We came to the Vimy ridge, because it is an important part of our European history, where Canadian troops fought during WWI. The Canadians are guarding this piece of land now, to never forget the men they lost in this war.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge began on Easter morning 1917. Amid sleet, mud and shellfire, the soldiers of the Canadian Corps fought their way up the ridge to take the high ground overlooking the Douai plain.
This stunning victory had followed years of failed attempts to retake the ridge, and months of planning and preparation for the operation. The ridge had fallen into German hands during the initial advances of 1914. Since then, around 150,000 French and British soldiers had fallen trying to retake it. The Germans had been fortifying their positions on the ridge for years with deep bunkers, overlapping fields of machine gun fire and layers of barbed wire. When the Canadians attacked, they directly faced around 8,000 entrenched German defenders, and many more to the rear.
While waiting for the stones for the monument to arrive, the Canadians decided to preserve a section of trench lines that had been slowly deteriorating since 1918. Workers reinforced the German and Canadian lines by filling sandbags with concrete and re-lining the dugout walls.
After the war, Canadians wanted a physical symbol of their mourning – a tangible expression of remembrance.
After some negotiations, the land around Vimy Ridge was gifted to Canada by the French government in December 1922 as a mark of gratitude for Canada’s involvement in the defense of France during the First World War.
Littered with unexploded shells and grenades, rusted weapons and wire, 100,000 yards of earth had to be removed by hand to prepare for the monument.
The stone for the memorial is limestone from an ancient Roman quarry in Seget, Croatia. Allward, the architect of the monument, chose this stone because he wanted white marble, but was worried about its durability in the conditions of Northern France. When he saw that Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia, was still standing and still beautiful, he decided to use the same stone.
We will now continue to Normandy, where the end of WW2 started – more on our next post!