Precisely 90 years ago today in a field in France, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps began their legendary assault on German forces in one of the pivotal battles of the First World War. My grandfather and several great uncles were there. They were among the lucky ones who fought that day and eventually returned home to marry and raise a family. For thousands it was their last day. Generations are fortunate when they can produce valiant young men and women who willingly answer their country’s call. But as for our leaders, we are often less blessed. For it is still the folly of those in charge, who command from the bunkers of grandiose ego and narrow thinking, that is the cause of the carnage that is also the legacy of too many generations.
My grandfather seldom talked about the “Great War” and never once sought any special praise or recognition for what he had done. It is said that the Germans holding the ridge could not believe how the Canadian troops just kept coming and coming. Little did those scruffy kids from Saint John and Timmins, Toronto and Montreal, Calgary and Moosejaw know that on that cold Easter Monday of April 9, 1917, as they climbed and took a hill among the ceaseless mud below and the thundering roars of death above, they also helped a country ascend into history as a nation in its own right. It would be one now that produced its own heroes, and fought under its own flag and set the stage with those values to produce an offspring that was to become known as the Greatest Generation. It is a sad twist of fate that as Canada begins to celebrate the triumph of its troops 90 years ago with a re-dedication of the war memorial at Vimy, there is a report that six Canadian soldiers were killed in a road side bombing in Afghanistan. It is the worst single attack on Canadians since their mission in that country began.
I remember my grandfather as a kindly and impeccably attired gentleman of great character and generosity who always brought gifts to his grandchildren and cigars to his sons for special occasions. He seemed old to me for as long as I can recall. Today, however, I think of him as a twenty-something gunner in the Canadian infantry, full of energy and determination and probably a lot of fear, doing the famous Vimy glide unrelentingly until he got to the top. For Canada. He was on that day, like all the others of the Canadian Corps he fought beside to end the madness of a senseless and avoidable war, a hero. It always takes the humble youth of lesser rank sacrificing in the trenches to end the folly that men in glittering palaces with lofty titles begin.
Well done, chaps.