07 April 2007

Vimy 1917 — 90 years after

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On the morning of 9 April 1917 the four divisions of the Canadian Corps moved to take the ridge at Vimy, after days of preliminary bombardment. The task was daunting, even impossible, yet it succeeded thanks to careful preparation and the use of innovative tactics. The cost in lives was horrendous, as casualties along the static front mounted.

In 1922 France ceded 1 sq. km of Vimy Ridge and environs in Pas-de-Calais to Canada where, in 1936, the soaring national monument to the 66,000 Canadian dead in World War I was inaugurated by King Edward VIII.

On Easter Monday, 9 April 2007, the monument will be re-dedicated on the 90th anniversary of the landmark battle, by H.M. the Queen and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin will also be at the high-profile event. Thousands of Canadians, including many young, will attend. Her Excellency Governor General Michaëlle Jean will mark the day at the National War Memorial, Ottawa.

Villepin ended his elegant address with "Vive la république, vive la France!" Why did he omit "Vive le Canada!"?

Not a celebration of victory, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial solemnly commemorates the sacrifice of lives in the struggle of nations, and the grief of a young nation just coming into its own.


emeritus said...

It should not be forgotten that the Canadian Corps was part of the British Expeditionary Force, and commanded by British Lieutenant General Sir Julian Byng. Historian Major John Grodzinski (Royal Military College of Canada) wrote the Globe and Mail (10 April 2007) to put Vimy in perspective: "Canadians did employ tactical innovations, but these were also used by the 1st and 3rd British armies during the Battle of the Scarpe (Vimy was but one part of that offensive) where, in several cases, British formations achieved greater successes than the Canadians. Nor was the Canadian Corps purely Canadian at Vimy, as a British division and other units were assigned to it. We should be careful in saying Canadians succeeded where the British and French armies did not — their struggles there in 1915 and 1916 were in entirely different situations...[none of which is] to belittle what Canadians achieved during those days in April of 1917..." Vimy must be seen and understood in correct historical context, rather than popular myth.

emeritus said...

The Queen's eloquent and sensitive address on the occasion was all but ignored by the press. It surpassed in quality that of the other public figures both at Vimy and in Ottawa.

The text follows:
In any national story there are moments and places, sometimes far from home, which in retrospect can be seen as fixed points about which the course of history turns, moments which distinguish that nation for ever. Those who seek the foundations of Canada's distinction would do well to begin here at Vimy.

Until this day ninety years ago, Vimy Ridge had been impregnable, a lesson learned at terrible cost to the armies of France and Britain. For the Allies, this ridge had become a symbol of futility and despair. It was against this forbidding challenge that the four Divisions of the Canadian Corps were brought together as a single army for the first time.

En l'espace de quelques heures, en ce matin froid et maussade du lundi de Pâques, les Canadiens devinrent maîtres de la crête, réussissant ce que nombreux avaient cru impossible. Leur victoire fut le fruit non seulement d'un ingénieux plan de bataille élaboré par les commandants canadiens, mais surtout du courage et de la détermination avec lesquelles les soldats canadiens exécutèrent leur mission.

No fewer than four Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery during the battle, though it could easily be said that every soldier in the field demonstrated conspicuous bravery, such was the verve of the Canadian attack. It was a stunning victory. More, in capturing this formidable objective, the Canadian Corps transformed Vimy Ridge from a symbol of despair into a source of inspiration. After two and a half years of deadly stalemate, it now seemed possible that the Allies would prevail and peace might one day be restored.

Ici, en cette terre sacrée par le sacrifice de tant, nous commémorons leur courage et leur exploit. Leur victoire fit davantage que de donner l'espoir; elle permit au Canada, qui le méritait tant, d'occuper sa place sur la scène internationale à titre de fière nation souveraine, forte et libre. Le Monument commémoratif du Canada à Vimy témoigne de la grande force du Canada et de son attachement à la liberté. Il témoigne aussi de la profonde solidarité qui lie le Canada et la France. En dernier lieu, il témoigne surtout de la vaillance, du courage et du sacrifice des braves Canadiens qui ont inspiré un jeune pays à devenir une magnifique nation.

To their eternal remembrance, to Canada, to all who would serve the cause of freedom, and to those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan, I rededicate this magnificently restored memorial.