The battle for Vimy Ridge is of central importance to Unravelled and to my upcoming novel, Lies Told in Silence. It’s a battle that defined Canada’s participation in WWI earning Canadian soldiers the reputation of being fierce and relentless. Almost everyone who has visited the memorial feels the deep emotion of loss and sacrifice. My grandfather fought at Vimy Ridge and the more I researched that battle, the more it affected me.
Unravelled opens when Edward Jamieson receives an invitation to the Vimy Memorial dedication ceremony. Imagine how that might feel. You were a soldier of what was referred to as The Great War, a war you had done your best to forget, a war you had rarely spoken of, a war of such horror and loss that nightmares claimed your sleep even eighteen years later. You remember it as a war that took the lives of friends and brothers, of comrades and commanders, of nurses and stretcher bearers and others behind the lines, of innocent villagers, of horses who laboured to pull the great guns forward and to bring wagonloads of supplies.
Paul Reginald Wilson attended the dedication ceremony to honour his father who died at Vimy. One item in Paul’s mementos of that event is a description of the monument and that day of remembering those who had fallen and those who had served. For the opening chapter of Unravelled, I extracted a few phrases from that description and used them as part of the invitation Edward receives from the Canadian government (a bit of fiction on my part).
Here’s some of that document:
“For all generations to come, this great monument will speak of the 60,000 Canadian dead who lie beneath French soil; of the 400,000 men who left cities, farms and fishing boats to give all they possessed, life itself, in aid of what they believed to be right; of the thousands who returned maimed, broken and blind.
They will proclaim to the world of the future, that Canada and her sons did their part gloriously when the need arose.
On July 26th, 1936, nearly eight thousand Canadian men and women stood in company with their King, the King of the Belgians and the President of France, and listened to the dedication of Canada’s Vimy Memorial. Most of these men were retracing their steps. Many of them were among those who, attacked and captured this very spot, April 9th, 1917, when 75,000 Canadians on the lower slope of that ridge opposed 140,000 of the enemy. When the series of battles ended on June 6th, the famous ridge that had withstood attempts of both French and English, was in the hands of the Canadians, and before them stretched the broad plains of Douai, but at a fearful cost. Canada had lost 912 officers and 20,461 other ranks, and so does Canada pay tribute to her hero dead with this handsome memorial.”
Brings tears to your eyes, doesn’t it?
Paul Wilson’s scrapbook mementos can be seen here. A description of the efforts to organize and manage those who participated in the Vimy Pilgrimage is located on a site dedicated to Canadian military history.
The photo included above is from the Canadian government site for Veterans Affairs. As you can see, the crowd was enormous.