Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story focuses on World War I and of course L.M. Montgomery’s wonderful book Rilla of Ingleside also shows what life was like for Anne and her family during this fraught time. What neither addresses is one event, which occurred during the war and cemented a nation’s identity. That event is the battle of Vimy Ridge. Today marks the 99th anniversary of Vimy Ridge and as such I think it’s important to take a moment and think about what it really meant for Canada as a country.
The battle of Vimy Ridge marked the first time all four Canadian divisions fought together as a single unit. The British and the French had both tried repeatedly to capture the Ridge and had failed every time. Between April 9th and 12th of 1917, nearly 3,600 Canadians were killed and another 7,000 wounded.In 1922, the French government ceded the ridge and the land surrounding it to Canada. “In those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation,” Canadian Brigadier-Gen. A. E. Ross declared after the war.
I was lucky enough to visit Vimy nine years ago for the 90th anniversary celebrations and it is an experience I will never forget. At the time, even though I was a teenager, I could somehow sense that this was something life changing. That being there then, to celebrate those who had come before me somehow connected us. In my pocket was the name of a Canadian Soldier; a young man who had no relation to me but no family left to remember him and so I was asked to carry his name. Seeing that monument for the first time, cresting the hill after the long walk and setting eyes on the large stone edifice, was breath-taking. I remember thinking that nothing they taught us in history class would ever drive the point of what was sacrificed home more than actually seeing the thousands of White graves and knowing that underneath them rested Men, my Countrymen, who had given their lives.
After the ceremony I became separated from the rest of the people I was with and I took the chance to do something I had promised myself and that young Solider, who’s name rested in my pocket and over my heart. I climbed the stairs of the towering monument and I scoured the walls, taking in the names of all the Men and as I got to the Ks I remember I felt my breathe quicken slightly in anticipation. And then I found him. Luka Kutz. He was a young Cook from Saskatchewan who signed up at the break out of the war and on the morning of April 9th 1917 stormed Vimy Ridge with his fellow countrymen. Some time in the three days of the battle he died. When I saw his name, ran my fingers over the engraved letters, I found myself crying for that young Man and saying thank you. I have never forgotten his name.
History is so important.Too often we get caught up with the here and now, the normal everyday trivialities of life seeming monumentally important. But what happens in the past is what can help define and shape us. So today, take a moment and reflect; take a moment to say thank you. I know I will.