Tag Archives: World War I

France, Canada leaders mark centenary of Vimy Ridge

Military boots symbolising dead soldiers are seen as a Canadian police mounted officer stands guard before the ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, at Canadian National Memorial in Vimy, France, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

By Miranda Alexander-Webber
April 9, 2017

ARRAS, France (Reuters) – French President Francois Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau led commemorations on Sunday marking the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in northern France in which over 3,500 Canadian soldiers were among the dead.

A giant poppy made up of messages of love and gratitude was unveiled at Heroes Square in the town of Arras where Hollande and Trudeau wrote their own notes and placed them among others.

The Canadian armed forces, representing the four battalions that fought in the 1917 battle, conducted a military parade at sunset on Saturday, the eve of the centenary.

During the First World War battle on Easter Monday in 1917, over 3,500 Canadian soldiers, many of them below 20 years old, died while capturing the ridge in a fierce battle with German forces.

Hollande, Trudeau and British princes Charles, William and Harry were to take part in a ceremony later on Sunday expected to draw some 25,000 people.

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Reporting by Miranda Alexander-Webber; Writing by Bate Felix; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) poses for a selfie picture at Heroes Square in Arras, France, as part of a ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy RIdge April 9, 2017. REUTER/Philippe Huguen/Pool

French President President Francois Hollande (L) and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) place signed red circles that form a giant poppy design at Heroes Square in Arras, France, as part of a ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy RIdge April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Thibault Vandermersch/Pool

A Canadian police mounted officer stands guard before the ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, at Canadian National Memorial in Vimy, France, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

A Canadian police mounted officer stands guard before the ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, at Canadian National Memorial in Vimy, France, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Military boots symbolising dead soldiers are seen as Canadian police mounted officer stand guard before the ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, at Canadian National Memorial in Vimy, France, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Military boots symbolising the dead soldiers are seen as a Canadian police mounted officer stands guard before the ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, at Canadian National Memorial in Vimy, France, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

French President President Francois Hollande (R) and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak at Heroes Square in Arras, France, as part of a ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy RIdge April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Thibault Vandermersch/Pool

People attend a Remembrance Day ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, at Canadian National Memorial in Vimy, France, April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

An image of a sculpture on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial is projected on the National War Memorial during an overnight vigil on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 8, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

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Related works on F&O:

“War to End All Wars” fading from history

A copy of a Vancouver newspaper dated April 10, 1917, celebrating Canada’s role at Vimy Ridge. The battle of Vimy Ridge began 100 years ago, on Sunday, April 9, 1917. It’s often called the making of Canada. And it’s fading from history.

Remembrance, a photo-essay by Greg Locke and Deborah Jones

A philosopher asks: what do we owe the dead? By Janna Thompson

Remembrance Day is an occasion when people are supposed to remember and honour those who died in their nation’s wars. But why should we believe that this obligation exists? The dead are dead.  … read more

World and War, By Deborah Jones

Every person who fought in World War I is now dead – and yet no one alive today is unaffected. The war consumed much of the globe for, arguably, decades. Many contend that the unresolved conflicts of the “Great War” re-ignited to become the conflagration we call World War II, then set in motion events from the Cold War to today’s Middle Eastern conflicts. A century after it began, I am most astonished at the hubris. … read more

Far from Flanders Fields, By Deborah Jones

It’s at Ypres that my imagination falters, along with my tenuous grasp of poet John McCrae’s identity, and interest in the tiresome debate over the merits and meanings of his poem In Flanders Fields. It’s because of Ypres I am unable to imagine a man with the sensitivity of a poet and the intelligence of a physician harbouring “romantic” notions of war in the conditions of 1915 trench warfare. … read more

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“War to End All Wars” fading from history

World War 1 tank and soldiers. Great War Observer, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
April 8, 2017

For Canada and the United States, World War I has very different meanings.

In America, it is a barely remembered oddity. Very few Americans know that 100 years ago on Friday, April 6, 1917, America entered the First World War. Buried under the tsunami of the “Greatest Generation,” that won World War II, and wedged in between that war and the Civil War some 50 years beforehand, the “war to end all wars,” as it’s known in much of the world, rates barely a blip in a country that pays scant attention to its history at the best of times.

It’s a completely different story in Canada. World War I is very much present in the minds of many older and younger Canadians. And that is primarily because of one battle – Vimy Ridge, which began 100 years ago on Sunday, April 9. It was the first time that all four Canadian divisions in the war fought together.

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The British and the French had previously tried to take Vimy Ridge, and failed. The repeated assaults on the Ridge were little more than diversionary tactics designed to draw German strength away from a more strategically important battle, the battle of Arras. But that did not matter to Canadians, who stormed and captured Vimy Ridge.

It was a battle that became mythologized, true or not, as the “moment” Canada became a country.

In America, World War I was seen as a problem that the United States needed to avoid. The imperial powers of Britain and France fought the imperial powers of Germany, Russia and Turkey for control of the European continent. Although Britain and France upheld democratic ideals, close to American beliefs, American politicians distrusted European long-term objectives and saw the war as a way for the countries involved merely to increase their territorial holdings. (And in some ways, this was very true, particularly regarding  the Sykes-Picot agreement dividing up the Middle East between the imperial powers, a deal that haunts the world to this day.)

Two events changed America’s perspective on the war. The first was the sinking of the British ship the Lusitania in 1915; 128 Americans were killed when it was torpedoed in the Irish Sea by a German submarine. After this, American President Woodrow Wilson became much more vocal in his support of Britain and France, despite the attempts of German-Americans to keep America out of the war.

The final straw was the January, 1917, Zimmerman letter to Mexico from the German Foreign Ministry, to the government of Mexico. It proposed a military alliance between the two countries and Japan if the United States entered the war. (Germany, which had decided to return to unrestricted submarine attacks on merchant shipping, anticipated this would draw in the US.) It called on Mexico to invade United States, and Germany promised that it would help recapture and hold the land Mexico lost to the US in the 1840s, including Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. The letter created a firestorm in the US. It was only a matter of time before the Americans went “over there.”

Despite its current low profile, World War I did affect America in many important ways. Perhaps the most important was how many immigrants, who had always been viewed with suspicion by Anglo-Protestant Americans, came to be seen as “real” Americans for the first time because of their willingness to sign up and fight. It promoted America’s move from a mostly-rural culture to a much more urban one. For many of the thousands of troops who went to Britain and France, this was the first time they had been more than 20 or 30 miles away from the spot on which they had been born. And, as the song says, “How ya going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?”

The front of a Vancouver newspaper dated April 10, 1917, celebrating Canada’s role at Vimy Ridge.

Canada had been involved in the struggle from the very beginning, but always under the command of British officers. Part of Vimy Ridge’s importance was because Canadians won that battle with minimal British help.

There were dark moments. In Newfoundland, which back then was a colony of Britain, and not yet a part of Canada, July 1 does not only mark the day Canada became a country in 1867, but  the day that 758 Newfoundlanders took the field at Beaumont-Hamel on the first day of the battle of the Somme in 1916. By the end of that day 90% of the Newfoundland Regiment were dead, dying, or wounded. At the next day’s roll call only 68 men were present. There was hardly a town or an outport in all of Newfoundland was not touched by that day’s events.

For me, World War I is also very present. I was named after a great uncle, my grandmother’s brother, who was killed by a sniper during that war. I have very strong memories of watching First World War veterans taking part in ceremonies at the National Cenotaph in Ottawa when I was growing up. As a youngster, I met several men who had fought in the war. It does not seem like it was 100 years ago to me.

After the war, Canada was different. It no longer saw itself as a colony of Great Britain, but as its own country. Some 20-odd years later when World War II started, Canada did not declare war on Germany the same day as Great Britain, but purposely waited several days, to make the point ‘we call our own shots from now on.’

Taking a more realistic view, World War I was an unnecessary slaughter of hundreds of thousands of men on both sides for reasons that are still not very clear. And while Vimy Ridge was an important moment for many Canadians, it’s fair to say that it means more to English Canada than to French Canada, so the claim that it is the moment that Canada became a country needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

I think that after this year’s anniversaries, World War I, the “war to end all wars,” will continue to disappear into the background, and perhaps will become only a comment in British historical dramas, Canada’s National Film Board documentaries, and maybe some Ken Burns-like filmmaker in America deciding to do a series on PBS. It led to many changes in many countries, but I doubt that in another 50 years it will be marked by more than a few paragraphs in high school history books.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Further information:

Three films, available online from Canada’s National Film Board:

The battle of Vimy Ridge represents a turning point in the First World War. From April 9-12, 1917, as part of the British-led Battle of Arras, four divisions of the Canadian Corps rallied and captured the German-held high ground. However, the price of victory was steep: 10,500 Canadians perished or were injured in combat. Historians see this battle as one of Canada’s most important military victories as well as a decisive element in the consolidation of a burgeoning Canadian unity and identity. Mark the 100th anniversary of this fierce battle with these few NFB films. Go to NFB site.

You may also like these works from F&O’s archives:

Remembrance, a photo-essay by Greg Locke and Deborah Jones

A philosopher asks: what do we owe the dead? By Janna Thompson

Remembrance Day is an occasion when people are supposed to remember and honour those who died in their nation’s wars. But why should we believe that this obligation exists? The dead are dead.  … read more

World and War, By Deborah Jones

Every person who fought in World War I is now dead – and yet no one alive today is unaffected. The war consumed much of the globe for, arguably, decades. Many contend that the unresolved conflicts of the “Great War” re-ignited to become the conflagration we call World War II, then set in motion events from the Cold War to today’s Middle Eastern conflicts. A century after it began, I am most astonished at the hubris. … read more

Far from Flanders Fields, By Deborah Jones

It’s at Ypres that my imagination falters, along with my tenuous grasp of poet John McCrae’s identity, and interest in the tiresome debate over the merits and meanings of his poem In Flanders Fields. It’s because of Ypres I am unable to imagine a man with the sensitivity of a poet and the intelligence of a physician harbouring “romantic” notions of war in the conditions of 1915 trench warfare. … read more

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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On the “Great Black Tornado” of WWI

poppies-8

Poppies spill out of the Tower of London in the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, opening August 5. The project, by British ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper, commemorates the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. (Handout)

Every person who fought in World War I is now dead – and yet no one alive today is unaffected. The war consumed much of the globe for, arguably, decades. Many contend that the unresolved conflicts of the “Great War” re-ignited to become the conflagration we call World War II, then set in motion events from the Cold War to today’s Middle Eastern conflicts.

A century after it began, I am most astonished at the hubris…. read World and War in THINK/Commentary, by Deborah Jones.

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 

 

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Far from Flanders Fields

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE
Published November 11, 2013

F&O Flanders Fields

Photo courtesy of McCrae House, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, Creative Commons license

Accounts of Canadian John McCrae, who wrote In Flanders Fields, suggest a man steeped in the romance of war. McCrae was a physician as well as a poet, and also a warrior so dedicated that after fighting in the Boer War he enlisted for World War I. “He considered himself a soldier first,” says Wikipedia, in a quote attributed to a McCrae biographer. “McCrae grew up believing in the duty of fighting for his country and empire.”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

McCrae wrote his short poem, now as intricately bound with Remembrance Day as are red poppies, in honour of a friend who died in 1915 in the Second Battle of Ypres. That fight, already horrifically gory from traditional artillery, was made agonizingly worse by German chlorine gas, in one of the first modern uses of chemical weapons.

 We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.


It’s at Ypres that my imagination falters, along with my tenuous grasp of McCrae’s identity, and interest in the tiresome debate over the merits and meanings of his poem. It’s because of Ypres I am unable to imagine a man with the sensitivity of a poet and the intelligence of a physician harbouring “romantic” notions of war in the conditions of 1915 trench warfare. It’s harder to imagine even the soul of a soldier finding romance in war three years after Ypres – after the stark horrors of the “Great War” had long been plain – when McCrae died in 1918 of complications from pneumonia.

But our imagination quavers and warps in the face of war. Individual or collective memories are no match for it, and are besides often suppressed, leaving us only with imagination. Imagination of the worst kind, the kind that finds voice in nostrums like “glory,” “duty,” and “hero.”

Almost alone in my family I have never been a soldier, but I have studied war history and, like almost all of us, I am a child of generations of men and women who waged war. I am also the mother of children who astonished me by signing up as “peacekeepers” in the Canadian Army Reserves. Like almost all of us, I am closer to war than I’d wish. And yet I must resort to imagination to consider the wartime identity of the Scottish grandfather I barely knew, the Black Watch soldier who survived the trenches of WWI. Afterward he refused to speak of it and so, when I was a child, I imagined him a “hero.” Similarly, I could only imagine the thwarted life of a distant English cousin who was gassed as a young man in WW I and (according to hushed family reports) spent his few remaining years writhing and gibbering in a bed in his mother’s house. “Duty” was my childish word for him.

I like to think my imagination matured and that nuance replaced my nostrums for war.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Was McCrae’s bequest more nuanced than the nostrum we have made of his poem, faithfully recited each Remembrance Day? Had McCrae lived to write more poems post-war, would In Flanders Fields have been supplanted by a different work? Had he survived long enough might McCrae – especially after the futility of WWI was revealed by its reiteration in World War II – have changed his exhortation, “Take up our quarrel with the foe?”

I wonder if McCrae would have approved of being remembered so very well, so extraordinarily fondly, and so almost exclusively for In Flanders Fields. I wonder, but just a little, if his poem ought to be left in peace as a product of his time and place. Mostly I wonder if McCrae’s soldiers would rest better under their poppies if they knew that others had indeed caught the torch they threw – but used it not for foes and quarrels, but to shed light on war’s causes and cures. 

We’ll never know what McCrae really thought; he died too soon and lingers only in our flawed imaginations. And that is just one of the infinite small shames buried within the immense disgrace of our warmongering.

Copyright © 2013 Deborah Jones

References and further reading:
In Flanders Fields Wikipedia page
McCrae House page, at the Guelph Civic Museum

 

Related: 

National Peacekeepers’ Day, Deborah Jones, August 2016

Far from Flanders Fields, Deborah Jones, Nov. 2013

World and War, Deborah Jones, 2014

Return to Free Range

Contact: djones AT factsandopinions.com (including for republishing.)

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations.

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