April 2017: A Centennial Great War Pilgrimage, Part V by Roy Toomey

In this blog post I’ll be talking about the centennial observances held at Vimy Ridge on April 9th.

Day 6 was Vimy Ridge Day, the main purpose of the trip. The temperature for the whole trip averaged around 15 degrees, perfect for hiking, but on this day the temperature spiked to 25! Having left St. Albert, where there was still snow on the ground, it was far too hot. Despite using sunscreen, I got badly sunburned (so did everyone else). The crowd at the Vimy Ridge Memorial was also large for such a small area. Seating was only provided for dignitaries, so most people had to sit on the ground. We were glad to have bought camp chairs at the SupraBazaar (“Belgian K-Mart”).

Sea of Canadians waiting to board shuttle buses after the 100th anniversary ceremony. The event was an exercise in patience. Like many military operations, “hurry up and wait” was the order of the day.

You could not drive to the site. Shuttle buses picked everyone up and brought them to the memorial. We found a patch of ground behind a speaker tower, yet our view was okay. After another hour and a half, the ceremony finally began.

While much of the ceremony at Vimy Ridge was too modern and not “military enough” for my liking, the fly-by from World War I era fighter planes was spot-on!

Prince Charles and his sons were on hand, and his speech was touching. Prime Minister Trudeau also gave a speech, as did President Hollande of France. There were a number of song and dance routines, but as one of Dan’s friends posted: “The interpretive dance distracts from the sanctity of the event.” I could not have said it better.

As it was a military memorial and since we were honouring men who died 100 years ago, I thought some wartime music would have been appropriate.  Perhaps a men’s choir, in World War I uniforms, singing “Long Way to Tipperary” or “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag”?

His Royal Highness, Charles, Prince of Wales delivers a speech from the front of the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

When the ceremony ended it took a long time to load onto buses and return to the parking lot where our car was. Most restaurants had closed by the the time we returned to Arras but we found an Americana-inspired place called “Mythic Burger.” I had the “John Wayne,” and Dan and Eben had the “JFK.” Two thumbs way up! All in all, Vimy Day was a long day but we were there to pay our respects and that is what we were able to do.