Notes from Vimy Ridge: A trip of a lifetime

Ponoka Legion members and the Pipes and Drums of Edmonton Transit took part in a remembrance trip

Members of the Ponoka Legion and the Pipes and Drums of Edmonton Transit took part in a remembrance trip to Europe that closely follows the Broncs World Tour.

The event was for many a trip of a lifetime; here are the observations from one member of the Pipes and Drums of Edmonton Transit:

The visit to Vimy was part of a 10-day War Memorial Tour, organized jointly by the Pipes and Drums of Edmonton Transit and the Ponoka Legion, through Julie’s Travel of Ponoka. The group of 42 people, primarily from Ponoka and Edmonton, arrived in Amsterdam on May 26, and made its way by motor coach through Belgium and northern France, the region known as the Ypres Salient. It was a sombre experience, as the tour visited a few of the hundreds of cemeteries and war memorials of the First World War:

• Vancouver Corner, site of the Brooding Soldier Memorial, commemorating the Canadian First Division’s participation in the Second Battle of Ypres, which included the first poison gas attacks along the Western Front; 6,035 Canadians, one third of the force, became casualties, with about 2,000 (one in nine) killed

• Essex Farm, where Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields

• Passchendaele, where six months of attacks and counterattacks between July and November, 1917, produced an estimated 700,000 casualties on both sides

• Menin Gate in Ypres, which lists the names of 54,395 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient, but whose bodies have never been identified or found

• Tyne Cot Cemetery, with 11,965 graves, plus the inscribed names of another 34,984 British and New Zealand soldiers whose remains are still missing

• Langemark War Cemetery, with the graves of 44,530 German soldiers

• Ablain St.-Nazaire Cemetery, near Vimy, the largest French military cemetery with 39,985 graves, including an Islamic section; and the nearby “Ring of Remembrance,” a huge elliptical war memorial engraved with the names of the 580,000 service men and women from around the globe who died in northern France

• The Vimy Memorial, whose walls bear the names of 11,285 Canadians who were killed in France, but whose final resting places are unknown.

The primary purpose of the War Memorial Tour was to commemorate the Centennial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

The Vimy Memorial, which was dedicated in 1936, is impressive. Two distinctive marble columns point to the sky, while the statue of “Canada Bereft” faces east across the valley beyond the ridge, gazing down in mourning over the sarcophagus at the base of the front wall.

The Dieppe museum commemorates the disastrous raid of August, 1942, in which some 5,000 Canadians, along with 1,000 British commandos and American Rangers, attempted a beach landing. Less than half of the Canadians who embarked for the operation returned to England, and many of these were wounded. There were 3,367 casualties, including 1,946 prisoners of war, with 916 Canadians killed.

Incorporating what was learned at Dieppe, the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, led to the end of the Second World War. The Juno Beach Centre pays homage to the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the Second World War,– 5,500 during the Battle of Normandy, and 359 on D-Day. Standing on the beach in front of the memorial, the band played “Amazing Grace” as its finale, before the lone piper played the lament, facing west across the Atlantic.

This truly was a tour of a lifetime.

Stuart Jackson currently resides in Edmonton, where he is a piper with the Edmonton Transit Pipes and Drums; he is also a former chaplain of the Ponoka Legion. More photos can be seen on Julie’s Travel Facebook page.

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