Arts

Illustration: Kim Wiens.

Ch. 5: Visiting Vimy Ridge

I began the day’s journey in search of a life-altering experience.

As Remembrance Day approaches, I thought it fitting to visit the Canadian National Vimy Memorial near Vimy, Pas-de-Calais, France, a site that represents Canada’s greatest pride and sacrifice during the First World War.

It was 5:30 a.m. on Easter Monday, April 9, 1917. All 4 divisions of the Canadian Corps lined up, armed for battle against an experienced German army. The battle for the ridge was paramount, as it provided an unobstructed view for several kilometres in all directions.

In a stroke of brilliance, a mixture of tactical ingenuity, machinery, extensive planning and training allowed the Canadians to win over the escarpment in a matter of three days. The battle represented a coming of age of Canada as a nation, and years later we still recognize the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in the process.

In an effort to reinforce our patriotism, and temporarily make our way back onto Canadian soil, a friend and I decided to purchase tickets from Paris to Arras, a city just eight kilometres east of the memorial. We arrived at Arras station at around 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 8 and waited for a taxi to arrive to take us to the memorial. Alas, hours later and after many calls, no taxi came.

We then purchased train tickets from Arras to the town of Vimy, in hopes that we could make our way to the memorial by foot, however the three hour trek in the middle of the night meant we would miss our train home.

Defeated, we walked back to the abandoned Vimy train station to sulk at the failure of our adventure. We had missed the memorial, the trenches, and the names of the soldiers. No tour guide or ceremonial horns awaited us at the station, however, in a spur of the moment decision, we decided to give thanks in the only way we could.

On a bridge overlooking the small town of Vimy, we stood in silence reflecting on the events that took place a century earlier.

War is loud. War is scarring, painful and disastrous. It is a monster that disregards the integrity of human life, kills millions, displaces millions more, and leaves the world mourning for the loss of its children, and questioning the humanity of everyone it leaves behind.

The aftermath of war, however, is silence. As we looked on from the bridge onto the barren landscape of the town of Vimy, we instinctively felt like something big had happened there, but all we heard was the occasional gust of wind and the distant barking of a neighbour’s dog. One hundred years later a slab of stone and the blast of a horn may help us pay respects to those lost, but in truth our not-so-great adventure showed us that you need nothing more than a quiet minute to remember and be thankful.

So whether you find yourself in Ottawa, in Vimy or elsewhere this Remembrance Day, I hope you put aside a minute to remember.

Lest we forget.