Vimy Ridge

The Canadian Memorial

The Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge

On Easter Monday: 9 April 1917 the Canadian Expeditionary Corps launched an assault on Vimy Ridge and for the first time all four of the Canadian Divisions found themselves fighting alongside each other.

The Assault on Vimy Ridge The Assault on Vimy Ridge

The ridge formed the highest and therefore most important part of this sector of the German defence line.

By mid afternoon the entire crest had been seized with the exception of Hill 145 - the highest point along the ridge. This would be taken the following day.

By the standards of the day, casualties had been light and the Canadian Corps had shown that its citizen soldiers could stand shoulder to shoulder with any of Europe's and not be found lacking.

The success was so swift, all encompassing and such a predominantly Canadian affair that it has entered into the Canadian consciousness.

 
The view from the platform looking across the plain.

The view from the platform looking across the plain.
The great coal tips at Loos can be seen on the left.

 

Walter Allward

The figure of Canada

The figure of Canada

Following the war Canada was offered three battlefield sites in France on which to place memorials: Vimy, Dury and Bourlon Wood.

A competition was organised in 1920 by the Canadian Battlefields Memorial Commission to choose suitable monuments to honour her feats of arms and those who did not return.

The clear winner was Walter Allward whose entry was truly monumental and included twenty figures surrounding two huge pylons representing Canada and France.

Allward was born in Toronto in 1875 and had already made a name for himself with two monuments in his home town. Although his work tended to be busts of famous figures, for the competition he had found himself inspired by a dream in which he had seen legions of dead rising up and coming to the aid of the living.

The Commission decided that the only suitable place for such a grandiose piece was on the Vimy Ridge. Work began to clear the huge site of unexploded munitions and Allward started searching for a suitable stone.

It took two and a half years to clear the site and Allward two years to chose his material: cut from a quarry near Sarajevo of all places.

Allward himself didn't work on the monument but provided half sized, detailed plaster casts to act as guides for the master stonemasons who carried out the work on the site itself.

It took the French team ten years to turn 6,000 tons of limestone into Allward's master piece.

It was finally unveiled on 26 July 1936 before a crowd of more than 100,000 spectators.

 

Memorial to the Missing

The Memorial to the Missing

Names in detail

The memorial shows the names of 11,285 Canadians never found for burial, but is as much a memorial to all 66,655 Canadians who died fighting in the fields of France.

The cloaked figure overlooking the Douai Plain represents Canada herself, and was carved from a single 30 tonne block. Beneath her lies a single tomb draped in laurel, and bearing a helmet and a sword.

This memorial park covers 250 acres of land, some of which is still littered with shells - signs warning you to keep out of restricted areas abound.

The land has been given by the French to Canada in perpetuity and has been planted with Canadian trees: one for each of the dead.

 

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