Thursday, April 05, 2007

90 Years on ...

I remember my first trip to Vimy Ridge. I can clearly recall the sound of my heart beating as we quietly walked along the Visitor's Pathway that approaches the back of Allward's Memorial.

As we walked through the light mist of mid-morning, we were struck by the little sign half-way up the pathway that read:

Silence - Respect

My eyes began to well-up upon seeing this, as my head and heart were overwhelmed by feelings of awe. Awe that we still cared so many years after the fact, and awed by the fact that we would have to remind others to show respect for the fallen in commanding such quietude.

The first thing that strikes you about the Memorial is its sheer scale. The only thing that exceeds it on the Western Front is the British Empire Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval (on The Somme).

There is an eerie Majesty to the structure that renders one speechless - all the more when you reach the front of the Memorial and see just how high-up the Ridge actually is/was. You realise then, just how magnificent an accomplishment this dearly-paid-for Victory was. You certainly then appreciate just how hard it was for the French and British forces to crack this particular stronghold.

Having said that, we must remember that while this was primarily a Canadian Victory, there was also a sizeable British contingent that fought alongside us on that fateful Monday in 1917. We should never forget that this was an Imperial effort and that we fought with English, Scots, Irish, Welsh, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians and Chinese in a most real "Band of Brothers."

Like millions of others, I will be watching the 90th Anniversary Observances on Monday, April 9th. Not only will this take me back to my times on the Ridge, it will take me back to my tour of the Underground Tunnels beneath the Ridge (the existence, size, and scope of which most Canadians know nothing ...), and to the walk around the Ridge where portions of Trenches are still preserved - and of my tour around the Park where one can still see the lunar surface that represents the damage caused by the fearful artillery barrage on that day. All of this reminds one not just of the great victory, but more still of the tragedy and heroism that was fully exemplified on a minute-to-minute basis during the Great War.

Mostly, I will remember finding the grave (Canadian Cemetery #2) of a long-lost Family member who died on the Ridge on Easter Monday, 1917. As I recited Binyon's memoriam verse my eyes filled with tears, and my Wife put her arm around me. It was here that I reaffirmed my commitment to never forget these men, their sense of honour, and most importantly - their sacrifice.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

(... from Laurence Binyon's For the Fallen.)