Thursday, April 9, 2009

In Remembrance

Ninety-two years ago today, 30,000 Canadian infantry shivered in the biting sleet of early dawn at Vimy Ridge in northern France. With another 70,000 troops in support roles behind them - the gunners, engineers, medics, cooks, and so forth - it meant that the entire Canadian Corps was there, together for the first time. And together they did what the Allies had failed to do during the previous two years, and never expected the Canadians to accomplish - they took that tactically important and heavily fortified Ridge from the Germans. They also helped to forge a nation. That scene is described in my novel, Elusive Dawn.

In the months leading up to the battle, the Canadians had already had 9000 casualties. After the battle there were 10,000 more - a third of whom would never return home.

My photo shows me standing with a poppy umbrella at the impressive Canadian memorial on Vimy Ridge, dedicated to the 60,000 Canadians who died during the First World War. It was an appropriately bleak day, almost a year ago, that I looked out over the Douai Plain as had the victors that long-ago day, marveling at the feat they had accomplished, saddened by the many dead on both sides. It is almost beyond belief to see the stream of names carved into the memorial walls - over 11,000 Canadians who died in France with no known grave. Most of them, heartbreakingly young.

More than a million shells had pummeled this battlefield. Many still lie, unexploded, in the now calm and green young woods that are reclaiming the pock-marked earth. But the thought sends a shiver through you, making you feel that the war didn’t happen almost a century ago. Walking through the long, dank tunnels where troops had gathered before the battle, you can easily imagine what it must have been like for so many men, laden with their gear, anxious or fatalistic, crowded together as they awaited the dawn and an unknown future.

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Gabriele Wills's books on Goodreads
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