Vimy Ridge

On Saturday morning 8 October a party of 55 men left Leybourne church  at 6.00a.m. to travel by coach  to Vimy Ridge in the Artois, France. They were members of Leybourne and West Peckham parish churches. The West Peckham men were five from the bass section of the choir. We drove through the Channel Tunnel to have a Remembrance Service at the great War Memorial at the top of Vimy Ridge sixty mile south of Calais near Arras on the road  to  Paris, overlooking the Douai plain. It is one of the most powerful monuments from the first World War commemorating the capture of the Ridge in April 1917 by the Canadians. En route we had brunch at Bethune which has a fine 'Grand Place' with a tall beffroi (belfry) whose carillon of 36 bells gave us a musical accompaniment to our baguettes. Bethune was mostly destroyed  in the great German offensive of March 1918 but the advance  was stopped outside  the town by the British Army.

We arrived at Vimy Ridge at 1.00p.m.  and climbed up to the tall monument where our service was led by Revd Matthew Buchan of Leybourne. We had a bugler for the Last Post, two-minute silence and Reveille and after the Kohima Epitaph we dedicated ourselves a new to the service of God and our fellow men and women. After the laying of a wreath ,a prayer for the British and Canadian armed forces was included.

The main attacking force was Canadian. Vimy Ridge was a key point held by the Germans and if the Allies were to advance it must be taken. Earlier attempts had failed. After superb  planning and training on a snowy Easter Monday morning, 9 April 1917,the entire Canadian corps stormed the Ridge.

By 12 April the whole Vimy Ridge was in Allied hands. The hard-fought victory was swift but did not come without cost. Out of 10,602 casualties, 3,598 Canadians gave their lives. The victory at Vimy was a turning point in the First World War and in Canada it united Canadians and brought honour and pride to the young nation.

The monument is two tall white limestone ' pylons', one with maple leaves, the other fleur de lys. It dwarfed us as you can see from the photos. The guides are mostly volunteer  Canadians  in their twenties  and we had a young man from Ottawa who told us the story of the battle and then took us down into the tunnels which had been dug by Welsh miners to reach under the German lines. They are long and forbidding but a special feature at Vimy.

When we climbed down 60 feet the guide asked us if we were claustrophobic and then turned off the lights while he told us about the tunnel building. I was the last man out of the tunnel and had to close the heavy door with a loud clang, but I cannot close my mind and heart to the sacrifices made on Vimy Ridge.


by Canon Brian Stevenson

Page last updated: 10th Nov 2016 2:38 PM

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