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

Check out the travels of one of our education programmers, who is a military history enthusiast. He visited some World War sites in Europe. This blog is his personal account of what it meant to him.

When I traveled to Belgium and France in 2013, I wrote a series of entries about my trip. (See my 2013 blog posts starting with: http://museeheritage.ca/pilgrimage-of-remembrance-2013-part-i-by-roy-toomey/.) I thought I’d do the same for my 2017 pilgrimage. This 2017 trip was no less emotional.

My friend Dan (who I also traveled with in 2013) and I had been planning this 2017 trip for about two years, and Veterans Affairs was surely sick of hearing from us! We HAD to be in France for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. For any Canadian military historian or war buff, the Battle of Vimy Ridge holds special significance. It was the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together as a unified force, and at Vimy, and for the rest of the war, the Canadians achieved great success and forged a reputation as an elite fighting force within the British Empire. Vimy Ridge is often considered the “birth of Canada.” It is more appropriately Canada’s coming of age, as she stepped out of the shadow of Britain, the “mother country,” and emerged as an independent force, though still loyal to the Empire. The Canadians were regarded so highly that during the final Allied push to Mons, the Canadian Corps was the vanguard for the whole Commonwealth. Not bad for a colony with a total population of only about 8 million at the time! But Canada paid a high price. Approximately 630,000 Canadians served in the war, and about 61,000 (almost 10%) fell in battle.

Grave of Corporal E. Arundell, Canadian Grenadier Guards, at Menin Rd. South Cemetery, Belgium. Epitaph: “To live in our memory is not to die.”

Check out the next blog post to read about our continuing adventures in Belgium and France! To see all my photos from our trip, please visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/roytombstone/albums.