Today the students visited Vimy Ridge and spent time at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial
The capture of Vimy Ridge in 1917 was more than just an important battlefield victory. For the first time all four Canadian divisions attacked together: men from all regions of Canada were present at the battle. Brigadier-General A.E. Ross declared after the war, "in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation."
Vimy became a symbol for the sacrifice of the young Dominion. In 1922, the French government ceded to Canada in perpetuity Vimy Ridge, and the land surrounding it. The gleaming white marble and haunting sculptures of the Vimy Memorial stand as a terrible and poignant reminder of the 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France who have no known graves.
Carved on the walls of the monument are the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and whose graves were unknown. Designed by Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Seymour Allward, the monument took eleven years to build and was unveiled in 1936. It rests on a bed of 11,000 tonnes of concrete, reinforced with hundreds of tonnes of steel. The towering pylons and sculptured figures contain almost 6,000 tonnes of limestone brought to the site from an abandoned Roman quarry on the Adriatic Sea in present day Croatia.
When Hitler's armies were advancing across France in 1940, the Canadian government put out a story that German troops were damaging the memorial at Vimy Ridge.
Walter Allward's soaring monument had been unveiled only a short time before, in 1936, the only official ceremony in the short reign of Edward VIII. A popular postage stamp was widely in circulation, so Canadians were thoroughly familiar with Vimy Ridge, and they were outraged. There was someone else who was outraged by this story; Adolf Hitler.
The monument at Vimy Ridge was Hitler's favourite memorial from World War I, because it is a monument to peace, not a celebration of war. There are no carved guns at Vimy Ridge, no helmeted soldiers, no stacks of cannonballs. Instead, the figures are of Canada grieving for her lost sons.
Hitler went to Vimy Ridge on June 2, 1940, called in the world's press as best he could and insisted they take his picture on the unscathed steps. He then assigned special troops from the Waffen-SS to guard Vimy Ridge. Hitler's plan was a great success. All the Australian war graves in France from World War I were destroyed in World War II. But the cemetery beside Vimy Ridge and the memorial itself remained untouched because the Waffen-SS did its job.