Dominated by the statue of Mother Canada, the National Vimy Commemorative Park honours the Canadian soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War. The Battle of Vimy Ridge remains a key page in the history of the young Canadian nation. Every year, 200,000 visitors descend into the reconstructed trenches before rising up in the shadow of the vertiginous Memorial.
Vimy, the turning point of the Battle of Arra
“More than a remembrance site, Vimy is the symbol of heroism.
It was in here, in fact, that the famous Battle of Arras began at 05:30 hours exactly on 9 April 1917, with the conquest of Hill 145. Three days later, Vimy Ridge fell into the hands of the Allies, placed under the command of General Byng. From the beginning of the conflict up to the end of 1916, the Allies had been launching attacks against this impregnable plateau, at the cost of 150,000 lives. From the high ground of Vimy, the Germans dominated not only the foothills of the Artois to the south but also the mining basin to the north.
Transforming the flanks of this natural lookout position into a redoubtable stronghold with significant reinforcements, concrete shelters, strategic trenches and particularly deadly guns. The Canadians were aware of this and it was for this reason that they devoted particular attention to analysing the terrain, reproducing the enemy lines and showering down a rain of shells in the month leading up to the offensive. On D day, the Canadians pushed through the first two lines in one hour, gained control of most of the plateau in the course of the afternoon and definitively demolished the “Vimy barrier” two days later.
The battle that founded a young nation
Because of its intensity and its repercussions for the whole Battle of Arras, the Battle of Vimy Ridge represented a unique moment for the Canadian people.
But that was not all. For the first time in its short history, all the infantry divisions of Canada fought side by side here. This is why many observers regard this glorious episode as one of the founding acts of the Canadian nation, even though it had been officially created fifty years earlier (1867).
A monumental monument
This is undoubtedly one of the finest panoramic views in the region. Standing at the north-eastern point of a “V” shaped site, the gigantic monument of Croatian stone which overlooks it was erected between 1925 and 1936, to the design of the Canadian architect Walter Seymour Allward.
Standing opposite the twin slagheaps of Loos-en-Gohelle, the memorial dominates. 27 metres tall, the two pylons represent Canada and France. They show a mother forever weeping for her soldiers fallen in battle, and two angels symbolising Justice and Peace. Today, the monument is printed on the Canadian 20-dollar note, surrounded by poppies. The very poppies that now grow in their thousands on the Artois plains in the springtime.
In the footsteps of the combatants
Canadian and German trenches facing each other, not in a straight line but in a zigzag: this is the first element of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
. All around them, the pitted landscape recalls the shower of shells that rained down on Vimy Ridge a hundred years ago. Every year, the Vimy site as a whole attracts 200,000 visitors. English, Germans, Australians and Canadians of course but also a large number of French who come to discover this site rich in history that offers so much to discover with the Memorial, the cimeteries of the Commonwealth, the entrenchments and the tunnels. The exact number of Canadian soldiers with no known grave.
For the centenary of the Battle of Vimy, a brand new Visitor and Interpretation Centre has been inaugurated. Remaining open to the surrounding countryside through its large bay windows, the centre plunges us into daily life during the Great War in the company of those who lived through it, through personal items, written accounts, military letters and sound immersions.
The Vimy Memorial in practice :
- Opening hours :
- Vimy Memorial Visitor and Interpretation Centre. Tel: +33 (0)3 21 50 68 68 – www.memorialcanadiendevimy.fr
- Open daily (except 25 December and 1st January), 1 May to 31 October from 10.00am to 6.00pm, 1 November to 30 April from 9.00am to 5.00pm. Open to all, free admission
- How to go there : http://bit.ly/2pjCg0I