Visiting Vimy memorial breath-taking experience

Article content

Just back from a much needed vacation in Europe. But it turned out to be much more than we expected and will take more than one article to relate.

Dave Stelpstra’s hard work and keen eye for research paid off. First up was Arnhem Bridge, the famous “Bridge too far” in Cornelius Ryan’s epic work and the site of a subsequent movie  starring damn near everybody.

It’s called John Frost Bridge now and for good reason. Frost (Anthony Hopkins played him) was a colonel in the 6th British Airborne division and, despite a mass disaster of a landing, managed to take the far end of the structure,  which he was told he needed to hold for 48 hours. Four days later, cut off and mangled, the paras surrendered.

Frost’s hunting horn, used to rally his troops, is in the Hartenstein Hotel’s museum. I bought an umbrella and posed on the bridge, like Maj. D. Tartham-Walter, who always carried one because he could never remember passwords and knew no Jerry would be caught dead with a brolly.


Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

If you watch the last few minutes of the flick, you will see the Hartenstein. The trail used by the Germans in the last shot is still there. The museum is a testament to the paras. The basement holds stunning dioramas of what the last days of the battle must have been like.

Coming out of the place I missed the last step and ended up on my ass in the corner. Scott Foster was appointed to be my designated adult from then on and an excellent roommate, as well as driver.

Ypres was next and the Cloth Hall. Most people who study the Great War have seen photos of the ravaged 12th century structure and they, of course, don’t do it justice. Originally it housed the cloth guild, one of the first trade unions. Scott , Ron Sheppard  and I climbed 200 and some odd tightly wound steps to the top of the tower from where you can see much of the old western front , including Passchendaele. I slipped a tiny paper Canada flag between two ancient stones. With any luck it will be there forever. There is an exhibit in the hall that sticks hauntingly in my mind.

One looks into a hole to see photographed skeletons of young men dead long before their time. If you look up, you see a coffin-shaped hole in the black drapery and it’s impossible to escape a claustrophobic feeling.

The Menin Gate ceremony in Ypres has been going on since 1927, not even the Nazis could stop it for long. Every night precisely at 20.00 hours,  traffic at the gate is halted and a

ceremony is held for the Great Wars missing. I found my Grandad Lorne’s outfit, the 14th battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment) and left a replica cap badge of Norfolk’s 133rd, which he wore until the unit was broken up for reinforcements in England. Standing behind the crowd, I turned to read some of the  54,000 names on the walls. I was stopped in my tracks  by one  — Christmas Cpl. of the 15th Australian infantry — chiseled at eye level.

For a Canadian, if you care for this country at all, the memorial at Vimy Ridge is a shrine. Seeing it for the first time literally took away my breath.

It is altogether fitting that this may be the most peaceful place I’ve ever seen.

Those who died for it deserve no less.

News Near Tillsonburg

This Week in Flyers