In 2001, we had the privilege of touring World War I and II battlefield sites where our Canadian soldiers had fought. We visited notable World War 1 battlefields and cemeteries; but the most awe-inspiring site by far was the Vimy Memorial, built by Canada on the site of the battle for Vimy Ridge in 1917, and given to Canada by the government of France, in gratitude for the part played by Canada's army. The monument itself was designed and its construction overseen by Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Allward.
The battle for Vimy Ridge was the first time during the war in France and Belgium that the Canadian Army had fought as a unit, with four divisions in a carefully planned and executed attack on entrenched German army units on top of the Ridge. They were led by Major-general Arthur Currie, a citizen soldier from B.C. Two major assaults on the ridge had been made previously, first by the French and then by the British - both failed. The Canadians succeeded, but with a loss of 3,600 men killed and 7,000 wounded. It was said by one of the Battalion commanders that it "was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then ... that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation."
One's first view of the Memorial itself gives one an overwhelming emotional feeling of pride tinged with sadness at the sacrifice of so many young Canadian soldiers. The visitor facilities south of the monument have you approaching it from the back, so you miss the statue of the grieving mother standing alone on the edge of the parapet. As you come closer and climb onto the surrounding dais, you are able to read the names of all the 11,285 Canadians who perished in France during the war, but whose resting place is unknown.