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Remembering WWI and Vimy Ridge

When I was in grade 10, our history teacher, Murray Kitts spent months taking us through the build up to World War I and then took us through the many battles that included Canadian soldiers.
We followed the course of the war from its beginning through to the armistice of November 18. I was left with a clear impression that there was no glory in that war. Everything in my memory is of misery, mud and death.
For almost 30 years, Walter Cronkite, in his television show, “The Twentieth Century” annually found subjects and film footage of the first world war. It reinforced my images of that war.
Our grade 10 history studies of war began with the Battle of the Ardennes, then on to the Battles of Ypres. The 1915 battle marked the first use of chlorine in war. The Canadians suffering from lung burn and heavy casualties were able to repulse the German advance. One in three Canadians became a casualty and over 2000 lost their lives in that one day of fighting.
As we traveled through the battles, we discovered just how major Canada’s contribution was to the war. We touched on Vimy Ridge, noting that it became the first engagement of Canadian Troops lead by Canadians who planned and implemented the battle. Where France, Britain had failed, Canadian troops on that Easter, 90 years ago were successful. It was part of the battle of Arras. That two month long battle ended in a draw. The only bright spot was Vimy Ridge
On Monday, Canada commemorated the restored Vimy Ridge memorial. The original monument was constructed and dedicated in 1936 on land given to Canada by the French government.
The battle for Vimy ridge, a ridge that runs nine miles cost the lives of 3598 Canadians. Canadian casualties number 10,602. As part of this rededication, 3598 students from across Canada will carry the names on their shirts at the ceremony.
Each of those students, including my niece, Laura Foster, has had to research the soldier who they represent.
The research sometimes offered nothing more than the age, birth date and home community of the soldier. Some in their research learned of wives, who became widows and raised children. Some learned of children and grand children still living in the same community. Each student created a tribute to remember those fallen soldiers.
Other battles were fought. Eventually 60,000 Canadians gave up their lives in the war. Over 500,000 soldiers from Canada fought in the war. The war and the battles helped forge an independent nation Canada, separated from the British government.
–Jim Cumming,
Publisher