Page 1

VIMY

Canada’s Memorial to a Generation by Jacqueline Hucker and Julian Smith


ii


VIMY

Canada’s Memorial to a Generation by Jacqueline Hucker and Julian Smith


Text Copyright © Jacqueline Hucker and Julian Smith 2012 Copyright © Sanderling Press 2012 Photo copyright remains with the individual photographer or source. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the authors and Sanderling Press.

Managing Editor: Valerie Cousins Design, photo editing and production: Alison R. Hall Special thanks to: Mary Daniel, Joan Shouldice, Miriam Carver, Karen Hall and Charles Lavoie — V. Cousins and A. Hall, publishers

ISBN 978-0-9879734-0-5

Printed in Canada by Sanderling Press 1504–75 Cleary Ave., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K2A 1R8 www.sanderlingpress.com Photo previous page: The central figure of Canada Bereft. Photo opposite: Grieving Man and Grieving Woman


v


vi


contents

Foreword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 1 Canadians Capture the Ridge. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 2 Commemorating Canada’s Military Victories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 3 Canada Returns to Vimy Ridge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 4 The Project Begins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 5 A Desperate Search for Stone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

44

6 Work Begins Anew . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54 7 The Names of the Missing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66 8 The Landscape at Vimy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76 9 The Monument in Decline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86 10 Restored to Its Original Glory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94 Afterword. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107 Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111 Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114 Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116

vii


viii


foreword

A

s the granddaughter of a decorated World War I veteran, I have been haunted by the Great War in a way that has made me want to understand what it

meant to my grandfather, my grandmother, their children and, finally, to me and future generations. My grandparents lived with us throughout my growing-up years, and I came to know well the faint shadow of World War I that hovered over our family like a lightly tinted curtain. Nothing much was said, but so much was felt.

le f t  

These figures grace the top of the pylons: Knowledge surmounted by Peace (left), Truth surmounted by Justice shrouded (right).

ix


As a result, I have found myself reading extensively about the Great War, and especially Canada’s role in it. I have come to believe that it was a dreadful and unnecessary war, but this has only increased my sadness and compassion for that whole generation. I always knew I wanted to visit Vimy, to make the pilgrimage that so many others have made, to remember and to better understand. In 2009, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit the Arras region of France and trace the battlefields of World War I. Because I knew my grandfather had fought at Vimy, we were naturally drawn to it as our principal destination. I was prepared to be awestruck by the monument, having read The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart and watched the media coverage of the monument’s rededication ceremony in 2007. What I was not prepared for were the overwhelming emotions that came to me as I stood on the base of the monument next to the exquisite figure of Canada Bereft. I looked out over the battlefield to the far-off coal slags—on land so fiercely fought for in 1917—and I understood the true meaning of the words “consecrated ground”: land made holy by the sacrifice of so many young lives. In the interpretive centre at the Vimy site, I was surprised to find that there were no publications to buy that captured the monument and battlefield as I had experienced them. I wanted to take away a memento that captured the beauty, the scale and the emotion that I had felt on our visit. I also wanted something that helped me understand the meaning of the monument and how it came to be. On returning to Canada, I contacted Julian Smith, a leading Canadian conservation architect. I knew Julian’s work because he had created a long-term plan for the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, a much-cherished Canadian national historic site and a landscape that is very dear to my heart. I was delighted to discover that he had co-led the restoration of the Vimy Monument, because I believe that Julian is a unique man among professionals. A renowned conservation architect, he not only brings a breadth and depth of specialized knowledge and expertise to his work, but he also has the courage to lead governments and other interested parties to understand why conservation is important. In the

x


case of the restoration of the Vimy Monument, I believe that no other person could have completed the task in such a way as to so deeply respect creator Walter Allward’s vision. Julian agreed there was a need for a book that not only would tell the story of the Vimy Monument but would also capture the “bittersweet” tenor of the site. He said that the best person to write this book would be Jacqueline Hucker, the historian who served on the restoration team. Jacqueline has worked for many years in the field of the history of Canadian architecture and landscape. After one meeting with Jacqueline, I knew she would be the only one who could write the story of the Vimy Monument and convey its significance and complexity on many different but important levels. Jacqueline agreed to write this book with key contributions from Julian Smith. Jacqueline and Julian are a wonderful team and we are lucky as Canadians to have the fruits of their collaboration in this book. Equally important is the design and layout created by Alison Hall. She has perceptively captured the calm beauty that pervades the monument and its landscape, understanding and extending Allward’s vision to the printed page. It is my view that this is an essential book because it awakens once more our collective memory as to the implications of war and our efforts to remember and honour those directly involved. Vimy: Canada’s Memorial to a Generation will be a great contribution to visitors at the Vimy Monument site, enhancing their understanding and experience there. But it will also be a great addition to the library of those who are interested in history, cultural history, art history and memorial art. Finally, I believe this book will go a long way to help young people understand their history, in particular the Great War and its impact on Canada, still felt in many ways today. I invite you to read and enjoy this book as we all remember once again those who came before us at a pivotal moment in Canada’s history. Valerie Cousins Managing Editor Ottawa, April 2012

xi


xii


preface

O

n a late spring day in 2006, Vimy Ridge shimmered in the heat. Restoration work on the Vimy Monument was well under way. Hidden by

scaffolding and protective sheathing, the monument had all but disappeared as had the

large numbers of tourists that normally thronged the site. So, a lucky few of us involved with the restoration were able to enjoy the relative solitude of the landscape. Sheep grazed quietly among wildflowers and dancing butterflies.

1


Beautiful detail of Charity on the north pylon.

A family of quails sought relief from the sun in the shadow cast by a conveniently placed historic plaque. In late afternoon, as the sun began to lose its heat, hares could be seen streaking across the ridge, their muscular bodies appearing and disappearing along its undulating surface. Then, in the early evening small hawks swept down in search of prey and we hoped that the quail family was safely hidden in the undergrowth. It was a memorable day. Nothing, it seemed, could disturb the spell cast by that pastoral world. Part of the pleasure of being at Vimy that summer was the knowledge that the site in northern France occupied a special place in Canada’s national story. The capture of Vimy Ridge on April 9–12,

2


1917 was one of the most important Canadian military engagements of the First World War. On this very battlefield, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together for the first time. Four Canadians won the Victoria Cross at Vimy Ridge and the force of 100,000 soldiers went on to earn renown for its innovative methods and courage. During that bucolic summer of 2006, it was easy to forget for a while the sombre reality of the battle at Vimy. By the end of the fourday engagement, Canada’s force had suffered 10,602 casualties. As the military historian Tim Cook emphasized in his book Shock Troops, 3,598 Canadians were killed and more than 7,000 were wounded, making it the most intense and costliest victory in Canadian military history. In fact, Cook observes that “April 9, 1917 was the single bloodiest day of the entire war for the Canadian Corps: worse than Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916, worse than Dieppe on August 19, 1942, worse than D-Day on June 6, 1944; in fact, worse than all three combined.”1 In total, more than 65,000 Canadians lost their lives during what came to be known as the Great War. It is this terrible aspect of war that is the primary meaning of the Vimy Monument. Unlike earlier monuments, it does not commemorate victory but marks the heroism of the ordinary soldier. It symbolizes loss and grief, leavened perhaps with aspirations for a new and more virtuous world.

I

n such a peaceful setting, the sheer numbers of First World War dead seemed unimaginable to those of us working on the restoration. Yet, as we began the conservation project, the discovery of the bodies of two German soldiers, which had lain just beneath this pastoral landscape, undisturbed and undetected for 90 years, brought the reality of this war home to us in a very real way. With this discovery, we wondered how many other bodies still lay in the former battlefield. Hundreds of thousands of young men had died in the Artois region between 1914 and 1918 and evidence of this slaughter is all around. Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, which is visible from the Vimy Monument, is the national burial site of 45,000 French soldiers. A German cemetery located a few kilometres to the south, near the village of Neuville-Saint-Vaast, is the resting place of 45,833 victims.

3

“… I have come to see that the arranging of artists in a hierarchy of merit is an idle and essentially dilettante process. What matters are the needs which art answers.” John Berger 2 Author Ways of Seeing


4


In Arras, the Faubourg-d’Amiens cemetery, containing the graves of 2,651 Commonwealth soldiers, although the largest, is just one of many Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries across the region. And then there are those, like the two German soldiers, whose bodies were lost in the churned up mud of the Western front or so badly dismembered that they could not be identified. Approximately 500,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers fall into this category. Given this reality, it was not difficult to understand why, in the aftermath of the First World War, Canada sought to create an entirely new kind of memorial, one that spoke directly to the implications of the war. The decision to install a monument on the actual battle site was also a departure, serving to underscore the close relationship between a site on which the blood of so many Canadians had been spilled and the structure that preserves their names. Isolated on the ridge, the Vimy Monument rises from the ground and engages with both the landscape and the sky. Here its sculptural figures passionately perform their roles. As in a Greek tragedy, they speak to the nature of war and the ongoing human struggle to contain the forces of disorder—forces that are part of our very humanity. Now that the monument has been restored, we can once again climb up to its platform and partake of its drama. In contrast to the many books that have been written on Canada’s military accomplishment in capturing Vimy Ridge, very few have been devoted to the Vimy Monument alone. Considering that the structure stands as one of the most beautiful and powerful responses to the legacy of the First World War, this is surprising. Fortunately, those involved in the acquisition of the site and the building of the monument kept detailed records. These help to bring home the twin faces of war—military battle and military burial. They also reveal the intense efforts that were undertaken by Canada’s military and civilian leaders, including Prime Minister Mackenzie King, to ensure that the country could create an appropriate and lasting national war memorial. It is a fascinating story which, like the war itself, should not be forgotten.

5

above   Bodies of the fallen lay in the mud after paying the ultimate price.

Library and Archives Canada le f t  

The Defenders and Breaking of the Sword. Above, on the north pylon, are the figures Charity, Honour and Peace.


I

solated on the ridge, the Vimy Monument rises from the ground and engages with both the landscape and the sky. Here its sculptural figures passionately perform their roles. As in a Greek tragedy, they speak to the nature of war and the ongoing human struggle to contain

the forces of disorder—forces that are part of our very humanity. Now that the monument has been restored, we can once again climb up to its platform and partake of its drama … From Vimy: Canada’s Memorial to a Generation by Jacqueline Hucker and Julian Smith

ISBN 978-0-9879734-0-5

Printed in Canada. $25.00 CAD sanderlingpress.com

9 780987 973405


Sanderling PRESS

Thank you for taking a look inside the book.

Sanderling

The book is available at several bookstores across Canada, PRESS including the Boutique at the Canadian War Museum and through Sanderling Press online.

Buy Now from Sanderling Press Secure online purchase through PayPal. All major credit cards accepted.

VIMY Canada's Memorial to a Generation  

The fascinating story of the conception, design, construction and recent restoration of the hauntingly beautiful World War I memorial at Vim...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you