Vimy

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As a recently graduated Canadian history teacher, it was difficult to justify passing through northern France and NOT paying a visit to Vimy Ridge. Being in the middle of nowhere, as battlefields often were back then, we opted to rent a car and make the two-hour drive from Paris on our own. Driving a car in Europe was an experience in and of itself, but that’s another post.

After WWII, France (understandably) took on the task of restoring the battlefields from hellish wastelands to useable property. Only Vimy remains, dedicated to Canada as a token of thanks for the sacrifices made in April 1917. The Canadian government maintains the area, preserving the site of this gruesome battle in order to remind all of us of the cost of war.

The view from the Ridge. It’s easy to see why this was a strategic point to capture, with invaders having nothing to protect them from the artillery on top. The Vimy Glide was Canada’s strategic response, and remains one of Canada’s most significant military strokes of genius.
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The memorial. The looming clouds of that particular day were an excellent backdrop to the blinding white of this awe-inspiring marble monument.
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Though now covered with grass, the pounding of artillery shells is still visible in the unnatural craters that mark the landscape.
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Both the Canadian and German trenches have been preserved, creating a shoulder-high labyrinth that crisscrosses the ridge.
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The gap between the white signpost on the right and the hilltop on the left marks the closest point between the two systems of trenches. Both sides were fully aware of how near they were to the other, and yet they refrained from attacking until the orders came. We’re reminded that these soldiers, brave as they were, were pawns in a game being played very far away.
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Beneath the trenches ran an equally immense system of tunnels used for delivering supplies and carting away the wounded. As the battle progressed, the tunnels became yet another theatre of war, with each side literally ‘undermining’ the other and collapsing their lines of supply.
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The Vimy Ridge Memorial does an incredible job of confirming exactly what we as history teachers try to convey to our students: the battle was incredibly significant for Canada as a sovereign nation and a necessary victory within the context of the war. More importantly, it honours the sacrifice made by each of these soldiers, while at the same time acknowledging that war is insanity and must never be considered as an option for resolving conflict between nations.

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5 responses »

  1. I am so glad you’re building your experience of history to share with students. And I’m equally glad that you share all angles of these experiences so people never let these sort of things happen again (unlike the boys learning about WWII last year and not being told about the holocaust!).

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  2. I’m very jealous you had the opportunity to walk through Vimy. What an opportunity. I’ll be going to Eastern Europe with school in March, and we’re going to Auschwitz. I’m already nervous.

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