#100DaysofVimy – March 26th, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

The Vimy Pilgrimage – Part II

Upon arriving in Europe, the Vimy Pilgrims boarded trains and proceeded to their respective cities, from which dozens of tour busses would shuttle pilgrims to and fro across Belgium and France. Each Pilgrim was able to request  a specific battlefield tour they wished to complete. This would ease the strain on the dozens of small towns that simply could not host 6,200 visitors at a single moment. In addition to this, Pilgrims could request special cemetery visits, enabling them to visit specific graves of loved ones. In total, 1,400 Pilgrims requested a special cemetery visit, totaling over 300 sites. In a remarkable indication of reverence, each of these 1,400 requests were fulfilled by the travel agencies.

The Vimy Pilgrimage resulted in great amounts of souvenirs made by the French for the occasion, including commemorative ashtrays and medallions.
Courtesy: The Canadian Centre for the Great War, 2017.

 

The Pilgrims were no doubt the toast of Europe at the time. Despite their small size, villages and hamlets liberated by the Canadians clamoured to host a ceremony and parade for the returning Pilgrims. In London, the Pilgrims paraded to Westminster Hall for a massive ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A garden party at Buckingham Palace was attended by King Edward VIII, who mingled and chatted with the Pilgrims.

After the official Pilgrimage ended, the 5,000 Pilgrims who accepted the French Invitation were treated to extravagant receptions in larger cities such as Rouen and Blois, where boisterous banquets often crescendoed with chorus rounds of “Tipperary” to the delight of the French crowds. At Paris, the Pilgrims paraded through cheering throngs to receptions at the Hotel de Ville and Hôtel des Invalides.

Menus, programs and invitations from assorted Vimy Pilgrimage receptions. The banquet in Rouen was attended by 8,000 people alone.
Courtesy: The Canadian Centre for the Great War, 2017.

#100DaysofVimy – March 19th, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

The Vimy Pilgrimage – Part I

The application form for the Vimy Pilgrimage. Pilgrims were required to be the immediate family of someone who had served.
Courtesy: The Canadian Centre for the Great War, 2017.

With the overwhelming success of the Canadian Corps Reunion in 1934, the preparations for a Vimy Pilgrimage were begun in earnest. By 1936, Walter Seymour Allward’s masterpiece atop Vimy Ridge was finally complete. Overseen by the Royal Canadian Legion, the Vimy Pilgrimage was an officially organized travel group, open to veterans and their immediate family, that would take them back to the battlefields of Europe on a three-and-a-half week whirlwind event.

The pilgrimage became a major social affair in Canada and many clamoured to be a part of the occasion. In charge of organizing the travel, the Thomas Cook & Son agency offered additional tour packages for Pilgrims who wished to see more of Europe once the official Pilgrimage was over. In addition to this, the French government stepped forward and offered an additional five days of touring France, completely free to those wishing to participate. Pilgrims were issued special Vimy Pilgrimage Canadian passports, colour-coded berets and buttons, a Vimy Pilgrimage medal,  a “Pilgrim’s haversack” and vast amounts of tickets and certificates pertaining to their meals, boat, train, and bus passage.

Assorted ephemera from the Vimy Pilgrimage, including boarding passes for the sea voyage and identification buttons. The letter envelope was officially “posted” from the crest of Vimy Ridge, at a temporary post office set up specifically for the occasion of the unveiling.
Courtesy: The Canadian Centre for the Great War, 2017.

In July 1936, over 6,200 Pilgrims departed the Montreal Harbour on Allan Line and Canadian Pacific steamships to the sounds of brass bands and cheering crowds, reminiscent of the war-time send-offs.

The packed decks of the Canadian Pacific Steamship, “Montrose”, littered with tickertape confeti, departing the port of Montreal for the Vimy Pilgrimage in June 1936. In the background is the Jacques Cartier Bridge.
Credit: Clifford M. Johnston / Library and Archives Canada / PA-056950.

#100DaysofVimy – March 12th, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance. Today:

The Canadian Corps Reunion of 1934

All veterans at the 1934 Canadian Corps Reunion received an arm band and beret based on their unit of service; here is an armband for a member of the Canadian Engineers.
Courtesy: Canadian Centre for the Great War.

The death of Sir Arthur Currie in 1933 served as the final spark that re-ignited the esprit de corps amongst Canada’s veterans. In response to the outpouring of passion and pride, the Canadian Corps Reunion was planned for August 4th – 6th, 1934. In homage to Currie, its motto was a phrase of his “They served till death, why not we?”

Coinciding with the Centenary of the City of Toronto, the reunion was arranged on the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds. In the midst of the Depression, the vets arrived in droves using all manners of transportation; rail, hitch-hiking, overloaded cars, some even walked. In an effort to replicate the life experienced “behind the lines” during rest periods overseas, an entire French village was built on the grounds; complete with town squares, French cafes serving alcohol (“estaminets” to the vets) and even farmyards with manure piles.

Although this program is from the 1938 Canadian Corps Reunion, the scheduled events are near identical to those held in 1934.
Courtesy: Canadian Centre for the Great War.

The life of the reunion centered around these estaminets, with old war songs, pianos, laughter and the clinking of bottles resounding far into the early morning. The vets marched down streets in the French village whose names they recognized: “Plug Street, Whiz Bang Avenue, Ypres Road” (Christie, Roncetti, For Our Old Comrades, 34).

For a week, the men of the Canadian Corps were given free rein of Toronto, whether marching in parades by their thousands, designating themselves impromptu traffic directors, or breaking out a game of Crown & Anchor on the sidewalks. It is estimated that 120,000 veterans attended the Canadian Corps Reunion, with as many as 300,000 people attending the Grand Finale Parade to Riverdale Park. With the Vimy Memorial nearing completion, the reunion closed with the rallying cry “On to Vimy!” (Christie, Roncetti, For Our Old Comrades, 36).

An estimated 300,000 people attended the 1934 Canadian Corps Reunion’s Grand Finale Parade in Toronto’s Riverdale Park, where a cardboard replica of the Vimy Memorial towered above the crowds.
Courtesy: Willa Rivett Family, Private Collection, 2017.

#100DaysofVimy – March 5th, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

Sir Arthur Currie’s Death – A Revival of Canadian Corps Pride

The publishing of battlefield tour articles by veteran Will R. Bird, M.M. in Maclean’s Magazine revived a wartime nostalgia amongst veterans. Upon his return to Canada in 1932, Bird spent over a year travelling across the nation sharing his stories and photographs with fellow veterans at their local legions and halls. During this time, the desire for unity and comradeship rose to prominence amongst veterans disgruntled with their lack of representation in the public sphere.

In 1933, one of their champions would fall, when former Canadian Corps Commander, Sir Arthur Currie, died at the age of 57. A prominent figure in post-war Canada, he had served as the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University, as well as the President of the Last Post Fund. The death of “Guts and Gaiters”, as the troops had nicknamed Currie, sent another ripple through the growing veterans movement, echoing and reviving the desire for the passion and pride many recalled as members of the Canadian Corps during the war.

King George V conferring the honour of Knighthood on General Arthur William Currie, Commander of the Canadian Corps. At Albert, France – 12 July 1917.
Credit: © IWM (Q 5656)

#100DaysofVimy – February 26, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance. Part IV – Building The Vimy Memorial

With the arrival of the first shipments of Seget limestone in France, sculpting could finally begin for the Vimy Memorial in 1927. The blocks were first cut to size in work shops on the ground before being hoisted into position; the figures of the memorial were only sculpted once set in place atop the memorial. This required the construction of extensive studios, encircling the memorial’s two pylons and suspended nearly 200 feet in the air. A pantograph was used by the sculptors to reproduce Allward’s plaster models to scale.

 

Studios were suspended hundreds of feet in the air for the sculpting process. Credit: Central pylons enclosed, view from left. National Gallery of Canada.

 

 

Partially completed figures and remaining blocks indicate the amount of sculpting that had to be completed within the suspended studios. Credit: National Gallery of Canada. Gift of Peter Allward, 1986.

 

Sculptors used a pantograph, (partially visible at top of photo), to reproduce the figures. Allward’s plaster model can be seen on the right. Credit: Duplication of Female Mourner. National Gallery of Canada. Gift of Peter Allward, 1986.

 

#100DaysofVimy – February 19, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

Part III – Building The Vimy Memorial

Due to the difficulty of quarrying such large slabs of stone, as well as its extensive shipping route, the first shipment of Allward’s selected Seget limestone did not arrive in France until 1927. In an effort to keep his workers busy, many of whom were French and British veterans, Canadian military engineer Major Unwin Simson decided to preserve a section of trench lines that had been slowly deteriorating since 1918. Workers reinforced the German and Canadian lines near the Grange crater group by filling sandbags with concrete and re-lining the dugout walls. A portion of the Grange Subway was also excavated, a concrete entrance poured, and electrical lighting installed. The opportunity to experience these preserved trenches and tunnel systems at the Vimy Memorial today can be largely attributed to Major Simson’s efforts.

2015 Vimy Pilgrimage Award recipients descending into the tunnels of Maison Blanche, near Vimy Ridge, courtesy of the Durand Group.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation / Marc Cayez.

 

2015 Vimy Pilgrimage Award recipients in the tunnels of Maison Blanche, courtesy of the Durand Group.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation / Marc Cayez.

#100DaysofVimy – February 12, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

Part II – Building The Vimy Memorial

The competition process for Canada’s First World War memorials was overseen by the Canadian Battlefields Memorials Commission. In total, 160 drawings were submitted, of which 17 were chosen for further consideration. Despite his design being chosen in 1921, at the time, Walter Allward had not yet even decided which stone he wished to use for the memorial. Upon receiving the Commission’s approval, Allward embarked on a two year journey to find the preferred stone. In an old Roman quarry of Yugoslavia, Allward found the Seget limestone he desired. Six thousand tons of it would travel by water to Venice, where it was then shipped by rail to the site in France. The Canada Bereft figure alone was cut from a single block weighing twenty-eight tons.

 

Plaster casts of the 17 memorial designs, with the Vimy Memorial in the far background. On the far right is “The Brooding Soldier” designed by F.C. Clemesha, a Canadian veteran of the 46th (South Saskatchewan) Battalion, the only other submission to actually be constructed. As runner-up to Allward’s design, “The Brooding Soldier” was chosen for the Canadian memorial to the Second Battle of Ypres. Despite its smaller size when compared to Vimy, the emotional impact of “The Brooding Soldier” caused the Commission to cancel plans to erect duplicates, so as not to detract from its profound effect.
Credit: CBMC Competition. Veterans Affairs Canada.

 

Having finally arrived on site, the blocks of Seget limestone were arranged in order of installation. Here the work yard can be seen with the base of the Vimy Memorial in the background.
Credit: W. and M. le Chat. National Gallery of Canada.

#100DaysofVimy – February 5, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance. This week : Part I – Building the Vimy Memorial

When Will R. Bird visited Vimy Ridge for Maclean’s Magazine in 1932, Walter Allward’s work on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial was well underway, having begun in 1925. But progress on the memorial had been slow and tedious, as Allward and his crew faced the same perils Bird had stumbled across during his tour of the trenches.

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’s base. Other relics of the war, the dugouts and tunnels, (when discovered), had to be emptied of the explosive munitions that were often stored within, and filled with wet chalk or concrete. Finding these underground caverns hidden beneath the monument’s base was crucial, for in total, the memorial would weigh more than 50,000 tons.

More to come next week!

Workers construct the Vimy Memorial's base foundation. Credit: Canada - Dept. of Veterans Affairs / Library and Archives Canada / e002852545
Workers construct the Vimy Memorial’s base foundation. Credit: Canada – Dept. of Veterans Affairs / Library and Archives Canada / e002852545

#100DaysofVimy – January 29, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

Part II – Will R. Bird’s “Thirteen Years After” (Missed last week? Read Part I here).

Touring the old battlefields for Maclean’s Magazine in 1932, Bird found the scars of war remained throughout the countryside. Of Vimy, Bird wrote: “the Ridge seemed to me the most isolated ground in France… The hillside in front was scarred with white streaks – old roads and footways that time has not erased. I climbed, slipping and sliding on the wet, greasy soil… On and on and on… in and out of shell holes, skirting the bigger ones, marvelling that such conditions remained…  one sees old wire and iron stakes, battered helmets, and old mess-tin covers. Here and there a broken bayonet… Bombs of every kind” (Bird, Thirteen Years After, 107).

And still 13 years after, always more bodies of the dead. “Two boys visited Givenchy Wood last summer, and while playing there found a German and Canadian soldier lying together, their hands locked so tightly that they were buried together as they had died… One, or both, had been badly wounded, and they were trying to help each other when death overtook them. No weapons were there… They had died as comrades” (Bird, Thirteen Years After, 108).

 

29-01-2017

 

 

#100DaysofVimy – January 22, 2017

Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.

Part I:

Will R. Bird’s “Thirteen Years After” – In the years immediately following the First World War, acts of honouring the battles and the men who fought quickly declined. In Canada, the economic prosperity of the 1920’s left little time to dwell on the past. But in 1932, one veteran’s tour of the “old” battlefields re-united veterans and brought Great War nostalgia back into mainstream society.

Will R. Bird, M.M. served with the 42nd Canadian Infantry Battalion (The Black Watch) from 1916 – 1919. In 1932, Bird was sent to revisit the battlefields and write articles of reflection for Maclean’s Magazine. Bird’s articles became wildly popular across Canada and helped bring attention to the growing veterans movements. Veterans now in their forties and fifties “were hungry to share their wartime experiences, and Will Bird gave them the chance” (Christie, preface to Thirteen Years After, 2001).

Part II, Will Bird’s tour of the Vimy Ridge battlefield, will be posted next Sunday.

 

In 1932, Will R. Bird returned to the battlefields and witnessed the lasting scars of the war on the landscape. Depicted here are the ruins of the Church at Ablain St. Nazaire.  Photo: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002462
In 1932, Will R. Bird returned to the battlefields and witnessed the lasting scars of the war on the landscape. Depicted here are the ruins of the Church at Ablain St. Nazaire.  Photo: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002462