Opinion

MP honoured war dead at Vimy Ridge

MP Jim Abbott at the Vimy Ridge Memorial. Photo courtesy of MP Jim Abbott -
MP Jim Abbott at the Vimy Ridge Memorial. Photo courtesy of MP Jim Abbott
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As a Member of Parliament I have the distinct privilege of laying a Remembrance Day wreath. It’s especially meaningful to me as the result of visiting the Vimy Ridge Monument in France.

Standing at this historic site, I was overcome with a sense of pride of being a Canadian and remembering the bravery of the soldiers who fought for our freedom.

Canadian soldiers fought under British Army command during most of the First World War. We had four divisions, but until Vimy, the four divisions had never been united. Having achieved a well earned reputation for bravery and intelligence, the four Canadian divisions were brought together to do something that no other army could and that was to retake Vimy Ridge.

Other Allied forces had tried for years. I was appalled at the scarred countryside and the evidence of the tons and tons of explosives that were detonated.

The opposing trenches are close enough to throw a football back and forth. There are accounts they did this on occasion to relieve the boredom. There are also accounts that a live grenade was sometimes taped to the ball.

The tunnels, thirty feet under the surface and all dug by hand, testify to the gnawing fear that must have been the soldier’s constant companion. The tunnels were narrow enough for all the troops to advance only. There was no retreat.

The only method of communicating with the front line was by ‘runners’ who carried written messages. A runner’s career averaged just thirty-six hours from the time he started running to the time he was seriously wounded. Or dead. Alcohol supplied by the army to dull the pain and twisting fear was an essential part of many soldier’s survival.

None of the world’s armies had retaken Vimy. From the Ridge, the view extends about ten miles. It became a wall of defence. The war bogged down in mud, slime, ooze and inhuman pestilence.

Canada’s generals developed a plan. The soldiers and officers practiced and practiced and practiced for weeks on end. Each one had a specific task. Over 30,000 men were scheduled to “go over the top.”

And they did! Canada’s army achieved seventy percent of its objectives in the first twenty-four hours of the attack. They did in two days what no other army could in two years and this is something for which we should be justifiably proud.

But what about those who didn’t come back? What about their families?

My grandfather, a medic in the First World War, came back still living with whizzing bullets, alcohol, unspeakable disease and exploding bombs. He died three years after the war. This is my family’s heritage. It is Canada’s heritage.

The memorial at Vimy stands on top of the hill as Canadian soil. France was so grateful they gave Canada the land for a memorial to the bravery and sacrifice of our Canadian soldiers.

And Vimy isn’t the only place we distinguished ourselves. All over the world Canadians are respected for bravery, intelligence and service.

To all the veterans, their families, and the families of those who did not return – thank you.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, I salute you. You give us the right to be proud to be Canadian!

Jim Abbott is the Conservative Party MP for the riding of Kootenay-Columbia

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