The war to end all wars
PHOTO COURTESY SHUTTERSTOCK
Our family lived in England from 1976 to 1994. In those years we spent time touring many countries in Europe. As France was just across the English Channel from where we lived, a considerable amount of time was spent there.
In late August, 1992 my wife and I decided to take our two sons (15 and 17) on a short visit to northern France. We took the ferry from Dover to Calais, and then continued by car to Amiens and our hotel. We toured from our base there for the next four or five days.
Apart from parking the car and walking in these ancient northern villages, we also toured many of the World War I battlefields and graves. The highlight of the tour was a visit to Vimy Ridge, the site of Canada’s first major battle in WWI . This event was under the sole command of Canadian officers.
Vimy Ridge is a wonderful memorial to Canada’s contribution to the First World War.
We arrived at Vimy and were met by the staff of young Canadians who guided the visitors and gave detailed accounts of this hallowed site.
All were students from around Canada and were hired for the season. When we spoke with one young lady, she noticed that we were wearing our Canadian flag pins. She told us that being Canadian we would be entitled to go through the underground bunkers if we were interested in seeing how it looked and felt for those soldiers who fought there some 75 years ago. We were told to come back in 30 minutes and she would be our guide.
One enters the bunker through two huge iron doors/gates, down about 30-odd steps just as those soldiers did so many years ago through to those narrow passages. The passages go on for hundreds and hundreds of yards to the various areas where the soldiers lined up to break through to the surface when the barrage of shells from our artillery guns stopped. The command was then given. Frightening, even today. We could only wonder how those brave soldiers felt, knowing that they may be killed or wounded when it was their turn to charge up and out onto the heavily defended battlefield.
Our guide explained the system employed in this cavernous environment, troops entering to go into battle, troops returning, some wounded, some dead or dying, it was indeed surreal. We were at the end of the tour when we were brought to a large room that was curtained off. This was the only room that was not visibly open to the troops going to, or coming from the battle. She explained that this room was where the soldiers wounded, dying, or dead were brought and held until they could be administered to and eventually brought up to the surface behind our lines.
Our guide then went on to tell us a story that had taken place a few weeks before. She and another guide had been escorting a group of veterans from Canada who had come for the 75TH Anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. One very elderly veteran had been extremely agitated throughout the tour. He kept mumbling and repeating the words, “There is a cross.” No one knew what he was referring to until they came to this room where the dying and wounded were being held. When he entered this room he began to cry and kept repeating, “There is a cross, a cross.” He then went to a wall where there was a large wooden column which was one of the supports that held the roof of this room from collapsing. He pointed to the base of this column and shouted, “There it is!”
The guides looked towards the bottom of this massive column and there, roughly carved into the wood, was a small Cross of Lorraine. He then went on to say that he had carved this cross while his best friend died in his arms.
My wife, our sons and I along with another couple and their two daughters had tears streaming down our cheeks as we looked at this roughly hewn cross. Our guide, who had witnessed this event, also had tears in her eyes.
This year, 2018, we acknowledge the end of World War I, 100 years ago on November 11, 1918. The 11th month, on the 11th day at the 11th hour, “The war to end all wars.”
Have we learned anything?