As part of the Vimy Foundation’s educational programs, students are asked to research a Canadian soldier who served in the First World War. Once on the program, the students are provided with the opportunity to share their soldier’s story. Many students are able to visit their soldier’s grave or locate their name on the Vimy Memorial.
Early in 2017, the family of Private Lawrence Skelly contacted the Vimy Foundation, hoping to have his sacrifice remembered. We were able to put the family in touch with one of our students, Fiona Thiel, who needed to prepare a soldier’s story before she departed on the Vimy Pilgrimage program this past April. Having emigrated from Germany, Fiona’s opportunity to commemorate a Canadian soldier provided a unique moment. We will let Fiona tell the rest:
“At the Vimy Memorial, we had the chance to make a charcoal rubbing of the name of the soldier we had chosen. After that, we went to Canadian Cemetery No. 2, where we presented our tributes to the soldiers. I had written mine as though it were a letter addressed to Lawrence:
Dear Pte. Lawrence Russell Skelly,
We have never met and will unfortunately never be able to meet in person. However, the commemoration of your life and heroic sacrifice forms a very special bond between me and the young generation in the twenty-first century. I can assure you that this special bond of memory can not only be felt by the attendees here on site but is of particular importance for your descendants who have been thinking of you in your home country of Canada. I have had the privilege of speaking with them and writing to them and I can feel how they keep your memory eternally alive. I am very thankful to your family for entrusting me with keepsakes from your life and sacrifice as a soldier, thereby allowing me to stand here and read this letter to you.
100 years have gone by since the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Our generation cannot imagine the hardship and suffering you and your fellow soldiers went through fighting for your country. Today we are blessed to grow up in countries which are safe and peaceful, but even today, we cannot and should not take this for granted. It is the duty of my generation to make sure that this Canadian history, and all the tremendous sacrifices it involved, will never be forgotten. It is also imperative that we keep talking about the many individuals like yourself, thereby keeping you alive in our memories.
I, therefore, pledge to keep the memory of your legacy alive. You and your fellow soldiers will never be forgotten.
On this occasion, let me share a very special aspect of our mutual bond: You left your country to fight far away from home and tragically lost your life on European soil. Your suffering, hardship and ultimate sacrifice helped create the Canadian nation I know. My own life started on European soil, in Germany, but I have been enjoying life in your beautiful homeland since the age of four. I love your country, my new home, and will do all I can to honour the memory and sacrifices of your generation. You will be pleased to hear that our two countries are no longer enemies, but friends, partners and allies.
Words cannot express how very touched I am by the honour and privilege of standing here today and reading this to you.
Thank you for everything.
In deep respect, gratitude and admiration,