Monday, 20 April 2015

Digging in the Dirt: Canadian WWI Soliders Grave located in France

The Battle of Vimy Ridge.jpg
Richard Jack's painting of the Canadian's at Vimy Ridge, Library and Archives Canada. No zombies were present.

We often think that World War One is in the far off land of the past: a place we read about but has no affect on our daily life. Well, we're wrong. Not only does the outcomes of the war still affect us today, as my rant about Israel and Palestine covers, but the men who died still keep popping up. No: I don't mean some tacky war-splotation (my new word) zombie film like Dead Snow where the Nazis live again. Because nothing makes my skin crawl more than real suffering being reduced to zombie SS eating Sweeds.

Deathwatch (2002) Poster
Oh...some tacky bastards did make at WWI horror film...with Jamie Bell. So disappointed in you Mr. Bell.

Norm Christie, an Ottawa historical researcher, has located the remains of possibly 44 members of the Canadian Scottish Regiment (16th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Canadian Division) who were buried in a shell crater following the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Their deaths were registered, but their remains were never exhumed and reburied in any of the military cemeteries established after the First World War.

The Canadian Encyclopedia states that:
The Battle of Vimy Ridge, during the First World War, is Canada's most celebrated military victory — a sometimes mythologized symbol of the birth of Canadian national pride and awareness. The four divisions of the Canadian Corps (see Canadian Expeditionary Force), fighting together for the first time, attacked the ridge from 9-12 April, 1917 and succeeded in capturing it from the German army. More than 10,500 Canadians were killed and wounded in the assault. Today an iconic white memorial atop the ridge commemorates the battle and honours the 11,285 Canadians killed in France throughout the war who have no known graves.
In an interview last month with the National Post, Christie states that it is time to exhume these men and place them in properly marked graves.“One of the key aspects of history is the spiritual dimension. How you treat your dead is very reflective of the spiritual state of your society. We should be honouring our dead because they are so much a part of our history.”

That spiritual aspect is physically represented by the amazingly beautiful Vimy Ridge Memorial. Work began on the monument in 1925 and eleven years later, on July 26, 1936 it was unveiled by King Edward VIII. It cost approximately $1.5 million, including site preparation and the building of roads.


Finding this possible grave site also brings up the issue of ongoing duty to these men: the call for the re-burial of these men, and the continual search for others lost in both world wars, is expensive, but necessary in many people's opinion. The Government of Canada is always under pressure to fund these initiatives, but mostly rely on the Commonwealth Graves Commission, which Canada is a member of.

The other issue is of glorifying way: modern opinions may not be to many modern people's taste of military history. Christie cites the attitude of dismissing our military history in the 1950s onwards as deplorable. “History is the heart and soul of your society. That is where you get your pride from, your sense of identity, and because Canadians lack a sense of their history, they lack a certain pride.” Christie has certainly done what he can to instill historical pride. Over the last two decades, the former Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s chief records officer has written nearly 20 books on Canada’s military history.

For my two cents: I'm biased as hell. Two great-grandfathers fought in the war, my father and brother are ex-Canadian military. The idea of them not being honoured or buried properly would bother me forever. These were men whose families loved them and despite the dangers, did their lives to a cause they believed in, whether you agree or not with that cause.

And as we all know, war is horrific and as a hard core pacifist, I don't want Canada ever involved in anything like this again. But we were, and I don't think honouring the dead is promoting any idea of how we should be conducting our military now. This was suppose to be the War that Ended All Wars because it was such a horrific loss. So while we re-bury the dead, let's recall how they got there in the first place and maybe we won't be so quick to send people to their deaths again.