On our way out of France, we spent a night in Arras, which had a very Gothic, and charming city centre, so we could visit the Vimy Ridge National Historic Site of Canada. There were a few reasons for this: I am Canadian; it is widely considered one of the most important and moving World War One Memorials; and because I have two family members who are enshrined on the monument itself.
As with most WWI sites, since much of the war was fought in the French countryside, it was a pleasant 20-minute taxi ride through vibrant, yellow mustard fields and small picturesque villages from Arras to Vimy. This time however, unlike Verdun, our cabbie was not much for conversation. Like Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Park we visited the day before, Vimy is a Government of Canada operated memorial, which offers free guided tours of preserved portions of the trenches and tunnels used during the battle of Vimy Ridge.
We arrived just before 1130AM, which gave us a few minutes to browse the small, but interesting museum before our guided tour started. The tour began by taking us underground though the subway, an expansive tunnel network that connected the rear support trenches to the frontlines, which were the same tunnels that every Canadian soldier who fought at Vimy Ridge would have passed through, to the preserved trenches at the front. The Canadian and German trenches were separated by less than 25-metres at some points, and offered a very different perspective of war when you are entrenched no more than a grenade-throw away from your enemy. The guided tour was rather informative and gave an interesting insight into the Canadian preparations for the battle and the successful assault on Vimy Ridge itself.
After our tour, we wandered through the zigzagging trenches and through the grassy, reforested terrain, pock-marked with artillery shell holes and mine craters, to Hill 145, the highest point of the 14-kilometre long Vimy Ridge, where the Canadian Corps captured Vimy Ridge and where the grand monument to the battle now stands.
The monument itself was imposing and beautiful. It contains the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France, among which were two family members of mine, William John Galbraith and David Wilbert Cosgrove, who both fought at Vimy Ridge, but died only months later on other fronts in France.
Visiting Vimy Ridge was a very moving and powerful experience. Being on the very spot where countless Canadians and direct family had sacrificed so much, and where so many are memorialised for their ultimate sacrifice, is indescribable. It is rather difficult to put into words all the emotions and thoughts that one experiences at that site, and it is something that everyone should experience for themselves – it will leave you changed.