France

Vimy 101

Throwback Thursday is a thing on the webs and social media.

This isn’t.

One hundred and one years ago, on April 9th, 1917, in a small snow storm, the Canadian army acted as one unit, not under British rule, to take Vimy Ridge. A German stronghold that earlier attempts by the British and French were failures.

It was a true Canadian moment, and shows the tenacity that is Canada to this day. When some loser shot and killed an honour guard at the War Memorial in Ottawa and stormed Parliament Hill (and killed by security), I thought, “fuck you. Canadians took Vimy, you can’t do that shit to us”, and went about my day as usual. You don’t mess with Canadians. Yeah, we are super nice and stupidly polite; just don’t push it.

So last year, in 2017, I went to the 100th anniversary of the battle, where the Canadians not only took the ridge, but held it for the rest of the war. Took it with the “fuck you, it’s ours now, you’ve done enough and we will keep it right” kind of attitude. See, most immigrants to Canada, not only left their country to avoid hardship, persecution and look for a better life, they also had to endure the hardships of an untamed wilderness, brutal climate (winters can be rough, even in the 21st century). They put up with all that, so nothing much more can phase them.

Proud Canadian? Yeah.

But I digress. I was there at Vimy for the 100th anniversary. It was the warmest, most clear day of the 10 days I spent in Belgium/France. There were a lot of logistical issues, and problems. But *I* was there. And to look out over the area where the four Canadian divisions came together and made such a monumental success, make me proud.

These are a few shots from the day. I had only my Fuji X100T and teleconverter. I would have liked something more zoomy for the Vimy Flight flypast, but, hey, what are you going to do.

As the 101st anniversary comes, I look at these photos and remember the soldiers who volunteered for a truly worthy cause, the ceremonies and the trip in general.

In the corner of some foreign field

In my previous post, I mentioned the corner of a French cemetery housed soldiers from the first world war, and our tour group was able to locate a relative from the group.

The Commonwealth Graves Commission has done a fabulous job on maintaining the small bit of land here.

On the way back to our transports, I noticed a selection of headstones off to one side of the cemetery, with the same type of headstone and attention to detail on the landscaping. Upon closer inspection, I saw they were Hindu soldiers from the Indian army. There were nine.

A song from Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut came to mind. The song, A Gunner’s Dream, is a WWII theme of a gunner from a bomber that has been shot down. As the gunner falls (or floats on a parachute depending on interpretation), he thinks of how life could be without conflict. Specifically the lines:

In the corner of some foreign field
The gunner sleeps tonight.
What’s done is done.
We cannot just write off his final scene.
Take heed of his dream.
Take heed.

I thought of how these soldiers came half way across the world to fight for King and Country, to end here; and wondered how many, if any, of their families and friends would ever make the journey to this corner of a foreign cemetery to visit their final resting place.

Lost and Found

When I went to Belgium and France in April for the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, I went with a small group. In that group were a brother and sister of an older age that had a grandfather that fought at Vimy. He died of his wounds and never returned home. They were on a tour a few years back and the tour company/bus, did not manage (or maybe want, I don’t recall) to find the location of the grave of the grandfather. The tour was going to Vimy. So close.

This time around, our group was small enough, and the tour guide compassionate enough to make the effort to find the grave. We were headed to Vimy for the anniversary ceremony, so we planned the small diversion.

The grave was in a small village near Vimy of which I cannot recall. But we had to drive around a few times to find it. It was in a small cemetery that was very out of the way. No wonder the bus driver before didn’t want to get there. The streets were very narrow.

Long story short, we found the location, which, as I mentioned, was in a French local cemetery. We needed to walk to the back corner to find the location. It was incredible. The Commonwealth Graves Commission had kept this small section in pristine condition to that of the major cemeteries.

We took a moment to have a small ceremony of remembrance, which I’m proud to say, my son read that was prepared by the brother and sister. It was very emotional and they were extremely happy to see the burial location. Below are a few photos.

 

Canadian soldiers that never came home.

 

A moment of remembrance.

 

 

Private Leonard Thomas Godwin. We will remember them.

 

Canadian soldiers.

 

French soldiers are also in this cemetery.

Dieppe at 75

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe raid by the Canadian army. Very controversial, as to what was achieved, it is none the less, a key point in history.

The Canadians were tasked with storming the Dieppe beach, obtaining information, and getting out. It didn’t go so well, and was considered a disaster by many historians. Others consider this raid as a testing bed for what eventually became D-Day. No matter what the opinion, it was a key attack.

This year, I was able to visit Dieppe on our tour of Belgium and northern France.

On our visit, the day we were to arrive at the August 19th 1942 Memorial, we were running very late. The day before, we went back to Vimy to see the tunnels and trenches that were not open due to the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy ridge. And we had to drop some other travellers of our group in Arras. So we were there over two hours late. From what I could gather, the people at this memorial were waiting especially for us! The woman was very upset at our tardiness, and my girlfriend spoke to her in French and explained our situation. It seemed to mollify her. Her husband, one of the owners of the memorial, was still very welcoming. We soon learned why.

Turns out, his mother was in occupied Dieppe. The day of the raid by the Canadians, leaflets were dropped, saying “stay in your homes, be safe. This is not a raid. We are the Canadian army. We will be back”. The French held to that hope. He said, “and then in 1944, you fulfilled your promise…you came back”. As such, he holds the Canadians in very high esteem, because we came back and liberated Dieppe. Very powerful. The museum/memorial, which is an old theatre, is full of memorabilia, photos, portraits of Canadian infantry. While the old theatre held its own appeal (being a theatre type, and he allowed us to go on the stage and such), I felt both very honoured to be Canadian, and unworthy. I had no connection to the raid or liberation. Its amazing how much this man held Canadian citizens in such high esteem.

We kept our promise. We came back.

That still sticks in my memory. Photos were not permitted of the artifacts (see the link above for more information), but the man allowed me photos of the theatre itself. Maybe on a later post. We went down to the beach. These photos are of our trip down. Its no wonder the soldiers had a tough time on the rocky beach. Just walking normally was difficult; never mind having to run up it with an enemy firing at you!

And what sticks the most with this, is that the men who participated in this raid were volunteers; not professional soldiers. They gave up their lives to fight for freedom.

All photos taken with the Fuji X100T.

On the beach. Rocky, and difficult to walk on.

A soldiers view. How can anyone manage this?

Birds-eye view of the beach.