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Sunday, November 11, 2012

[Vimy Memorial] Canadian Memorial Site in France dedicated to the memory of the Canadian Forces during World War I

It's Remembrance day and I decided to do a posting about Vimy Ridge.

As I didn't join this visit, I am focusing on facts and history of the battle and the memorial site.

Last summer when we visited France,
Mr. D and kids drove to Arras to visit Vimy Memorial to pay a tribute to those who served Canada in battle in the World War I and gave their lives. 
(You can read my 2011 posting about a World War I story here: A bear in War)

You can get the information about directions here: Veterans Affairs Canada

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial site is located eight kilometres north of Arras, France.
The twin pylons represent France and Canada, partners in arms.  

At the base of the Memorial, these words appear in French and in English:
À la vaillance de ses fils pendant la Grande Guerre,
Et en mémoire de ses soixante mille morts,
le peuple Canadian a élevé ce monument.

To the valour of their Countrymen in the Great War
And in memory of their sixty
Thousand dead this monument
Is raised by the people of Canada

The site is a very emotional place for Canadians.

"The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a military engagement fought primarily as part of the Battle of Arras, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, during the First World War. The main combatants were the Canadian Corps, of four divisions, against three divisions of the German Sixth Army. The battle, which took place from 9 to 12 April 1917, was part of the opening phase of the British-led Battle of Arras, a diversionary attack for the French Nivelle Offensive... The Battle of Vimy Ridge has considerable significance for Canada. Although the battle is not generally considered Canada's greatest military achievement, the image of national unity and achievement gave the battle importance.According to Pierce, "the historical reality of the battle has been reworked and reinterpreted in a conscious attempt to give purpose and meaning to an event that came to symbolize Canada's coming of age as a nation." The idea that Canada's national identity and nationhood were born out of the battle is an opinion that is widely held in military and general histories of Canada." (Reference: The Battle of Vimy Ridge, Wikipedia)

By the  agreement between Canada and France, in 1922, France ceded to Canada the free use of a parcel of Land on Vimy Ridge for the erection of a monument to the memory of the Canadian solders who died on the field of honour in France in the course of the war 1914-1918.

This memorial was built by the people of Canada as a tribute to their countrymen who fought in the Great War and, particularly, to the more than 66,000 men who gave their lives.

The Vimy Memorial stands on Hill 145, overlooking the Canadian battlefield of 1917, at one of the points of the fiercest fighting.

The access to the grounds of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial and the guided tour are free of charge.
Here is the visitor information: Veterans Affairs Canada

The monument was designed by Walter Seymour Allward, Canadian architect and sculptor, was selected in a competition, from 160 others submitted by Canadians. Work began on the monument in 1925 and eleven years later, on July 26, 1936 it was unveiled by King Edward VIII.(Edward VIII, as King of Canada, officially unveiled the monument on 26 July 1936. The ceremony was one of the King's few official duties before he abdicated the throne later in that year). It cost approximately $1.5 million, including site preparation and the building of roads.

Built into the side of the hill at the highest point of the Ridge, the monument rests on a bed of about 15,000 tonnes of concrete, reinforced with hundreds of tonnes of steel.  The base and twin pylons contain almost 6,000 tonnes of a special type of extremely durable limestone brought to the site from Yugoslavia (present day Croatia).

The 20 sculptured figures were actually carved where they now stand from huge blocks of this stone.

The carvers used half-size plaster models produced by Walter Allward and an instrument called a pantograph to reproduce the huge figures to the proper scale.

Finishing touches were then added by a master carver.

Sympathy of the Canadians for the Helpless.

Impenetrable wall of defense.

Mother Canada mourning her dead.

A Close-up shot of Mother Canada

Poppy wreath at the base of the Memorial.

Remi and Pablo in front of the twin pylons.

Pablo at the memorial

The preserved trench lines of the battle of Vimy Ridge

 The site is one of the few places on the former Western Front where a visitor can see the trench lines of a First World War battlefield and the related terrain in a preserved natural state.

The ridge rises gradually on its western side, and drops more quickly on the eastern side. At approximately 7 km (4.3 mi) in length, and at an elevation of 60 m (200 ft) above the Douai Plains, the ridge provides a natural unobstructed view for tens of kilometres in all directions.

Only a section of preserved trenches and a portion of a tunnel have been made accessible to site visitors.

However, much of the total area of the site is 100 hectares is forested and off limits to visitors to ensure public safety.

You'd better have appropriate footwear as tours include uneven terrain,

enclosed spaces and a descent of 10 metres underground.
Roughly 250 metres of this underground communication tunnel and some of its chambers and connecting dugouts have been preserved.

This single photo of a chamber strikes me the most since it just makes me figure an horrible condition of wartime.

 The site's rough terrain and unexploded munitions make the task of grass cutting too dangerous for human operators. Instead, sheep graze the open meadows of the site.

Remains of artillery fire?

 There are two cemeteries on site, maintained by Commonwealth War Graves Commission: 

Canadian Cemetery No. 2 and Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery

Canadian Cemetery No. 2 is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission burial ground for the dead of World War I situated on the grounds of the Vimy Memorial Park.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.
("In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae. The remembrance poppy was inspired by this poem)

In commemoration of the Canadians and who fought and gave their lives in the First World War...
(You can read my 2011 posting about a World War I story here: A bear in War)

You can see more posts about my trip to France if you click the links below:

1) [Auberge Ravoux] Van Gogh's last residence in Auvers-sur-Oise

2) [Basilique Saint-Denis] French Royal Necropolis - The burial place of the French Kings
3) [2012 Maffliers] Kids grow fast... and we age faster...?
4) [Chateau de Chantilly] Le musée Condé - The generosity of a royal prince
5) [Balade gourmande] Brittany by sail: Unforgettable day on a traditional boat in Cancale
6) [Must eat foods in France] You must try these ten inexpensive food in France
7) [Four Representative Architectures in Paris] The most visited edifices in Europe - Part I
8) [Four Representative Architectures in Paris] Notre Dame de Paris - Part II
9) [Four Representative Architectures in Paris Part III] Musee de Louvre or simply Louvre
10) [Opera Garnier] The symbol of Elegance at the centre of Paris
11) [Mont Saint-Michel] Picturesque UNESCO Hertiage site in Normandy
12) [Place des Vosges] A Perfect Symmetrical Square in Paris
13) [Roland Garros] Visiting the glorious French Open venue

Remembrance Day

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