100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy is a very special moment

April 9th will be an auspicious moment in Canada as we mark the 100 year anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.   This is happening in the same year we will observe the 100th anniversaries of other important battles such as those that took place at Passchendaele and Hill 70.  It is said that the Canadian battles in the First World War, and especially those that took place in 1917, were integral to forming the Canadian identity that we carry to this day.

While it is important that we remember how Vimy does not stand alone, it is also important that we remember what made it so unique.  The Battle of Vimy Ridge was the first time that all four Canadian divisions were assembled to operate in combat as a corps.   They were attempting to do what had proven impossible for allied forces in 1914 and 1915 when hundreds of thousands died in unsuccessful attempts to take the ridge.

The battle, which began on April 9th and lasted until April 12th, cost Canada dearly with nearly 10,600 casualties, of which 3,600 were fatal.   It was one of the most successful Allied offensive operations to that point in the war, capturing more ground, enemy artillery pieces, and prisoners than any previous British or Canadian effort.  The battle also set the tone for the remainder of the war and marked the start of an unbroken string of battlefield successes that helped carry the allied forces to victory.

Canada has eight official sites overseas to commemorate our participation in the First World War, but the one at Vimy, designed by Walter Seymour Allward, is considered our primary memorial.  It stands on the same ground where our soldiers fought and marks achievement and sacrifice in a breath-taking combination of art and remembrance.   The memorial dominates the landscape and is situated at the highest point on the ridge on land that was granted to Canada by France.  Inscribed on it are the names of all 11,285 Canadians who lost their lives in France during the First World War.  That number from France alone amounted to 17% of all Canadians killed in Europe during the war.

A hundred years later it is inconceivable to consider sending teenagers and young adults to do the job that Canada asked of its young population in the First World War.  The world is that much different now and a large part of that has to with the freedom and sense of right and wrong that was fought for by young Canadians in both World Wars.

When we educate young Canadians about the nature of the sacrifice that was made by our country and the ultimate price paid by many patriots in the First World War we also teach them about the events that shaped Canada – especially those that brought us to prominence in the global theatre.  It is our job to ensure this history is kept alive, that this sacrifice remains important to those who benefit from the world they inherited that was shaped by great battles and is commemorated by great monuments.