More than a couple of years ago I had the honour of going to a place that I consider to be sacred ground. I’m not sure how well known this place is in other countries, but for us Canadians it is a place that holds special significance. The place is now called the Canadian Vimy Ridge War Memorial. However 100 years ago it was called Hill 145. Some would argue that this is the place that Canada really became a country.
The opportunity to go to Vimy came up quit unexpectedly. it was a mater of 5 days from the time I received the call to having my butt parked on an aircraft bound for France. I happened to have a passport already to go and the cash in hand so it was like the fates smiled upon me. I was amazed that I could get ten days off work on such short notice. The purpose for our visit to Europe was for my reserve Unit to take part in repatriations service for a pair of fallen comrades from the Second World War that had recently been recovered in Holland. While in Europe we were tasked with a number of parades and services. The Remembrance day service at Vimy on Remembrance Day was one of those tasks.
On the drive to the ridge the monument could be seen in the distance and it was a quite a site. The day was kind of cloudy, with sporadic drops of rain, however the temperature was climbing and I remember that I was surprised at the mild temperatures that we were experiencing considering it was early November.
When we arrived, the first thing that struck me was the size of this grand and amazing structure. The second thing that struck me was the terrain and lay of the ground. The ground still bears the scars of that long ago conflict. The ground also still contains the dead from both sides, they are buried together under these rolling green hills.
We all formed up and conducted the service. The service was more poignant because just two months before to the day, the World Trade Center in New York had been destroyed by an act of war. We stood at attention while the piper and bugler played, remembering those that had gone on to fight before, while we thought about those that would soon be fighting in the war that came after. It was a very strange moment for me remembering those that gave their lives in a war that was meant to end war, and our nation was about to march off to war again. Never in a million years did I ever think that I would be at Vimy Ridge on Remembrance Day, listening to last Post and a single Highland Piper play the lament. I would turn out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
After the service we were met by a guide that took us on a tour of the tunnels that run underneath the ridge. The tunnels that housed the 4 Canadian Divisions before they went into the line. It was amazing seeing the remnants of all of the left over items, tables, chairs and old damaged rifles.
There is an interpretive center at the ridge a short distance away from the monument itself. Small items like souvenirs can be purchased here, there is also the ability to read about the battle and how it was fought and by whom. I had an opportunity to walk around the monument on my own to read the names of those that had fought and died in this place so far from home. You cant help but think about who belonged to those names and what they may have done had they not gone off to war for King and country.
I spent some time just reading the names and running my hands over them, and standing before the tomb of the unknown soldier. To me it is a solemn place that has seen its share of sorrow, yet it has the ability to inspire thought and a feeling of pride. If you are Canadian and you ever have a chance to go see this place strongly suggest that you go. You will be sad but your heart will also stir with pride, you will shed a tear for the fallen but you will also never forget them. I do not believe that there is another place that I know of that has the ability to stir so many different emotions all at one time.