1917 - 2007

Arras: The Freedom of the City

08 April 2007

Superintendent John Gaudet Leads the parade out of the Citadelle

The Freedom of the City is something that is prized by all military units. Although very British in origins, the French town of Arras chose to honour the Canadian Forces with such a ceremony to mark the 90th Anniversary of the battle of Vimy.

In the days before proper armies soldiers had to be recruited on the fly and many towns were somewhat against the idea of having these armed men wandering their streets just as they wished.

Thus it became more acceptable that when soldiers arrived in front of a town that their commander would ask of the local mayor or chief magistrate for permission to enter the town - most towns of course still being walled off.

Once the locals had been convinced that the soldiers would do no harm to the local citizenry the soldiers would be granted access - with their drums beating, colours unfurled and bayonets fixed.


Once again in stark contrast to ninety years ago the sun shone down and it was a perfect afternoon - except perhaps for those in heavy uniforms.

The Canadian Contingent formed up in the Quartier Turenne Citadelle, 300 years old and the functioning barracks of the French 601e Régiment de Circulation Routière whose origins lie in the battle of Verdun.

From here they were led out by Superintendent John Gaudet of the RCMP/GRC on Jouet d'Orion a horse borrowed from the Garde républicaine.

300 soldiers formed into four sections, each representing one of the Canadian Divisions who fought side by side for the first time at Vimy on Easter Monday 1917.

Although delighted to see them some of the French onlookers were somewhat bemused to see Scottish soldiers in kilts amongst the Canadians. It's all to do with history they were told.

Initially only a few hundreds watched as the soldiers rounded the Parc des alliés and started their march towards the town centre.

They had not gone much further though before the crowd started to thicken and Canadian flags were being waved by the local townspeople.

By the time the three mounted policemen reached the Place des Héros it was standing room only with just a a few lucky ones who had perhaps paid dearly for the chance of a seat on one of the bar terraces which overlooked the square.

A huge wooden gate had been erected on the square to represent the gates of Arras. On reaching the gates Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie (Canada's Chief of Land Staff) advanced and struck the gates three times with the hilt of his sword. Qui est là ? came the reply from the chief of Arras's police.

Once the General had explained his presence and confirmed the good will and behaviour of his men the Chief of Police met with the Mayor: Monsieur Jean-Marie Vanlerenberghe, who then read out, signed and presented the Canadians with the Freedom of the City scroll.

The Colours were then unfurled and bayonets fixed before the troops passed through the giant gates and continued their way through the town.


Click on the thumbnail, it may take a moment for the photo to load

Three mounted RCMP/GRC lead the parade First the band Then the pipes and drums The Naval gun team Finally the soldiers Arriving on the Place des Héros
Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture All the regiments are represented The pipers The gun pulled by hand The Colours still covered The gate representing Arras The gates open The musicians lead off Drums beating and bayonets fixed

Vimy: The Play Vimy: The Play
The Sunset Ceremony The Sunset Ceremony
The Dedication Ceremony The Dedication Ceremony
Vimy Ridge Vimy Ridge
The Arras Citadelle The Arras Citadelle
The 601e RCR The 601e RCR