Saturday, April 9, 2011

Vimy Ridge Day: 'Please remember Me'

[*repost from 2010*]

Vimy remembered


[April 9th], Canada officially marks the First World War battle that many historians say was the true birth of the nation.

But on Thursday night, members of Kingston's Princess of Wales' Own Regiment once again remembered Vimy Ridge as the battle that forged their regiment.

Ninety-three years ago, the battle for Vimy Ridge began, an incredible bloody affair even by the bloody standards of that war.

On the morning of April 9, 1917, four Canadian army divisions moved out of their trenches and towards the ridge, marking the start of one of the most significant battles of the war.

It is also a battle that is credited with being the birth of Canada as a nation distinct from the British Empire of which it was once part.

About 100,000 Canadians, from battalions raised across the country but fighting together, retook Vimy Ridge, a 14-km-long escarpment controlled by the Germans.

Earlier attempts by 150,000 French and British troops had failed.

The Kingston-raised 21st Battalion fought at Vimy. On Thursday night, the PWOR held its annual ceremony, perhaps the last remaining one like it in Canada, where members of today's regiment gathered in front of a cross that marked a mass grave of Kingston soldiers in Vimy and read out the name of each man who died there.

"This is important, because each one of these men was a family member, someone's son, brother or husband," said Maj. James McKay, the commanding officer designate who will take over command of the Kingston reserve regiment from Lt.-Col. Andrew Samis next weekend.

Most were privates and in their early 20s, not much older than the reservists of today who read out their names at the annual service, which the regiment holds on its first parade night after Easter each year.

Remembrance is usually a collective exercise for the military and such individual observance is unusual, but McKay noted that the battle of Vimy Ridge is more important to the Kingston regiment than any other battle.

"We draw more of our identity from Vimy than from any other battle," said McKay....[...]

There were 60,000 Canadians who died during the war and the PWOR regimental chaplain noted that Thursday night's ceremony remembered all who died in service, but special notice was for the local men who embarked in Kingston and did not return.

"It is to these men that we pay homage tonight," Capt. Marjorie Swarthout told the assembled soldiers.

"May their sacrifice not have been in vain."..(Whig-Stanadard here)

The Battle of Vimy Ridge

Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/
Library and Archives Canada

The message of Vimy Ridge is one of bravery and sacrifice. The battle, which took place on April 9, 1917, is commonly highlighted as a turning point in Canadian history, where the four Canadian divisions fought together as a unified fighting force for the first time. While 3,598 Canadian soldiers were killed during the battle, the impressive victory over German forces is often cited as the beginning of Canada’s evolution from dominion to independent nation. The Vimy Foundation is working to spread the word to Canada’s youth — through initiatives like the Vimy Prize and the Vimy Pin — so that all Canadians understand the importance of Vimy to the nation’s identity.

To underscore the sacrifices made by Canada, which suffered 60,000 fatalities during the First World War, France granted Canada 107 hectares of land at Vimy to build and maintain a memorial. That iconic site is today considered one of the most stirring of all First World War monuments, and certainly Canada’s most important war memorial. (The Vimy Foundation here)

Vimy's generation

We owe them a special reverence

For those of my generation, born in the midst of the Second World War or its immediate aftermath, it always seemed right to call the one that came before The Great War.

We grew up feeling we owed it a special reverence.

For I could see even veterans of the Second World War looked back in awe at the sacrifices made by those who endured the trenches of 1914-18.

It seemed both the bravest of wars, and the saddest. Nothing was ever the same after it.

It was called The Great War because, before it came along, no one had literally ever seen or imagined a conflagration on such a global scale.

Also, because it killed so many and threw the whole world into such historic upheaval that people truly dreamed that it would be the "war to end all wars."(more here)

A colours guard marches away from the Canadian National Vimy  Memorial in France in November 2008. (Reuters)
A colours guard marches away from the Canadian National
Vimy Memorial in France in November 2008. (Reuters)

Always remembered and honoured.

1 comment:

yankeemom said...

Wonderful post, brat! thanks for sharing with us yanks! ;o)