We’ve been told it’s the rainiest May in years, and that most of it has fallen in the past three days. This statement was emphasized by the large detour we took today to avoid a washed out road en-route. But this is nothing compared to what the soldiers faced on a daily basis and at least we have roads rather than muddy craters so it didn’t effect us much!
After the detour, we visited the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette Memorial where many French dead are commemorated and a beautiful church stands in the place of an older chapel, destroyed in the war. Nearby, is also a lighthouse (which could have proved helpful today) that serves as an ossuary to hold the bones of some French dead.
After a brief stop at a local museum; Lens 1914-1918 that detailed the impact of the war on the immediate region, we continued on toward the famous Memorial at Vimy Ridge.
Upon approaching the memorial, the fog still hasn’t lifted so we were unable to see the famous pillars until we walked right up to the steps. From the back, were the figures of the Mourning Parents and we walked past their gaze to enter the memorial.
Vimy is interesting because at the time it began construction in 1926, the majority of memorials in Europe were triumphant and victorious while Canada’s was to be solemn and sad. However by its completion ten years later, attitudes had changed as people realized that the Great War might not have been the war to end all wars. As Germany occupied Northern France in the Second World War, they destroyed other monuments but left Canada’s. Hitler even made a point of visiting it to prove that it was still standing.
This anecdote again demonstrates a sort of futility for me, in that all of the 66,000 Canadian dead died in a war that did NOT end all wars. Some Canadians would even go on to fight in the same places as their fathers and uncles in the next world war.
This comes through on the memorial as the two pillars representing France and Canada are protected by Mother Canada, standing mournfully below. It’s almost as if she is dwarfed by the hugeness of the loss above her.
After the memorial, we visited the interpretation centre and the site of the Canadian 3rd and 4th Divisions during the battle. Here we had an opportunity to go underground, through the tunnels dug by Welsh miners and used by Canadians.
Then we piled back into the vans to visit the site of the 2nd Division’s front at Vimy and I was able to find a piece of shrapnel turned up as the farmer planted crops this spring.
Finally, we visited Noeux Cemetery, a unique departure from the traditional Commonwealth Cenetery because it was amalgamated into the local cemetery, due to it being bear a hospital at the rear of the battle. Here, I put a Canadian flag in the dirt beat the grave of someone from the 38th Battalion, raised in Ottawa.
Then it was back to Arras to buy some sweaters and socks to stave off the cold and wet weather and buy some local snacks.
A day filled with fog and famous sights.