Vimy Ridge

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial pays tribute to the Canadian Forces who fought in France during WWI, and to all the men who fell or were presumed dead during the war and have no known grave.

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial
Memorial as it appears as you walk into the grounds

France bequeathed the land to Canada for perpetual us and the Veterans Affairs Canada manages the Memorial and its park.

The Memorial stands in a 100-hectare park, the former battlefield preserved in its war state.

Vimy Ridge is located about 8km north of Arras.

The ridge is about 7km long and peaks 145m above sea level, hence its war coded name Hill 145.

It is one of the few places, along with Hill 60 on the former Western Front, preserved in its war state.

The Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial was built on the highest point of Hill 145, the last sector of Vimy Ridge to fall.

It commands the vast Plain of Douai, where it can be seen from kilometers round.

Vimy Ridge Memorial National Monument

The Canadian Battlefields Memorials Commission decided that a series of memorials to their Dead should be erected on the battlefields of Europe.

The Canadian sculptor Walter Allward‘s design was selected during the competition organized in 1921.

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial unveiling
Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial unveiling

The architect Frederick Chapman Clemesha’s design came second.

However, he was commissioned for another Memorial; his moving Brooding Soldier Memorial indeed stands on the Vancouver Corner, to the north of Ypres.

Clemesha fought and was wounded in the Great War.

It took 11 years to build the gignatic Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial.

Edward VIII unveiled it on July 26, 1936 in the presence of President of the French Republic Albert Lebrun and Senior Canadian, British and European officials.

This was Edward VIII’s only official overseas engagement as King!

Monument’s symbolism

1- The 30m high twin pylons stand on a vast platform accessed by steps.

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial - Mourning Mother
Mourning Mother

2- One represent Canada, the other France.

They respectively bear a Maple Leaf and a Fleur de Lys in order to honour the sacrifices made by both nations.

3- Sculptures, known as the Chorus, crown the pylons.

Justice and Peace are placed above Hope, Charity, Honour and Faith on the eastern side; Truth and Knowledge are on the western side.

4- The Spirit of Sacrifice is located at the base, between the two pylons.

5- Two moving statues frame the base of the steps leading to the platform.

They symbolize the Mourning Parents represented in a reclined position.

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial - Mourning Father
Mourning Father

6- The outside wall of the stone platform is engraved with the names of the 11,285 Canadians soldiers killed in France and who have no known grave.

7- The Memorial faces the Plaine de Douai and can be seen kilometers around.

Its base is a 7.3 m high wall that symbolizes an ‘impenetrable wall of defense’.

8- An allegoric sculptural group marks each corner; Breaking of the Sword on the south corner, Sympathy of the Canadians for the Helpless on the north.

These two groups are known as The Defenders.

They symbolize the ideals for which Canadians soldiers sacrificed their lives during WWI.

9- A cannon barrel draped in laurel and olive branches, the symbol of Peace, was carved into the wall above each group.

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial - Mother Canada
Mother Canada

10- The life size statue of a young woman wearing a cloak stands on the top of the wall.

Her head down and eyes cast down, she symbolizes Mother Canada.

She represents the young Nation of Canada mourning her Dead.

This impressive statue was carved from a 30-ton monolith.

11- A sculpted sarcophagus bearing a Brodie helmet, a sword and laurel branches lies below her, at ground level, the level of the battlefield.

Mother Canada faces eastwards, where the sun rises and symbolizes the coming of a new day.

A day of Peace and Forgiveness.

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial – Restoration

The Canadian Battlefield Memorial Restoration Project initiated an extensive program of restoration in 2001.

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial - Chorus

The work was completed for the 90th anniversary of the Battle on April 9, 2007.

This 30-million Canadian dollars restoration work included some re-engraving, stone replacement, drainage improvement and renovation of the trenches and tunnels…

Queen Elizabeth re-inaugurated the memorial in the presence of Canadian and French ministers.

Were also present some 50,000 Canadian civilians and soldiers, among which war veterans and their families.

This moving commemoration was the occasion to rebury with full honour Pte Herbert Peterson who was killed on April 9, 1917.

His remains were indeed recovered in 2003 in a nearby construction site and identified after DNA testing.

Vimy Ridge – 1914 to 1915

The Battle of Vimy took place on April 9, 1917, during the course of trench warfare.

It is considered a great victory of the Canadian Corps of the First Army, despite the heavy toll in human lives.

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial facing the Plaine de Douai - Breaking of the Sword sculpture
Memorial facing the Plaine de Douai – Breaking of the Sword sculpture

The Germans took control of the Vimy Ridge in October 1914.

The French launched two offensives in order to re-capture the ridge.

The French 1st Moroccan Division succeeded in taking control of the position in May 1915.

However, they were unable to secure it due to the lack of re-enforcement.

You’ll find their Memorial by the entrance to the Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial.

The French’s second attempt, launched in September 1915, also failed.

These two battles resulted in a heavy number of casualties (150,000 men)!

Vimy Ridge – 1916 – 1917

The British took over from the French troops in February 1916 and were attacked by the Germans on May 21.

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial - Tunnel in Vimy sector
Tunnel in Vimy sector

They didn’t manage either to recapture the ridge.

However, they held up firmly until the Four Canadian Divisions relieved them in October 1916.

Such massive deployment of troops required an equally massive back up.

The British Infantry Divisions along with supplementary artillery, engineer and labour units provided this back up.

The ground attack was assisted by an airborne offensive.

However, the appalling weather, mainly cold weather with snow and frost, led to an extremely high number of casualties among the pilots.

From April 4 to 8, the Royal Flying Corps tragically lost 75 aircraft and 105 men, leading to April 1917 being known as ‘Bloody April’.

A vast network of tunnels took the Allied troops to the front lines trenches.

These were dug before the attack, in order to provide more protection and give less warning to the Germans.

The offensive was launched at 5.30am on Easter Monday April 9, 1917.

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial - Mother Canada and the sarcophagus below her at the level of the battlefield
Mother Canada and the sarcophagus below her at the level of the battlefield

The various Canadian Divisions managed to sustain a steady advance all through the day despite the uneven progress of the various individual groups.

They forced the Germans to withdraw.

On the morning of April 10, fresh re-enforcement troops arrived in order to pursue the advance.

By 2pm the Canadians had recaptured most of the ridge, except a small elevated position west of the village of Givenchy.

The Canadians assisted by the British launched their final offensive on the entrenched German troops on April 12.

By the end of the day, they had regained complete control of the Vimy Ridge.

Aftermath of the Battle of Vimy

Despite the intermittent snow falls and rainstorms, the Allied had managed to capture the Vimy Ridge.

They had also successfully drawn the German reserves away from the French offensive planned in the following days on the Aisne.

Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial - Mother Canada
Mother Canada facing the Plaine de Douai

This impressive victory did come, however, at the price of many lives!

3,598 Canadians were indeed killed and 7,004 were wounded.

The Battle of Vimy has become a major symbol for the Canadians.

It indeed represents the image of national unity and achievement.

Many say that it was a tragic awakening that “symbolized Canada’s coming of age as a nation!”

In 2003, April 9 was declared a National Day of Remembrance in Canada in order to mark the anniversary of the battle.

Department of Pas-de-Calais – Hauts de France region
Coordinates: Lat 50.379146 – Long 2.773093

Photos via Wikimedia Commons:   Preserved World War 1 fighting tunnel in Vimy sector  CC BY-SA 3.0 –  Memorial unveiling

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