Throwback Thursday is a thing on the webs and social media.
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 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.
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.
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.
While in Belgium, we visited the site/memorial of Beaumont Hamel.
The Newfoundland regiments signed up to fight for King and Country in a time when they were their own dominion, not yet a part of Canada (not until 1949). They sent a contingent over to fight, and on July 1, 1916, at the beginning of the battle of the Somme, they attacked. The Battle of the Somme was the regiment’s first major engagement, and during an assault that lasted approximately 30 minutes the regiment was all but wiped out.
Newfoundland purchased the land and preserved it and it stays to this day untouched. Shell holes and trenches remain. Although not a part of Canada yet, this is truly a Canadian place. The walking paths encircle the battlefield area and one can tour around from the Newfoundland side to the German side. From the German side, you can see a clear view of the Newfoundland position and can see how they had easy sight lines to mow down the opposition. Its terrible.
One of the cemeteries included a number of tombstones next (very close) to each other. I wondered why. I later learned that those this close together indicate comrades who died in close proximity or in the same battle together.
This is a very powerful site to visit.
While in Belgium and Flanders visiting WWI sites, we visited a German cemetery. Similar to others we would visit, it was in farmland. The vibe was very different (as most cemeteries we visited were, all had a vibe; difficult to explain, but it was there).
The German one was very sombre and low key. Interestingly, there was wifi available here, however, it was very restricted such that one could only access an app that would describe the site. That’s fine. I found it interesting to have that technology to learn about the location, accommodating the next generation to keep history alive.
The Brooding Soldier is a memorial to Canadian soldiers in Langemark, who fought in the second battle of Ypres. This was the first time the Germans used gas. Of the nearly 6000 Canadians in the battle, 2000 were casualties. They did hold the line.
This is one of those monuments I’ve wanted to see in person for a long time. Our trip to Belgium included this, and it was fantastic to see. The location is in a small village on the edge of farmland. Not only is the memorial here, but a small garden area as well. We went first thing in the morning, and it was very peaceful. Looking around, the entire area was at one time a battlefield, which is a recurring theme in this area.
We stayed in Iepre (Ypres) a short two minutes from the Menin Gate. Every night at 8pm, they play the last post. The monument is dedicated to the 54,395 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown.
The time we were in there, it was coming up to the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. On this occasion, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were there. Of course. I go half way around the world to see Canadian Mounties.
The structure is humbling. Everywhere you look there are names in this quiet little town.
As mentioned in previous posts, I was off to Belgium and France to visit WWI and WWII sites.
Our first stop was in Iepre (Ypres) where we stayed to visit the battlefields of Flanders. This is my main interest, and something I’ve read and studied for many years. I was happy to be in this location. Our hotel was steps away from the Menin Gate and Cloth Hall.
Cloth Hall was a place to be in the medieval times if you wanted textiles. When the first world war broke out, Ypres was a target and the Cloth Hall was pretty much destroyed. The Belgians, after the war, rebuilt the hall with existing stone and drawings to its former glory. These days its a museum to the battles fought in the region, and the building itself is beautiful.
Time constraints within our itinerary and the times it was open prevented me from getting inside. Next time. I loved Iepre (as its now called) and I hope to get back again.
All photos were taken with the Fuji X100T and the wide-angle converter.