After this motivating speech we traveled by bus for 45 minutes to the marshalling area for Vimy. Due to heightened security, there were extremely long waits... two hours to get through security and then a 20 minute bus ride to the Vimy grounds. It was really neat to see the memorial appear on the hill as we approached the ridge...145 m. with a fabulous view of the Douai Plain - the purpose for British and French attempts for 4 years to take the German stronghold - they were unsuccessful. The 4 Canadian divisions of the Cdn. Corps were able to take the ridge in quick and decisive moves. We must not forget the new strategies, techniques, practice, patience and courage that revealed themselves that day, one hundred years ago, at Vimy Ridge. We not the 3,598 Cdns. who lost their lives at Vimy, but lets not lose sight of the thousands before them at earlier battles or the thousands after in other WW1 battles, those of WW2, the Korean War and the other conflicts that Canadians have bravely participated in during the ensuing years.
Many of you watched the ceremony on tv so you know the details, in fact, you probably "saw" more than we did. We arrived on site at around noon and the events did not start until 4pm. We had a longgggg wait in the hot sun. But when you think of what was going on at that exact location, one hundred years ago - one can hardly complain. The noise, the fear, the endurance, the energy, the death - all to gain a strategically important location.
To actually be in that massive crowd of over 25,000 and to "feel" the pride of those in attendance was amazing. The speeches by Governor General David Johnston, Prime Minister Trudeau, Prince Charles, and French President François Hollande, were, I thought, good in that they paid tribute to the Canadian success at Vimy and the importance of the battle in forging a "Canadian identity." Between the speeches the music performances were great. Loreena McKennitt, Elisapie Isaac and Johnny Reid were my favourites. The "performances" by Cdn. actors brought the stories and words of Cdn. soldiers to "life." As the two hour ceremony progressed, I often took time to look around and see the thousands of people that had come to commemorate this battle and share this experience. I looked out over the Douai Plain behind me, the crater marked field to my left, the empty boots in front, and I thought about the 3598 Cdns. that died that cold, windy, snowy day. Here, where we were standing in bright, warm conditions. Here, where we had gathered to remember them. Here, where a Cdn. pride was forged, and an identity created. At times today it was very emotional, to realize the history that took place here and the history this place created that carries on in our country to this day.
Well, after the ceremony it took us almost 3 hours to get of the Vimy site... everyone that had arrived during the entire day, was trying to leave at the same time!!! The shuttle bus organization was not the best... we eventually did make it off the ridge and saw that many of the houses in the town of Vimy had Canadian flags hanging from their windows. The people came out and waved as the busses drove passed. It was a great feeling.
The only downside of the day was that due to extra security, the trenches and tunnels were off limits. We were also not able to visit the newly opened Vimy Education Centre were Chemainus Secondary has a plaque as a thank you for our fundraising efforts to assist in its construction.
We arrived back at the hotel at 10pm, had a quick "dinner" and ended a very thought provoking day. Its now 1:30am our time and I have a wake up call in 5.5 hours.
Both Jen Bayley and I are very grateful to EF Tours for providing us with this professional learning opportunity and the Cowichan Valley School District for allowing us to attend and be away from our classes.