Thursday, April 9, 2015

98 Years Ago

Ghosts of Vimy Ridge - painting by Will Longstaff
Ninety-eight years ago today, 30,000 Canadian infantry shivered in the biting sleet of early dawn at Vimy Ridge in northern France. With another 70,000 troops in support roles behind them - the gunners, engineers, medics, cooks, and others - it meant that the entire Canadian Corps was there, together for the first time. And together they did what the British and French had failed to do during the previous two years, and never expected the Canadians to accomplish - they took that tactically important and heavily fortified Ridge from the Germans. They also helped to forge a nation. That scene is described in my novel, Elusive Dawn. [Read an excerpt at  The Age of Elegance Goes to War blog.]

In the months leading up to the battle, the Canadians had already had 9000 casualties. After the battle there were 10,000 more - a third of whom would never return home.

Author at Vimy Ridge Memorial - copyright Melanie Wills
This photo shows me at the impressive Canadian memorial on Vimy Ridge, dedicated to the 61,000 Canadians who died during the First World War. It was an appropriately bleak day in 2008 that I looked out over the Douai Plain, as had the victors that long-ago day, marveling at the feat they had accomplished, saddened by the many dead on both sides. It is almost beyond belief to see the stream of names carved into the memorial walls - over 11,000 who died in France with no known grave. Most of them so young.

Undetonated explosives 
 More than a million shells had pummelled this battlefield. Many still lie, unexploded, in the now-calm and green young woods that are reclaiming the pockmarked earth. But the thought sends a shiver through you, making you feel that the war didn’t happen almost a century ago. 

Tunnel at Vimy Ridge

Walking through the long, dank tunnels where troops had gathered before the battle, you can easily imagine what it must have been like for so many men, laden with their gear, anxious or fatalistic, crowded together as they awaited the dawn and an unknown future.

[This post was previously published on my Obsessed Writer blog.]

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