BY THE TIME THIS MAGAZINE REACHES YOUR HANDS, I’LL BE IN FRANCE, standing with thousands of others who are paying their respect to the Canadian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The word “fought” glosses over so much. The Canadians who faced the enemy on Easter weekend in 1917 were the fierce youth of our fledgling nation – 100,000 men from a country of barely eight million. They fought with rifles, bayonets, heavy artillery and grenades, but more significantly, they fought with their friends and their brothers by their sides – igniting their sense of purpose and determination. They also fought under a homegrown commander, Sir Arthur Currie, who shared the battle strategies and the maps and provided the discipline, organization and preparedness they needed. In the words of Orland French, who wrote the booklet included in this issue, “For the first time, the soldiers were treated as integral parts of military machines, not as cannon fodder.”
Many of the men continued to fight long after the battle ended. They fought the effects of poisonous gas, shrapnel wounds and amputations. Many fought the dreaded reminders of the battle for the rest of their lives. In the aftermath of the war, wives and families fought to keep soldiers’ spirits buoyed and the horror of the memories at bay. Many others fought to feed and maintain families without a breadwinner or a father.
As Canadians, we are often defined by our diverse landscape, the vast country of lakes, rivers, prairies, fishing outposts and mountains we call home. Perhaps we should add to that list the Vimy Ridge Memorial that stands pointing to the heavens in eerie silence on Canadian soil atop a ridge in northern France.