#100DaysofVimy – April 1st, 2017

As part of the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize, recipients are tasked with researching the life of a Canadian soldier, usually of those listed on the Vimy Memorial, with no known grave. Zoe McDaniel, as a 2016 BVP recipient, researched Corporal Alexander John McDougall. Here is his story, as told by Zoe:

Visiting Alex’s gravestone, Zoe left a piece of his home’s foundation, his mother’s tea cup, and a pressed maple leaf from their garden.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation, 2016.

Alex was born August 10th, 1895 in West Lake Ainslie, Nova Scotia, to his parents John R McDougall and Annie MacLellan. He spoke Gaelic and worked as a clerk at his family’s store, remaining unmarried, most likely still living with his parents.

He enlisted in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the 12th of November 1915 at age 20 with the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders). His unit sailed October 12th, 1916, and eight days later he arrived in Liverpool. McDougall’s battalion is perhaps most famous for their capture of Hill 145. Alex was killed in this action at the age of 22 years old, on April 12th, 1917, the final day of the battle of Vimy Ridge – while attempting to secure Hill 145. Alex is buried in La Chaudière Military Cemetery, Vimy, France although he was originally buried atop Hill 145, where the Vimy Memorial now stands.

Alex’s death was announced in his hometown’s local newspaper.

I chose to research him in my original application for the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize — highlighting the contributions of the Gaelic-speaking community — and then continued my research for the Bringing the Boys Home component of the BVP trip. I originally felt connected to Alex because he was from my home town, and at the time of the First World War, he was not much older than I am now. The connection I gained with a soldier who lived 10 minutes from me and who died 100 years ago, astounds me. Being able to bring a piece of his home to his final resting place was incredibly important to me as it felt like we both finally had closure. I remember Alex and his sacrifice every day.

#100DaysofVimy – March 31st, 2017

Each Friday, we will revisit an interesting poll result from the past few years. How do you compare to other Canadians? See our past poll results here: (http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/learn/poll-results/)

A November 2016 Poll by the Vimy Foundation asked respondents to identify the number of soldiers that died while serving in the First World War, by country. The average error found that respondents from France were the most accurate; while those from Canada and USA were the least accurate. All respondents grossly under-estimated French and German losses. Lastly, only respondents in the UK had a reasonably clear understanding of their own losses; all other respondents under-estimated the UK’s losses by at least a quarter million, with the Americans being the furthest off.

Source: IPSOS Reid Poll for The Vimy Foundation, November 2016.

#100DaysofVimy – March 30th, 2017

Each Thursday, we run a social media contest! Share with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and you can win a Vimy Prize Pack each week! Contest for Thursday, March 30th 2017:

2016 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize recipients lay a wreathe at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation / Hanna Smyth, 2016.
Every day at 8:00 PM since opening in 1927, (except during the German occupation of the Second World War), the Last Post has been sounded from within the Menin Gate’s walls. Credit: Jordan Slump, 2015.

Next week we will be sharing Walter Seymour Allward’s personal vision for what the Vimy Memorial symbolized and his intent for its emotional impact. Is there a war memorial that has left a profound impact on you? Share it with us!

Through sheer size alone, the emotional weight of the Menin Gate is distinct. The memorial is also located on what was perhaps the most recognizable piece of geography to soldiers of the First World War, the impact of which is profound. As the main road heading east out of Ypres, thousands of Allied troops passed through the Menin Gate on their way to fighting in the Ypres Salient – tens of thousands would never return through it again. Credit: Jordan Slump, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guidelines:
Comment on our Facebook post, Instagram post, or tweet at us by 11:59pm PT on Thursday, March 30th. Only one submission permitted per account per platform (i.e. if you have an account on both Facebook and Twitter you can enter twice; you cannot submit two entries through Facebook). One winner will be chosen at random from all eligible entries received during the time period on all platforms. The winner will be contacted on Friday March 31st, 2017! These contests are not sponsored by Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

#100DaysofVimy – March 29th, 2017

Each Wednesday we will highlight the women of the First World War. Today: 

Nursing Sister Clare Gass

Nursing Sister Clare Gass’ wartime experiences have been preserved and published in “The War Diary of Clare Gass, 1915-1918” by Susan Mann. The diary contains an early version of “In Flanders Fields”, recorded by Clare on 30 Ocober 1915.
Credit: Parks Canada, 2016.

Clare Gass was born in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia on March 12th, 1887. In May of 1915 she went overseas with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, serving at No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill). While serving, Clare defied military orders by keeping numerous diaries and taking photographs. Ironically, this defiance helped preserve key elements of Canada’s most well-known poem, “In Flanders Fields”. It is believed that John McRae shared his poem with Clare, asking for her opinion, and it is alleged she may have even edited some of it for McCrae. Clare’s diary contains an entry on 30 October 1915, with an early version of “In Flanders Fields”. The poem we recite today did not appear in the Punch magazine until six weeks later, on 8 December 1915.

Clare remained in Europe well into 1919, assisting the wounded in returning home. Impressively, Clare was just one of five Gass siblings to serve in the First World War:
Nursing Sister Clare Gass (survived)
Corporal Gerald Gass 2479 (survived)
Lance Corporal Cyril Gass 67097 (survived)
Lance Corporal Blanchard Gass 69064 (KIA – Vimy Ridge)
Private Athelstan Gass 901864 (survived)

#100DaysofVimy – March 28th, 2017

Each Tuesday, we will feature a place in Canada (or international!) with a Vimy Ridge connection. Today we highlight:

“Vimy” the Foal

Over the last three months we have shared with you Places In Canada that boast a Vimy Ridge connection, many of which were renamed in the patriotic fervour that swept the nation following the victory in 1917. But it wasn’t just places and public buildings that were given the name of Vimy. On the frontline, the troops had long been dedicating trenches and landmarks after memories of their communities in Canada. The addition of animals, by way of pack-mules, horses and dogs created even more opportunity for creative names. In the 20th Battery, (featured in our March 7th post), a foal born atop the ridge was aptly named “Vimy”.

“Vimy” and its mother. The foal was born on the height from which it takes its name. (20th Bty., C.F.A.) July, 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001690.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001616.

#100DaysofVimy – March 27th, 2017

Each Monday, we will share a brief biography of a soldier of the First World War with a Vimy connection. Today we honour:

Harold Percival “Percy” James

Harold Percival “Percy” James, 19th Battalion (Central Ontario).
Courtesy: Mrs. Willa Rivett, 2017.

Harold Percival “Percy” James was born in Montreal, Quebec on May 5th, 1891, before moving to Paris, Ontario with his parents. He enlisted on November 11th, 1914 with the 19th Battalion (Central Ontario). Harold’s unit left for overseas on May 13th, 1915 from the port of Montreal. He would remain overseas until 1919, serving after 1918 as part of the Canadian Army of Occupation in Germany.

While overseas, Percy wrote home extensively to his family, though rarely discussing the events of war, in an effort to save his parents from worry. His letter dated April 8th, 1917 makes no mention of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Percy’s service record makes for an interesting study, having been tried and convicted two weeks after the Battle of Vimy Ridge for “without reasonable excuse allowing to escape a person whom it was his duty to guard”. Considering the nature of the war at this time, there is likely more to this story but unfortunately the details are lost to history. Upon serving his punishment, Percy rejoined his unit. He was later promoted to the job of Armourer, likely making use of his pre-war occupation as a machinist. In 2007, Percy’s war letters were featured in the script of the Canadian documentary “Vimy Ridge: Heaven To Hell”.

The dried heather sent home in 1916.
Courtesy: Mrs. Willa Rivett, 2017.

On May 24th, 1919, Percy returned to Canada, married his highschool sweetheart, and eventually settled in Goderich, Ontario, working at the Purity Flour Mill. Percy and his family would attend the 1934 Canadian Corps Reunion, where Percy’s daughter, Willa, would see the massive cardboard replica of the Vimy Memorial in Riverdale Park. It stuck in her mind as something she would want to see.

In 2015, at the age of 90, Mrs. Willa Rivett finally made her pilgrimage to the Vimy Memorial. Speaking in 2017, Mrs. Willa Rivett says it felt like “hallowed ground”: “Emotionally, the Vimy experience was and still is overwhelming. Such losses for our country. I just wanted to think of the tremendous courage and pride in those soldiers. At Vimy, when it was learned that I was the daughter of a Vimy Veteran, a couple of Australians asked if they could take my picture. My 15 minutes of fame. From the winding road entrance to Vimy, lined with Maple Trees and the Memorial, it is so Canadian. I was, and am, so proud. I wish all Canadians could live the Vimy experience.”

For more of Percy’s story follow this link: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/like-pressed-heather-heroic-story-of-vimy-ridge-resurrected-in-letters-home/article722150/

In a letter dated April 8th, 1917, Percy makes no mention of the coming Battle of Vimy Ridge, instead discussing money sent from home, used to buy eggs at 75 cents per dozen and the amounts of clothes he has to wear.
Courtesy: Mrs. Willa Rivett, 2017. (Editor’s Note: Read the right hand page first, then left).
Percy discusses Italy and Romania entering the war, the dried heather, and spotting Massey-Harris farm equipment in the French countryside. Courtesy: Mrs. Willa Rivett, 2017. (Editor’s Note: Read the right hand page first, then left).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#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 25th, 2017

Each Saturday, we’ll share some reflections from our past student participants about the impact of their visit to Vimy Ridge and other sites of the First World War.

George Polanyi-Williamson

George Polanyi-Williamson ascends from the Maison Blanche tunnels, near Vimy Ridge.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation, 2014.

Since the end of the First World War, families have been making their way back to the battlefields to reconnect with lost loved ones. In 2014, George Polanyi-Williamson, a Beaverbrook Vimy Prize recipient, fulfilled his own Vimy Pilgrimage:

“I was able to connect with my own family’s past, retracing the steps of my great-grandfather, who fought at Vimy Ridge. Unexpectedly, when we were exploring a system of tunnels in a farmer’s field, I came across the emblem of my great-grandfather’s regiment etched into the wall of the cave. It was an incredible experience to stumble across your own history without even knowing it was there. This is just one of the things that made the Vimy trip unforgettable.

Just like George Polanyi-Williamson in 2014, families continue to make pilgrimages in an effort to connect with their lost loved ones. An estimated 60,000 from the United Kingdom did so in 1919 alone.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation, 2014.

Much like my great-grandfather, countless people gave their lives for our country, and made an unimaginable sacrifice for us. This trip helped me understand how quickly conflicts could erupt and change the course of the world. I will always remember what I saw in Europe, and how I felt when I learned about the events my ancestors had taken part in.”

 

#100DaysofVimy – March 24th, 2017

Each Friday, we will revisit an interesting poll result from the past few years. How do you compare to other Canadians? See our past poll results here: (http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/learn/poll-results/)

In last week’s poll question, we revealed that as of April 2015, 5% of Canadians were, or knew someone, planning to travel to France in 2017 for the centennial observance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. This week we want to take a poll and see how the numbers compare. Do you, or someone you know, plan to travel to France this year for the centennial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge?

Recipients of the Vimy Pilgrimage Award attend the ceremonies at the base of the Vimy Memorial on April 9th, 2013.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation, 2013.

#100DaysofVimy – March 23rd, 2017

Each Thursday, we run a social media contest! Share with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and you can win a Vimy Prize Pack each week!

Contest for Thursday, March 23rd 2017:

Today we visited Sir Arthur Currie’s grave at Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal, placing a Vimy Pin & Medal beneath the Cross of Sacrifice.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation / Jordan Slump, 2017.

 

The 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge is just over two weeks away! Share a photograph of your Vimy Pin and show your support for this monumental occasion in Canada’s history.

 

 

The inscription bears Currie’s motto “They Served Til Death – Why Not We?”, which after 1934 served as a rallying cry for the Vimy Pilgrimage of 1936.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation / Jordan Slump, 2017.

 

Guidelines:
Comment on our Facebook post, Instagram post, or tweet at us by 11:59pm PT on Thursday, March 23rd. Only one submission permitted per account per platform (i.e. if you have an account on both Facebook and Twitter you can enter twice; you cannot submit two entries through Facebook). One winner will be chosen at random from all eligible entries received during the time period on all platforms. The winner will be contacted on Friday March 24th, 2017! These contests are not sponsored by Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.