Return to Vimy!

Nate Copeland, a grade 10 high school student from Cobourg, Ontario boarded a plane for France to participate in ceremonies celebrating the re-dedication of Canada’s most celebrated European war monument, the Vimy Memorial. The occasion also marked the 90th anniversary of the infamous World War I Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Nate travelled as a tour host for Toronto-based Merit Travel. His mom, Lori Copeland helped organized the tour for Merit who provides the travel programs for CARP (Canada’s Association for the 50 Plus.) As tour host, Nate documented highlights of the trip on his blog. All 112 passengers on this tour of the historical battlefields of France and Belgium were members of CARP.

They joined more than 7,000 Canadians from across the country who made the trip to Vimy Ridge for the April 9 re-dedication of the memorial. First dedicated 71 years ago, the monument was in need of refurbishing. In 2001, Ottawa announced it would be part of a $30-million program to restore Canada’s WWI memorials in Europe.

Leading the CARP tour to Vimy was author and CBC radio host Ted Barris. Return to Vimy was Ted’s 4th consecutive war history tour with Merit Travel. He has hosted groups for the 60th anniversary of D-Day at JUNO Beach and to Holland to mark the Netherlands Liberation. And last year Ted led a tour to London to retrace the Churchill campaign.

The itinerary for the Return to Vimy Tour included guided visits to the Somme, Beaumont-Hamel, as well as Belgian war sites at Passchendaele, the shooting post at Poperinge and Ypres where every night the downtown pauses to pay tribute to Allied soldiers who died in the fields of Flanders. The final stop was JUNO Beach, where Canadian D-Day troops launched the liberation of Europe in WW II.

Tour host Nate Copeland has a passion for history and a keen interest in the battles of WWI and WWII. He was one of thousands of exuberant Canadian teens who made the trip for the dedication of the Vimy Memorial – festivities which triggered pride in the courage of the country’s soldiers.

“You could go through the trenches, walk around on the monument and even tour through the under ground tunnels,” Nate wrote in his blog. “We went through one that was approximately 8 meters deep. It was really cool because there were engravings of soldier’s initials in the walls. The guide told us of a tunnel that was buried 90 feet below the surface. These tunnels were used to transport 800 tones of supplies daily.”

Go to Nate’s blog here.

Dedication of the Vimy Memorial
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Stephen Harper led 90th anniversary commemorations for this World War I battle that for many defined Canada’s emergence from a colony of the British Empire to a strong, independent nation.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was among the dignitaries to lay wreaths at the towering monument on Vimy Ridge, north of Arras. Canadian troops captured the Ridge in 1917, a strategic victory that had eluded their British and French allies for two years. More than 3,500 Canadians died in the effort and 7,000 were injured.

“The Canadian Corps transformed Vimy Ridge from a symbol of despair into a source of inspiration,” the Queen said in her speech. “Their victory did not only give others courage, it allowed Canada, who deserved it so much, to take its rightful place on the international scene as a proud, sovereign nation, strong and free.”

In a speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that battle of Vimy Ridge represented a coming of age for Canada. “At the Battle of Vimy Ridge, troops representing all four divisions of the Canadian Army fought together for the first time, achieving a spectacular victory that affirmed our national identity and national character,” he said.

Designed by Canadian architect Walter Seymour Allward, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial is made of white Seget limestone with twin enormous pylons rising from the monument’s base which have been inscribed with the names of Canadian soldiers listed missing and presumed dead in France. The base, which represents the solidarity of France and Canada, is adorned with statues symbolizing peace, sacrifice and mourning.

More than 600,000 Canadians fought in World War I (1914-1918) and about 66,000 people died. Only two Canadian veterans of the conflict are still alive.

Battle of Vimy Ridge: an overview

  • Vimy Ridge consists of an elevated 7-km area in the north of France that gave the German forces a strategic advantage during WWI. French and British forces tried for years to take the Ridge, and the French lost 150,000 men in this attempt during 1915 alone though it was only defended by a few thousand Germans.
  • In April, 1917, four Canadian Corps were given orders to take on the offensive. The Canadian forces executed a brilliant massive week-long wall of artillery fire, at that time the largest in history with more than one million artillery shells. The bombardment took a toll on the German forces. Called “The Week of Suffering,” the attack was so loud it could be heard in England.
  • On April 9, Easter Monday 1917, Canada stormed the front with more than 15,000 men. Eventually, the Ridge’s most strategic spot, Hill 145, was seized by the Canadians in a frontal bayonet charge. After four days of fighting, Canadian troops had secured the first Allied victory in more than a year and a half.
  • The Vimy Monument now stands on Hill 145. The Ridge, as well as the surrounding area, was ceded to Canada in perpetuity in1936 and is tended to by Veterans Affairs Canada. It is one of the only preserved First World War battlefields in Europe.

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    Photo: © CARPTravel