29 June 2020

The Vimy Memorial

On this day in 1922, at Canada's request, France formally transferred ownership of 100 hectares at Vimy Ridge to the government of Canada. This land is not strictly speaking part of Canada, but France granted freely, and for all time, the use of the land exempt from all taxes. Unlike an embassy, it is subject to the laws of France.

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial was officially unveiled on July 26, 1936 by King Edward VIII, in the presence of French President Albert Lebrun and almost 100,000 Canadian and French veterans and their families.

When the King arrived on the site, accompanied by Canadian Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe, the crowd started signing 'God Save The King' and 'O Canada'. The King moved freely amongst the crowds shaking hands. After inspecting the Guard of Honour from HMCS Saguenay, he ascended the monument where a number of Canadian dignitaries were present including Robert Borden, Canada's wartime Prime Minister: George Perley, wartime Minister for the Overseas Military Forces, Canada (later Canadian High Commissioner to Britain): Vincent Massey, Canadian High Commissioner to the UK: Brig. Gen. Raymond Brutinel, wartime CIC Canadian Machine Gun Corps and Gen. John J. Pershing, wartime CIC of the United States Army.

After the King shook hands with the dignitaries, the crowd sang 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow' and he once again mingled with the crowds. After a flypast by French, Belgian and British warplanes, he ascended the dais for the Service of Dedication led by Monsignor E.A. Deschamps of Montreal, wartime padre and official chaplain to the Canadian pilgrimage.

Deschamps offered ' the homage of unfailing gratitude' and spoke of the need for the 1914-18 conflict to serve as a necessary example to the pathway for permanent peace; "Let the peoples learn to love one another until the word 'enemies' has passed from the lexicon of mankind." Vimy veteran Canon F.G. Scott followed, offering a prayer from the dais when the ashes from Armistice Day Remembrance fields were scattered at the base of the monument. The religious ceremony was concluded by the playing of the traditional Scottish regiments lament 'Flowers Of The Forest', by the pipers of the Nova Scotia Highlanders.

Then it was the turn of the King to speak: The Canadian Broadcasting Commission sent it to thousands of homes in Canada via short wave, and the Mutual and National Broadcasting systems of America carried the program in the United States:

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial

With the words "It is a memorial to no man but a memorial for a nation" the King unveiled the Spirit of Canada. He spoke softly, reminding his subjects that Vimy was "...not alien soil..." - it would be forever Canada, affirming "Though their mortal remains lie far from home, they lie on Canadian soil - battlefields abound on which is indelibly written their story. Vimy is one such name. The splendour of their hope fills us with thankfulness for their example. Now peace and the rebuilding of hope is our task."

As His Majesty finished speaking, the Last Post rang out signalling two minutes silence - eyes were moist as memories of sacrifice filled the assembled crowd; Reveille heralded another day and a prayer for peace. Voicing the gratitude of France for Canada's sacrifice President Le Brun said the monument would serve as a permanent reminder "That here several thousand men, come from a faraway land, spilled blood to defend their hearth."

Mackenzie King's was unable to be present. His address was read by the Hon. C.G. Power, Canadian Minister of Pensions and National Health:- "Canada asks that the nations of Europe strive to obliterate whatever makes for war and for death. She appeals to them to unite in an effort to bring into being a world at peace. This is the trust which we, the living, received from those who suffered and died. It is the trust we hold in common."

As Canada’s Minister of Justice, Ernest Lapointe, added: "The grandest tribute we could offer to Canadian soldiers is to affirm that their sacrifices have contributed to the introduction into our civilization of its highest modern conception — that of universal Peace founded on recognition of the basic right of people to life and justice."

Walter Allward, the sculptor, and his wife were in attendance, and he said,: "....this altar in stone, gives something beautiful to France, is worthy of the men who gave their lives for it and, as a protest against the futility of war, makes men regret that humanity has to go to war instead of being proud of it."


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