[Home page] [Who is Past Forward ] [Contact Us] [Publications]

Past Forward is now on Facebook "LIKE" us to keep in touch


April 20, 2007

Vimy Revisited


A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the April 9th rededication of the memorial of Canada’s victory at Vimy Ridge.  It was a remarkably successful event with lots of newspaper and television coverage and a CBC re-enactment using the descendents of soldiers who actually fought in WWI.  The outstanding planning and execution and the courage of the men in 1917 was indicated with some exaggeration on the caps of the visiting school children that said “The Birth of a Nation.” 

The 20 million dollar restoration of the monument has saved a beautiful piece of art and architecture.  The idea of having one student for each of the 3600 soldiers killed was in inspired idea. 

A lot of people extended their thinking beyond the pageantry as well one should.  Some were critical of P.M. Harper keeping other parties from attending at first and using the event for support for peace keeping that was causing more deaths.  The 6 casualties in Afghanistan at the same time as the event, as painful as they were, did not compare with the 111 million who died in wars in the 20th century and the 1.3 million on both sides in WWI. 

Rich Salutin in an article in the Globe and Mail raised the question Vimy: Was it worth it.  He quoted Pierre Berton who wrote a book on Vimy and ended by saying “No!”. 

Canadian and German Soldier sharing a light in no-man’s land 1917  (NACPA 3683)

Other authors have written that inept leadership caused many of our wars and that may soldiers had no personal grievance with the average soldier on the other side.  Many fought because if they ran they would be shot or put on trial and executed.  The term “Canon fodder” is not far from the truth. 

Joseph Boyden who wrote my favorite book of 2006 Three Day Road which tells the story of two Cree soldiers in WWI has an excellent piece in the April 16th edition of Macleans showing the horror of war. 

One remarkable example of the lack of animosity for the other side in some battles is recorded in the story I wrote about at Christmas 2001 where I reviewed a book called Silent Night by Stanley Weintraub where he told the story of how allied and German troops put down their guns at Christmas 1914 and came out of their trenches and exchanged souvenirs and food and played soccer for 48 hours until they were ordered back to the slaughter of 6,000 casualties a day.  One angry little corporal who did not participate was called Adolf Hitler. 

Weintraub quotes a soldier’s poem that caught the gist of the argument. 

The ones who call the shots won’t

Be among the dead and lame

On each end of the rifle we

Are the same 

The photograph shows a wounded Canadian and a wounded German sharing a light in no-man’s land in November 1917. 

I am reminded of a favorite poem by British poet Thomas Hardy from 1915 which touches on the same subject. 

The Man He Killed 

“Had he and I but met

By some old ancient inn,

We should have sat us down to wet


Right many a nipperkin! 

“But ranged as infantry,

And staring face to face,

I shot at him as he at me,

And killed him in his place.


“I shot him dead because –

Because he was my foe,

Just so: my foe of course he was;

That’s clear enough; although


“He thought he’d enlist, perhaps,

Off-hand like – just as I –

Was out of work – had sold his traps –

No other reason why.


“Yes; quaint and curious war is!

You shoot a fellow down

You’d treat, if met where any bar is,

Or help to half-a-crown.” 

In the modern world of the new millennium with current technology and thinking it is scary to think about the atrocities, the genocides, the hatred in a highly religious world that have happened or may happen.  The positive Vimy event gave a flicker of hope that our future may be better. 

Heritage Perspective Home Page

Past Forward Heritage Limited: 

330 Sumach St. #41, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3K7   Tel. (416)-925-8412


Copyright © Past Forward Heritage Limited