CWGC 100th Anniversary – Part VIII

“Canadians attending to a chum’s grave at the Front.”
Credit: W.I. Castle / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-000969.

In his annual report of 1926, Sir Fabian Ware, the founder and Vice-Chairman of the Imperial War Graves Commission, explained the reason behind maintaining the numerous, small, isolated Commonwealth cemeteries that are found across the battlefields of the First World War:

During the war certain authorized sites were selected, some close to the trenches, where the dead could be buried, and the soldiers were promised that, if they brought back their dead comrades to these, which they not infrequently did at the risk of their lives, they would rest there permanently undisturbed. This promise has been kept in all cases, except a few where the site originally selected has been found altogether unsuitable.” (Ward, Gibson, Courage Remembered, p. 49-50).

During our Vimy Pilgrimage Award program, great distances are covered in the effort to allow each student to visit the grave of a soldier they have researched.

If you know a student aged 14 – 17 years old, encourage them to apply today for our 2018 Vimy Pilgrimage Award and be part of the commemoration. Apply here: http://bit.ly/2f1ur7m

The 2018 Vimy Pilgrimage Award is made possible by the sponsorship of Scotiabank, and by the continued support of Canada’s History.

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 14 August 2017

Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017

Today the BVP2017 students visited the Canadian National Vimy Memorial which was an important and moving experience for our participants. The group visited the new Vimy Education Centre, participated in a wreath laying ceremony, and received their Vimy Pilgrimage medals. Later in the day they visited Lichfield Crater, Neuville St-Vaast German cemetery, and topped off the day with a visit to the Maison Blanche underground tunnels.

(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)

I had the honour of commemorating Ellis Wellwood Sifton today, one of the four Canadians who received the Victoria Cross during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. While his battalion was under heavy fire from German machine gun nests, Sifton single-handedly rushed one of them, eliminating the crew and knocking over the gun. His comrades arrived, and they held off a German counterattack, but Sifton was fatally shot. His sacrifice saved the lives of dozens of men in his battalion, earning him the Victoria Cross. I hoped his final resting place would reflect and honour his sacrifice on the battlefield. As I exited the bus when we reached the destination, I was shocked. The cemetery was surrounded by a field of wilting crops trapped in sunburnt dirt. I feared the appearance of the cemetery would mirror the conditions of the field. As I reached the gates, my fears were set aside and I stared at the cemetery in awe: the inner side of the wall was surrounded by rows of beautiful flowers and the ground was covered in green grass. I felt confident and ready to commemorate this heroic man but struggled to deliver my rehearsed words. I myself sometimes struggle to make menial sacrifices, and this daring man was prepared to run into almost certain death to save the lives of his comrades without a second thought. I left the cemetery with the utmost respect for this fallen hero, and promised to attempt to instill a fraction of his valiant qualities in myself.

-Eric Jose, Oshawa, Ontario

Today, we had the amazing opportunity to visit the Maison Blanche sousterraine (underground tunnels). These tunnels were where many Canadian soldiers stayed before the Capture of Vimy Ridge, and they are consequently an incredible legacy to Canada’s First World War story. For me, it was nothing short of inspirational. As we descended from the sweltering midday sun into the chilly pitch-black mystery of the sousterraine, I was in awe of it all. This awe was specifically due to two aspects of our journey through the caves. First, they were covered with inscriptions and engravings on the walls by the Canadian soldiers who inhabited the caverns over 100 years ago. I could see the legacies left behind by many of these soldiers, and often times they were among the last that they ever left. Whether it was a crude drawing of a farm animal or a detailed and loyal depiction of their respective regiment, these legacies gave a very personal connection to the soldiers. I felt even more respect for those men seeing what they had been through. As a history lover, I absolutely adored those extra stories and legacies that we were privileged to see.

-Cole Oien, Calgary, Alberta

Philip Robinson of the Durand Group, explaining the Maison Blanche tunnels.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Driving through the French streets draped in Canadian flags could only add to the immense pride that I was to feel at Vimy Ridge. I knew right away that this was going to be a once in a lifetime experience. We started off with a tour through the trench lines leading up to the Ridge. The close proximity of the German and Allied trenches was incredible as I was able to visualize what it might be like to be there and see the enemy and have that personal connection to the man that you might have to kill.

Visiting the German Cemetery Neuville St-Vaast was intense. The rows after rows of crosses enveloped you as everywhere you looked there were thousands of fallen soldiers. I have never seen anything like it and it was an eye opening experience to the sheer volume of men that gave their lives during this war. The highlight of my day though was re-visiting the Vimy Ridge Memorial at dusk. The solitude allowed me to connect on a personal level with the monument. The group work allowed us to reflect on the experiences we have had so far. As the sun set in front of the Virtues it truly was a perfect end to a perfect day.

-Daniel Schindel, Surrey, British Columbia

Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.