Posted by Michael O'Leary from Meaford Canada on May 28, 2021 at 13:25:52:
The Dieppe Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery holds over 700 graves, not all from the Dieppe raid. Some are earlier and some are later wartime casualties. When these cemeteries were established, many isolated remains were exhumed and moved to the Commission Cemeteries for control and ongoing maintenance.
The Cemetery is very simply laid out with a stone wall along the road and hedges bordering the other three sides. A small stone structure houses the visitors' ledger. A central stone altar rests inside the gates in the wall. A stone cross with a bronze sword on one side overlooks the rows of graves. Some or all of these items are found in each and every one of the Commission's Cemeteries. The white headstones lie in simple rows, either back to back in a double line, or spaced in a single line of graves to fill a minimum amount of space for the number interred. Around the edges of the Cemetery are other small groups of headstones. The Cemetery is well-tended, with close-cropped grass and flowers along the base of each row of headstones. One section was cordoned off from our wanderings among the rows, the grass had been recently reseeded.
During our visit to the Cemetery we conducted a brief ceremony to lay a wreath at the stone altar. Following this each member was left to view the Cemetery alone, during which time all signed the visitors' registry.
Each Canadian headstone is adorned by an engraved, stylized, maple leaf (those of British soldiers have their Regimental, Corps or Service crest). Below is the soldier's name, rank and regiment. At the bottom of the gravestone is a simple inscription as requested by the family whenever it was possible to do so. Some headstones, too many, are simple inscribed "A Soldier of the Second World War; A Canadian Regiment; 19 August 2021" and "Known Unto God."
The simplicity of the monuments, the rows of white gravestones and the carefully tended gardening strikes an awe of respect into each observer. Within the boundaries of the Cemetery a quiet hush covers all, as each participant is left to his or her own thoughts of the men who died fighting to preserve the way of life our grandparents treasured and ensuring it remained for ourselves to enjoy. I would hope that if I fell in service to my country I might be laid in as peaceful a place, where sixty years later the view remains peaceful farmers' fields and cows still wander nearby.
Vimy Memorial park is nearly all forested now. In 1917 it would have been denuded of trees, and precious few blades of grass would have been seen. Reforested to minimize the effects of erosion, the ground is now carpeted by a rich blanket of thick green grass. Most sections of the park are out-of-bounds to visitors and one glance, to the initiated, shows why. Other than the reforestation, the ground has not been altered since the battle. Every inch of the park still retains the shape of each shell-hole and collapsed trench-line, to the extent where no level spot can be seen on either side of the roads. This preservation extends into the fields around the monument except where they needed space to support the construction.
I have walked impact areas on Canadian bases which have seen forty or more years of artillery training, and even though Gunner's eyes are invariably attracted to the same targets, I have never seen an area as shattered and reshaped by high explosive as the fields around the Vimy Memorial. It is hard to imagine walking easily across them now, with a grassy surface, good footwear and no heavy pack. To consider what strength, physical and psychological, that it would have taken an infantry soldier of 1917 to cross that terrain is barely conceivable. And then to imagine four men bearing a stretcher loaded with one of their mates over it is even more incredible.
But the grounds are not restricted just because of their treacherous footing. It is estimated that there is one piece of unexploded munition in those woods for every square metre of ground. With that in mind, one understands why the grass-cutting in most of the park is executed by herds of sheep.
We walk slowly along the roads from the restored trenches to the Monument itself. Again, we are taken by the impact of its simple design as seen from a distance. This marks the highlight of the trip for many, for few Canadian soldiers have not read of the battle of Vimy Ridge and of the Monument itself. But to stand upon its stones is a very great thing that cannot be adequately described with mere words.
First we walked around the main pylons of the monument on its limestone base. At the foot of the solitary erect statue on the main wall of the base, a female figure representing Canada Mourning, we lay our wreath and observed a few minutes silence for the soldiers who fell fighting for this ground.
Quietly, in ones and twos, we spread out to see the many impressive details of the monument. I will not attempt to describe every aspect of the site, as I could not do it justice and some aspects such as the visages of the statues are well conveyed in available photographs. In general, the statuary represents the great loss and grief of war, this is not a monument to glorify conflict, rather it serves as a solemn reminder of the terrible things mankind has wrought upon his brother.
On the two pylons, in French and English, is the inscription: "To the valour of their countrymen in the Great War and in memory of their sixty thousand dead this monument is raised by the people of Canada."
Around the base of the Monument are inscribed 11,825 names of Canadian soldiers who died in the First World War and have no known graves. Walking along these walls of names is utterly overwhelming, seeing each soldier so remembered for all time, his sacrifice not forgotten as long as the people of Canada visit this place and maintain this stone work of art.
The Vimy memorial is stained and shows its age. The surface, surprisingly to me, is not the smooth surface of dressed stone, but is rough in texture, deliberately prepared to be so. In retrospect this coarse finish on the stone is probably more fitting to the somber purpose of the Monument.
Any Canadian that travels to Europe should visit Vimy Ridge. They should walk these grounds and quietly thank those who sacrificed themselves in the first of two great wars of the Twentieth Century to defend and maintain the principles and tenets of western society. No photo or collection of words, no matter how nicely narrated, can replicate the power, the intensity and the impact of standing on Hill 145 and trying to visualize what powers and what love for their fellow man it must take to make men willing to achieve such a feat of arms.
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