In a small corner of northern France sits the Vimy Ridge Memorial. It stands tall in Canada’s history and in our national identity.
What became known as the Battle of Vimy Ridge over a four-day period April 9 to 12, 1917, was the first battle that united Canada – the first time that all battalions fought together as one unit, with soldiers from all parts of the country and all walks of life. Out of a ragtag ensemble of farmers, businessmen and ruffians, the battle brought everyone together to fight for a common purpose, and that single-minded identity lives on to this day. Read more about the Battle of Vimy Ridge in this book on Amazon.
Vimy Ridge became important during the war due to its high ground. The strategic point was seized by the Germans in 1914 and held until 1917 when the battle re-took the ridge. In the process, the town was, for all practical purposes, destroyed.
On the back of the Canadian $20 bill is a photo of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial that was erected in 1936 as a show of appreciation for the importance Canada played in the war and as a permanent reminder of those who died. The memorial is the focal point within a 250 acre preserved battlefield park.
We travelled to Vimy to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle. At a little rooming house in nearby Lens called “The House” we were welcomed with open arms when the owner found out we were Canadian. Despite the passing of time, the residents of this small town hold a special place in their hearts for Canadians.
We showed the owner the back of the $20 and he was ecstatic.
The ground the memorial sits on has been granted as a part of Canada. The Canadian government looks after the maintenance of the site and the preserved fields where the battle took place.
There are still tunnels, trenches and craters marking the site of the battle. These have been preserved. Visitors are told to stay on the pathways as there are still unexploded bombs just under the surface of the fields.
There are two cemeteries for Canadian’s who died in the battle. One hundred and nine Canadian soldiers were interred here. The larger cemetery contains almost 3,000 graves of soldiers from all Commonwealth countries. The markers show just how young some of the soldiers were who fought and died there.
If you go:
We arrived in Paris, spent a few days seeing the sights, then hopped a train to Lens in northern France. The trip takes about 90 minutes. Costs vary depending on time of day and number of stops, but we paid about €15 each.
Once in Lens, we spent a pleasant few days at a small hotel called “The House”. The easiest way to get to the memorial from Lens is to hire a taxi for the 15 km trip. Because the memorial is so popular during April, there were many taxis that travel up to the memorial and for the return trip to Lens.
We came across a small restaurant called Oh Sapristi. We were pleasantly surprised and recommend it should you go. As well, there are many small shops in Lens for souvenir hunters, or for the casual shopper.
If You Go…
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