Canada as a gift from the French people of gratitude for Canada's sacrifices in the war for the liberation of France.

Sadly, there will be no Canadian veterans of WW1 present, as there have been at past ceremonies. There are only two still alive, one is 105 and the other is 106, and their health will not permit the travel.

I have copied the entry on this subject from Wikipedia, along with a good photo of the monument and another interesting historical one showing Adolph Hitler visiting it after the fall of France in the second world war. Hitler appreciated the monument because it was not triumphalist in its tone, but spoke of somber grief. If you have read anything about Hitler you will know that he was very moved by architecture. He apparently ordered the feared Waffen SS to guard the monument against vandalism.

Hitler visits his favourite enemy war memorial.

Canadian National Vimy Memorial

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is one of Canada's most important overseas war memorials to those Canadians who gave their lives in the First World War. It was constructed as the national memorial for Canada's 60,000 war dead and is located in France, on the site of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The memorial stands atop Hill 145, near the towns of Vimy and Givenchy-en-Gohelle, in the Pas-de-Calais d├ępartement of northern France. France deemed the area surrounding the monument, about 1 km², to be Canadian territory in 1922, as an expression of gratitude to the Canadian people for their sacrifice during the war and for capturing Vimy Ridge in April 1917. The entrance to the park bears the sign "the free gift in perpetuity of the French nation to the people of Canada."


The memorial was designed by Canadian sculptor the late Walter Seymour Allward, his proposal being selected from 160 submissions by Canadians who participated in a competition held in the early 1920s. Construction of the memorial commenced in 1925 and took 11 years; the official unveiling was on July 26, 1936, by King Edward VIII, as one of his few official duties during his short reign as King of Canada, in the presence of French President Albert Lebrun and over 50,000 Canadian and French veterans and their families.[1]

The two main pylons of the memorial, representing Canada and France, rise 30 metres above the sprawling stone platform.[2] Various stone sculptures exhibit a wealth of symbolism and assist visitors in contemplating the memorial as a whole. Due to the height of Vimy Ridge, the topmost stone sculpture — representing peace — is approximately 110 metres above the Lens Plain to the east. The sculptures were created by Canadian artists, and record and illuminate the sacrifice of all who served during the war and, in particular, to the more than 66,000 men who lost their lives. The names of the 11,285 Canadian soldiers who died in France but who have no known grave are carved on the memorial (the names of those who died in Flanders are on the Menin Gate). Visitors approaching the front of the monument will see one of its central figures: a woman, hooded and cloaked, facing eastward toward the new day. Her eyes are downcast and her chin rests on her hand. Below her is a tomb, draped in laurel branches and bearing a helmet. This grieving figure represents Canada — a young nation mourning her fallen sons. Jacqueline Hucker, an Ottawa art historian from Ottawa who served on the conservation team that recently restored the Vimy monument, declares that "It was like no other war memorial that had gone before" because Vimy was not a war memorial which was devoted to triumph or the glory of a great military leader, but rather to a profound sense of duty towards the legions of men who filled the ranks of the dead.[3] Hucker adds
"There are no signs of victory there at all...It expresses our obligation to the dead, and the grief of the living--sentiments of sacrifice that you do not see in war memorials until this time."[4]

The 20 statues present on the Vimy Memorial site were originally sculpted by Allward in roughly life-size out of unfired clay. These were then replicated in more durable plaster, and the plaster copies were sent to France, where French stonecarvers replicated them again in stone, while doubling their size. The plaster working copies, nearly destroyed in the 1960s, are now on display in Canada, with the Canadian War Museum showing 17 and the Military Communications and Electronics Museum attached to Canadian Forces Base Kingston showing the remaining 3.[5]
Today the site is designated by the Canadian government as a National Historic Site. In addition to the monument itself the memorial includes a small museum, an area of preserved trenches and tunnels, and nearby cemeteries of those killed in the battle.

In 2004, the memorial was closed for restoration work, including general cleaning and the recarving of names, with the statues moved off-site, cleaned and restored. The restored memorial will be inaugurated on April 9, 2007, the 90th anniversary of the battle. It is scheduled to be rededicated by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, along with Queen Elizabeth II, as Queen of Canada. The rehabilitation plan for Vimy Memorial is part of the Canadian Battlefield Memorials Restoration Project, directed by Canada's Department of Veterans Affairs in cooperation with other Canadian departments, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, consultants and specialists in military history.

• The magazine After the Battle published a photographic history of the site following the repatriation of Canada's Unknown Soldier, which included a ceremony at the Vimy Memorial. One of these photographs depicted the memorial's most notorious visitor: Adolf Hitler. In 1940, after his armies conquered France, Hitler toured the Vimy Memorial and its preserved trenches. Hitler had been decorated twice for bravery as an infantryman during the Great War and saw combat in the general vicinity of Vimy, often against Commonwealth soldiers in similar trenches. While Hitler had no qualms about destroying culturally significant locations in France including many French war monuments which were torn down by the Nazis, the Vimy memorial carried no messages of Allied triumph over Germany and thus was protected. University of Ottawa historian Serge Durflinger[1] notes that "Hitler admires it immensely, he says so at the time. As a result, the Germans respect[ed] the memorial all through the war."[6]

• The novel The Stone Carvers, by Jane Urquhart, is set amongst the creation of the memorial.

• Pte. Herbert Peterson of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment was killed during a raid on German trenches on the night of June 8-9, 1917, near Vimy Ridge. Peterson’s remains were not discovered until 2003. He was identified in February 2007 through a DNA match with a relative. [7] There was an Interment Ceremony for Private Peterson on Saturday, April 7, 2007 [8]

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