Monday, 14 July 2014

Arras & Vimy Ridge - France

After a transfer through the chaotic mega-hub also known as Paris, I boarded a TGV train to Arras, a brief 45 minute trip of 175 (!) kilometres.

Arras is a large town of ~50,000 people. One of its primary distinctions - for Canadians and others - is that both world wars (and a few other wars before that) occurred in and around the town. The horror and destruction that one area of the world has seen begins to set in; there are signs for monuments and graveyards all around the area.

A view of the Arras town square:


Around 10 kilometres from Arras lies the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, paying tribute to those lost in the World War I battle that plays a large part into Canada's historic identity. Taking a taxi up the hill into the forest the view changes. Maple trees are planted in rows all along Rue du Canada as it winds its way up to the momument above. 

Much of the site has been preserved as it was when the war ended. It is an eerie sight seeing grass covered bomb craters throughout the entire forest, every metre of space was changed. A forest - now a 90 year old one - has sprouted over much of the landscape adding to the surreal view:

The facility is a strange slice of Canada in the French countryside: government of Canada seals are all around, bilingualism is back in-effect, and Maple Leaf flags are all around.

The monument features restored trenches of both the Canadian and German lines, giving a taste of how close the two sides often found themselves in all the chaos.

View of the Canadian trench from a German one:

The preserved trenches:

After the trenches it was a misty walk along the maple-lined avenue to the monument itself. This is the first sign - of many - warning not to cross the fence into the woods due to risk of live ordinance being buried. Only narrow strips of the battlefield were ever cleared:

The monument rests on the highest point along the ridge in a large clearing allowing for a lengthy, pensive approach:

It was a breathtaking site. The white marble stood solemnly against the overcast skies.

Some 3,600 Canadians died the day of the battle in what was one of Canada's most important victories. It's a disgusting thought to think of what kind of sick logic calls such death a victory.

Along the bottom of the monument lies some 11,000 of Canada's unidentified dead. Names of soldiers never found circle the entire structure:

The view of the east side of the monument:

A grave rests at the bottom with a cloaked woman towering above. The woman is the largest single piece of the entire monument; a single 30-tonne, 4-metre high block carved out as a sorrowful young woman, representing a very young Canada mourning her dead:

The final site of the memorial is a graveyard for some of the Canadian and Commonwealth forces that perished that day. It was very difficult to read the names - if the tombstones had them - and the ages of those killed. Many are younger than myself at 26 years:

I think what privilege I have been given to be born firstly in an era where travel to places like Vimy is possible; but also what privilege I have personally to have the means, ability and opportunity to travel like I am. I am very fortunate.
A trip to Europe would have meant a very different thing 100 years ago for the 26-year-old Canadians buried here.
It's terrible that we need such grand and magnificent monuments to remind ourselves of why such violence and horror is inexcusable. Until war and injustice - in all its forms - are rooted out of human life altogether, I think places like Vimy are crucially important.

Hopefully a time will come where we won't need a place like this.


No comments:

Post a Comment