The way a country memorializes its tragedies and victories tells you a lot about its culture. I’ve visited many monuments and memorials during my travels but the one that has always stuck with me is Vimy Ridge.
I was very lucky to spend my first year of university abroad in England. As a Canadian & a history major specializing in military history, this was a dream come true. Places of such academic and personal historical significance were a stone’s throw from my home.
When November 11th rolled around, we were given an amazing opportunity – to visit and take part in the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France. It stands immense, stark and bright on the ridge, truly a modest tribute to the 10,000 killed or missing soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
The walk to the memorial was a sobering one. Restoration had been completed just a year earlier and the site was stunning on that cold & misty November morning. The beauty of the misty rolling green hills is tempered by the fences that block access to them, with signs warning of the danger of undetonated artillery. Even on the eve of the 100th anniversary since this battle, very real reminders of war lay buried around us in this place. The stark contrast of the enormous white marble pillars on the greenery below proclaim to the expansive fields the incredible sacrifices that were made here.
Vimy Ridge was a defining moment for Canada. Over 100,000 men took part, of which there would be 11,000 casualties – a significant loss for a country of only 8 million people. However, Canada’s victory proved to the world the military capability of the fledgling country. It was also the first time men from across the country came together in battle. A new sense of Canadian identity was forged and of the battle, Brigadier-General A.E. Ross famously pronounced “in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”
Laying roses at the tomb of the unknown soldier during the ceremony, I was moved to think of my grandfather who was involved in the liberation of Belgium & the landings on D-Day. Though not directly connected to Vimy, it compelled me to reflect on the bravery and sense of duty that motivated him to put himself in harm’s way, time after time, much like the men who stormed the entrenched German machine guns on the hill I was standing.
As time passes and we lose the chance to connect with those who were there, visiting these sites gives us the opportunity to reconnect with our history in a very intimate way. To visit Vimy Ridge is to understand a very fundamental event in the shaping of the Canadian identity and to connect and gain a renewed sense of appreciation for the immense toll of war.
About the Author: Kelly is a Canadian based in London, UK. When not seeking out her next big adventure, she can be found eating her way through the culinary delights of Europe.