The last time I wrote a commentary about Vimy Ridge was ten years ago, when we were commemorating the 90th anniversary of the deadliest day ever for Canadians. With great trepidation I suggested that Walter Allward’s towering concrete structure on that field in France, which was unveiled by our uncrowned King, Edward VIII in the summer of 1936, was really a monument to failure.
I rejected the widely-held notion that those four days in April of 1917 created the glue that bonded this place called Canada together. I would never speak ill of any person who died wearing the uniform of his country, but to celebrate it as nation building is somehow just not right.
The Vimy Memorial was supposed to be a sacred monument to peace, but four years after it was dedicated, it was visited by Adolf Hitler right after his armies conquered and enslaved the French. It was payback time for the slimy little Corporal, just like the ritual he orchestrated for France’s surrender in that railway car.
In recent years, since the re-dedication by Queen Elizabeth in 2007, the monument at Vimy has become a popular place for young folks from all over the world to visit. Many, like the thousands of Canadian history students who are visiting this week, do learn the facts about what happened a century ago, and they are respectful. But others regard it as a great lark to fornicate and defecate on the monument.
The peaceful message of “Never Again” seems a bit hollow when we consider what’s still going on in places like Syria and South Sudan. It’s especially hollow for Canadians who lost relatives in uniform in Afghanistan. The Great War was anything but the War to End All Wars. Between 1914 and 1918, the battle lines didn’t change much at all, but hundreds of thousands of the best and the brightest from many nations were lost forever.
I can’t help thinking that the term which best describes the Battle of Vimy Ridge is not nation building, but terrible waste.
I’m Roger Currie