war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper


Vimy Ridge - 90 Years On


Speech by M. Dominique de Villepin, Prime Minister of French Republic

Pm of French Republic, by Simon ChambersYour Majesty, Prime Minister of Canada, Ministers, Members of Parliament and elected representatives, Ambassadors, Monsieur le Préfet, General Officers, Ladies and gentlemen.

We are gathered today at the monument to the Canadian soldiers killed at the battle of Vimy Ridge.

90 years ago, on Easter Monday 1917, an allied offensive attacked an enemy fortress here, a fortress defended by reinforced concrete, barbed wire, machine-gun nests, mines and trenches, and which had already cost the lives of more than 150,000 Entente troops.

90 years ago this Easter Monday, after a week of shelling the enemy lines, in driving sleet, 35,000 Canadian soldiers launched their assault. Beneath a deluge of fire, they advanced towards the German defences. By midnight on Tuesday, Vimy Ridge had fallen. 3,600 Canadian troops were dead and 11,000 wounded. By their courage and their spirit of sacrifice, those who fought at Vimy struck one of the first of the blows that opened the way to victory a year and a half later.

Altogether 66,000 Canadians, all volunteers, many of them so young, coming from all over Canada, were to give their lives for this war fought so far from home. They did so out of solidarity with Great Britain and with France, their brothers. That is why on 26 July 1936, King Edward VIII, your uncle, Ma’am, inaugurated this monument of commemoration and gratitude.

Your nation, Mr Prime Minister, displayed this same solidarity again at Dieppe on 19 August 1942, and on D-Day, when Canadian troops were in the front line on Juno Beach, paving the way for the Liberation of Europe.

The heroes of Vimy died to defend values which have constantly united us and brought us together: values of peace, freedom, tolerance and respect for man. Our democracies must go on defending these values throughout the world. This is why we are together involved in safeguarding peace in Bosnia, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Haiti and Afghanistan. It’s why I want, in France’s name, to pay a solemn tribute to the Canadian soldiers fallen on French soil. In my thoughts too are the six Canadian soldiers killed yesterday in the line of duty in Afghanistan.

To our British allies, I want to express our unfailing gratitude.

On this Artois soil which has suffered so much, and where our allies were our liberators, France says thank you to Canada. Thank you Canada.

To the Great War veterans, I want to express the whole nation’s heartfelt admiration and deep gratitude.

France honours the Canadian soldiers! France honours Canada! Long live the Republic! Long live France!


Speech by the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada

PM of Canada, by Simon ChambersYour Majesty, Mr. Prime Minister of the Republic of France, distinguished guests, veterans, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all for honouring us with your presence today.

We Canadians here today are a long way from home but there may be no place on Earth that makes us feel more Canadian, because we sense all around us the presence of our ancestors.

If we close our eyes we can see them, dressed in their olive khaki uniforms, rifles slung over their shoulders, the distinct wide-brimmed helmet perched on their heads.

They are emerging from their filthy trenches, trudging through the boot-sucking mud, passing the skeletons of trees and the shell holes of blood, surrounded by the horrible noises of war.

Overhead, the Canadian Red Ensign is fluttering through the smoke.

One hundred thousand brave Canadians fought here 90 years ago today. Three thousand five hundred and ninety-eight died.

Every nation has a creation story to tell.

The First World War and the battle of Vimy Ridge are central to the story of our country.

The names of all the great battles are well known to Canadians and Newfoundlanders, but we know the name of Vimy best of all, because it was here for the first time that our entire army fought together on the battlefield and the result was a spectacular victory, a stunning breakthrough that helped turn the war in the allies favour.

Often, the importance of historical events is only understood with the benefit of hindsight but at Vimy everybody immediately realized the enormity of the achievement.

Brig-Gen. Alexander Ross famously said that when he looked out across the battlefield he saw, and I quote, "Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade,'' and that he felt he was witnessing the birth of a nation.

The year after the war ended the brilliant Canadian commander at Vimy, Sir Arthur Currie, put it another way in a speech at Toronto's Empire Club.

Canada was a nation of immigrants before 1914, he said. Now these men who have come back are your very own.

Nothing tells our story of the First World War as eloquently or as powerfully as this extraordinary monument. It reminds us of the enormity of their sacrifice and the enormity of our duty to follow their example and to love our country and defend its freedom for ever. The veterans of Vimy passed their stories to their children, who passed it to theirs, who passed it to us, who are passing it to our children.

Thousands of them are with us today. And some of them will return here someday with their own children, and their grandchildren.

Because nothing tells our story of the First World War as eloquently or as powerfully as Walter Allward's extraordinary monument to the 11, 285 Canadians who fell in France with no known resting place.

Allward said he was inspired by a dream. He saw thousands of Canadians fighting and dying in the vast battlefield. Then, through an avenue of giant poplars, a mighty army came marching to their rescue. They were the dead, Allward said. They rose in masses and entered to fight and aid the living: I have tried to show this in this monument to Canada's fallen, what we owed them, and will owe them forever.

It is sometimes said that the dead speak to the living. So at this special place at this special time on this special day, let us together listen to the final prayer of those whose sacrifice we are honouring. We may hear them say softly: I love my family, I love my comrades, I love my country and I will defend their freedom to the end.


Speech by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II

HM the Queen, by Simon ChambersLadies and gentleman, in any national story there are moments and places, sometimes far from home, which in retrospect can be seen as fixed points about which the course of history turns; moments which distinguish that nation forever. Those who seek the foundations of Canada's distinction would do well to begin here at Vimy.

Until this day 90 years ago, Vimy Ridge had been impregnable; a lesson learned at terrible cost to the armies of France and Britain. For the Allies, this ridge had become a symbol of futility and despair. It was against this forbidding challenge that the four divisions of the Canadian Corps were brought together as a single army for the first time.

In a matter of a few hours, on this cold and inclement Easter Monday morning, the Canadians became masters of the ridge and accomplished what many had thought impossible. Their victory was the fruit not only of an ingenious battle plan drawn up by Canadian commanders, but especially of courage and determination with which Canadian soldiers carried out their mission.

No fewer than four Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery during the battle, though it could easily be said that every soldier in the field demonstrated conspicuous bravery, such was the verve of the Canadian attack. It was a stunning victory. More, in capturing this formidable objective, the Canadian Corps transformed Vimy Ridge from a symbol of despair into a source of inspiration. After two-and-a-half years of deadly stalemate, it now seemed possible that the Allies would prevail and peace might one day be restored.

Here on this hallowed ground, where so much has been sacrificed, we're commemorating their courage and achievement. Their victory gave more than hope, it allowed Canada, which deserved it so much, to take its place on the world stage as a proud, sovereign nation, strong and free. Canada's commemorative monument at Vimy shows Canada's great strength and its commitment to freedom and also shows the deep solidarity that links Canada and France.

And lastly, it certainly shows the bravery, courage and sacrifice of the courageous Canadians that inspired a young nation to become a great nation.

To their eternal remembrance, to those who have recently lost their lives in Afghanistan, to Canada, and to all who would serve the cause of freedom, I rededicate this magnificently restored memorial.

Vimy Ridge:
Freedom Arras:
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Vimy Rededication:
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Front Line Torchlit Team

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