Remembering Vimy Ridge

When I was in Grade 10 at Fort Frances High School, our history teacher, Murray Kitts, spent months taking us through the build-up to World War I and then took us through the many battles that included Canadian soldiers.
We followed the course of the war from its beginning through to the armistice of Nov. 11.
I was left with a clear impression that there was no glory in that war. Everything in my memory is of misery, mud, and death.
For almost 30 years, Walter Cronkite, in his television show, “The 20th Century,” annually found subjects and film footage of the First World War. It reinforced my images of that war.
Our Grade 10 history studies of WW I began with the Battle of the Ardennes, then on to the Battle of Ypres in 1915, which marked the first use of chlorine gas in war.
The Canadians—despite suffering from lung burn and heavy casualties—were able to repulse the German advance. One in three Canadians became a casualty and more than 2,000 lost their lives in that one day of fighting.
As we travelled through the battles, we discovered just how major Canada’s contribution was to the war. We touched on Vimy Ridge, noting it became the first engagement of Canadian troops led by Canadians who had planned and implemented the battle.
Where France and Britain had failed, Canadian troops on that Easter Monday 90 years ago were successful.
It was part of the Battle of Arras—a two-month long battle that ended in a draw. The only bright spot was Vimy Ridge.
This past Monday, Canada commemorated the restored Vimy Ridge memorial. The original monument was constructed and dedicated in 1936 on land given to Canada by the French government.
The battle for Vimy Ridge, which runs nine miles long, cost the lives of 3,598 Canadians. As part of the re-dedication ceremony, 3,598 students from across Canada each carried a name of the dead on their shirts.
Each of those students, including my niece, Laura Foster, had to research the soldier who they represent.
The research sometimes offered nothing more than the age, birth date, and home community of the soldier. Others in their research learned of wives who became widows and raised children. And some learned of children and grandchildren still living in the same community.
Each student created a tribute to remember those fallen soldiers.
Other battles were fought. Eventually, 60,000 Canadians (of the more than 500,000 who fought in WW I) gave up their lives.
But the war—and the individual battles—helped forge an independent nation of Canada, separated from the British government.

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