3,598 killed, 7,000 wounded, none unscathed.
To honour the more than 15,000 Canadian soldiers who fought for 4 days to take Vimy Ridge, Canada’s built its largest monument. Zoom out from Google Maps’ satellite photo of the Memorial, imagine that green field ripped open by shells, and picture what it was like to climb out of muddy trenches to take machine gun positions with bayonets.
For a powerful personal account of that day, read the post by screenwriter Jim Henshaw. It includes a video that is not for the soft of heart – you will see brave boys and men cut down in grainy black and white.
If your taste runs to historical fiction, Jane Urquhart‘s novel The Stone Carvers is a story about the building of the Vimy monument which was today re-dedicated by the Queen and Prime Minister after a great deal of restoration work.
A stunning image of that memorial can be seen on the Veteran’s Affairs website. For historical context, see the Canadian War Museum and CBC’s In Depth article. For commentary, there is Michael Valpy opinion about the making of the Vimy myth.
However heroic the soldiers, the Great War was a profoundly stupid war born of nationalist ambition. The same cannot be said of the battles going on now in Afghanistan, which are more noble of purpose. There, the fight goes to the Taliban – who first came to attention in the West when they demolished the pair of monuments known as the Buddhas of Bamyan. More secular motives are behind discussions about what to do now with monuments in Iraq.
We make monuments to remember wars, and we make wars on monuments to control what they represent. In an unrelated post, I advocate a memorial be built to honour the sacrifice of Canada’s aboriginal peoples. Let’s not forget, though, that for Canadian soldiers this is not a happy time. Six of their number serving in Afghanistan were killed on the eve of the Vimy anniversary. I suspect they are, like me since the funeral of my grandfather, finding it difficult to listen to Taps.