ANAVETS Shoulder to Shoulder

July 2017

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W hen people ask me how I enjoyed being at the ceremony at Vimy on the 9th of April, I reply that it was just one of numerous events which I attended, between 5 and 12 April, as a member of the Veterans Affairs (VAC) Official Party. Bob Martin from ANAVETS Woodstock Unit #95 and his son Donald were also part of that party. We were treated as VIPs throughout and the VAC staff and DND medical teams were constantly attentive to our every need. There were 152 delegates, including 26 youth, two from each province and territory. The majority of the group were representatives from each of the battalions that fought at Vimy in 1917. Then there were Veterans and Indigenous organisations representatives such as Bob Martin and me. I was selected to represent our Dominion President, the Reverend Canon Tom McKnight. These are some of the highlights, listed by event not chronologically. Our six days in France were packed with interesting, somber and evocative experiences. We visited the Canadian National Vimy Memorial five times. First to walk through the trenches and tunnels then to take part a spiritually uplifting Indigenous sunrise ceremony at 06:30 on another day. The Sunset Ceremony at the monument was performed by about one hundred soldiers representing the battalions that fought at Vimy as well as a troop of guns accompanied by a brass band and the pipes and drums. It was conducted with the expected military precision and terminated exactly as the sun finally slid behind the trees beyond the gun position. We were back for the 100th anniversary ceremony which many of you saw on TV. There have been some complaints about the difficulties most people had getting through security etc. That did not apply to us. The four buses in our party were escorted by an eight motorcycle contingent from the French Gendarmerie and we just flew our way in and back out. Our final visit allowed us to walk all over the monument to view the statuary and read some of the 11,285 names of Canadian soldiers who died in France but have no known graves, and also we posed for a smiling group photograph of the delegates with Minister Kent Hehr. Besides being overwhelmed by the magnificence of the monument I sensed what those soldiers of the Canadian Corps felt as I looked far into the distance over the Douai Plain. Something that the French then the British tried to do starting on 1914 and finally the Canadians accomplished in 1917. During the week, we visited three Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Cemeteries. First we travelled to Cabaret Rouge British Military Cemetery where the remains of our Unknown Soldier were first interred. Eight hundred Canadians are buried there, half of whom are unknown. Then to the beautiful Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium with it 11,954 graves and on its surrounding walls are the names of 34,000 British and New Zealand soldiers with no known graves. It is unique in that there are three German pillboxes with in its walls. On top of one the Cross of Sacrifice is built with just a bit of the pillbox showing. At both Cabaret Rouge and at our last CWGC cemetery, Canadian Cemetery No 2 our youth delegates conducted the entire service of remembrance. In each case two of the soldiers buried there were honoured as their history, cause and date of death was explained. It was at the later cemetery that I found the grave of a 16 year old private soldier from the 38th Battalion as well as seven young lieutenants from the 75th Bn, all buried side by side and all killed on the first day of the battle - 9 April 1917. At Neuville-Saint-Vast German Cemetery, the Vimy Memorial can just be seen about 7 kms away to the east. It is a somber site where the dead are commemorated on black crosses with four names for each cross. 44,833 are buried here in the largest German cemetery in France which seems to stretch forever. It reminded me of a barren vineyard that bore no fruit. Our last was the French cemetery of Notre Dame de Lorette with the remains more than 40,000 soldiers. Adjacent to the cemetery is the Ring of Remembrance which has some 579,606 names from forty nationalities, including Germany and her allies who died in Northern France in WWI. The oval shaped monument consists of 500 metal panels, each of which contains about 1200 names listed alphabetically by last name, not nationality. On 7 April, we attended the opening of the Canadian War Museum's evocative exhibit of War Art by Canadian artists at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Arras. In the evening, this was followed by Military Band Concert in the city square called the Place des THE 100 TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATTLE OF VIMY RIDGE By Gerry Wharton, Honorary Dominion President 8 SHOULDER TO SHOULDER

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