One more jump in days to July 18, 2015; we are still in North of France, staying in the pretty seaside resort village of Honfleur. We had meant to go to Vimy while we were in Belgium as it is not as far as it was from Honfleur, but it hadn’t worked out that way, so we had to leave very early to arrive in good time. And as it turns out, I was very glad we did.
The amazing monument towering over the landscape once you clear the forested area, is very, very impressive.
We had some serendipitous events happen to us while traveling, but I think none more wonderful than this.
As we approached the monument I spied some armed forces uniforms; wondering what was going on, I asked an officer who was striding fiercely by.
He told me that it just so happened that a contingent of Canadian Armed Forces personnel which had been seconded to the Nijmegen Contingent for the annual International Four Days Marches and were encamped on the nearby base. They were about to head to Nijmegen, but first decided to visit the monument and hold a Remembrance Ceremony, including laying of wreathe and the Last Post with a bugler and bagpipes!
So here we were on July 18 and able to observe and take part in a Remembrance ceremony at Vimy Ridge: the piece of Canadian soil in France, in front of this amazing monument.
Not only that but I noticed some different uniforms …
“Those are cop uniforms,” I said to MLW.
Sure enough, they were Vancouver Police Department members tagging along with the Armed Forces Personnel to go to the walk. Plus 2 RCMP officers! They also came to support the ceremony in Vimy with the Nijmegen contingent.
So here are some views of the monument and some highlights of the ceremony …
I recommend to every Canadian to go to Vimy and see what happened there in 1915 in the miles and miles of tunnels and trenches. They have left the landscape as is (now grown in with grass and stuff but all the bomb craters and trench remains are there.
The electric wired fence all along the battlefields is actually to keep the sheep in, which the local French farmers are allowed to graze there. it is a good agreement as Canada doesn’t have to mow the grass and it is better if a sheep gets blown up then a human, as they believe there to be still unexploded ordnance there. Of course, the Monty Python sketch comes immediately to mind …
The visitor centre is small but will soon be rebuilt bigger and better …
and the visitor centre has refurbished tunnels for tours. pretty much as they were except for granite roof and lighting.
The tunnels actually connected up as far back as the town of Arras 12.9 kilometres away so troops and supplies could be brought under mask until the assault. Tunnel network was dug by Welsh miners because of the chalk content of the stone. They connected up to medieval tunnels made by the locals to store wine cheese etc.
Only runners, officers, medical people, engineers and technicians were allowed in the tunnels. Soldiers slogged on out on the front lines and rotated back to the 2nd and 3rd lines every week – 2 km back each line.
Front line tunnels were built 30 metres down so as to go under the German tunnels and have the potential to listen in on what they were doing or planning; also to be able to come up and lay explosive charges close to the enemy which they could set off in advance of an attack.
Pictures below are of the front line trench (there were three trench lines dug 2 km back from each other back (on both sides German and Allies) which extended in a line from The North sea at Belgium all the way to Switzerland.
The trenches didn’t look like this of course at the time, they were sandbags and mud, and wood planks for floors.
Sniper viewpoint. The first photo is from the Canadian front line trench looking across no mans land to the German front line trench – both are sniper positions. Yes, at that next hill is the German position
Below is No Mans land: Germans on the right , Canadians on the left. A huge mine crater in the middle from where the Canadians tunneled under up to the enemy line and set 14 explosive mines which preceded their assault. Try to imagine it not grassed but with slick mud, razor wire,and bodies (some as old as 2 months because no one could get in to retrieve them). What awful horror…
One of the methods that the Canadians used to successfully take Vimy Ridge was called the Creeping barrage. Most of the time prior to this, allies would barrage the enemy with shells and mortars until an assault was planned, then suddenly the barrage would stop as they didn’t want to kill their own troops. Well the Germans knew they could just start firing; no need to hunker down. The Canadians devised a coordinated attack where the barrage would be raised in degrees and distance in front of them so they could continuously move behind the barrage. Another device was allowing the front line soldier and NCOs to know the battle orders and plans, so if the Officers were killed or the base was incommunicado, the troops could carry out the plan anyway.
So much to learn here.
After we left the visitor centre we went to two nearby Canadian cemeteries.
We will remember them