We will remember them
April 9, 2017 marks 100 years since the Canadian Corps, fighting as a unit under (largely) Canadian command, succeeded in capturing the commanding heights at Vimy Ridge, overlooking the broad Douai plain near Arras in norther France. The victory in the battle of Vimy Ridge, in Canada’s 50th year as a nation, has come to be seen as one of the country’s defining moments. In April, 2017, I made the Member’s Statement below in the Ontario Legislature.
Canadian children have learned for generations about the contribution and sacrifice of the Canadian Corps in World War One. A century ago, after the Germans had repulsed two French and one British assault on Vimy Ridge, a strategic hill overlooking the Douai plain near Arras, the Canadian Corps won the first major Allied victory of the War. That victory established the Canadian Corps’ reputation as the elite ground force of World War One.
Vimy Ridge was given in perpetuity to Canada by France. Canadian guides offer a special welcome to visitors from the land that 3,598 men of the Canadian corps left behind forever.
The respectful silence at Vimy evokes the remembrance of those who, like me, have visited the immaculately-tended Commonwealth War Graves site at Vimy Ridge.
A visitor is drawn to thoughts not so much of battle, but of home. It is as though the collective presence, of the spirits of the Canadians who stayed at Vimy, long to share thoughts of the Canada their contribution helped build.
The commemoration ceremony held in France on Sunday April 9th, the centennial day of the start of the battle, honoured Canada’s World War One contribution, and the soldiers, sailors, aviators and civilians whose contributions made Canada the conflict’s elite force, in a proud and dignified manner. The Prime Minister, Governor General, and President of France all spoke movingly. My own thoughts returned to the headstones of young men in their late teens and early 20s, in whose presence I felt so welcome that cool evening in Vimy when I visited. I could imagine some of them in the hereafter, elbowing a spiritual buddy while looking at the ceremony, and saying to one another, “See, I told you it would all be worth the effort.”
Learning this part of history is important to every Canadian. So is finding the few hours during a lifetime to walk Vimy Ridge, and to know what the Royal Canadian Legion means when they say, “We will remember them.”