We packed up and headed out to Vimy Ridge, Beaumont-Hamel and Dieppe. We figured we would spend about an hour at each and be at our BNB in Caen by 6 PM. Boy, were we wrong!
The Vimy Ridge Memorial stands high above the Douai Plain in Northern France and is a tribute to all the Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in World War I. We parked the car and headed straight to it. It is absolutely magnificent. It took 11 years to build, stands 110 meters from base to tip and has 11,285 names of Canadian soldiers inscribed inside the ramparts. It was unveiled to the public in 1936. What we didn’t know was that the monument sits upon 123 hectares of land that was gifted to Canada from France in 1922. Upon this land are trails that follow the battlefield, craters created from artillery fire and underground mine explosives, trenches and tunnels used by the soldiers, two Canadian cemeteries, No Man’s Land and of course the monument. What kind of explorers would we be if we did not check all these things out? We walked to the Visitor’s Centre which is loaded with pictures, facts and artifacts of the battles on Vimy Ridge. We picked up a self-guided tour map and spent the next hour or so, wandering through trenches, looking over No Man’s Land, checking out the gravesites and being totally blown away by the absolute immensity of it all. We came away humbled and about two hours behind schedule.
Our next stop was the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, just a few miles further down the road. We had been prepped by one of the Canadian student guides at Vimy that we could expect much the same type of memorial. The memorial site is located on 30 hectares of land with the centrepiece being the Caribou Monument. The site is a tribute to the 820 Newfoundland soldiers who died during the first World War. The Tourist Centre houses facts, artifacts and storyboards detailing the heroics of the Newfoundland regiments that fought at various sites during the war. The self guided tour pamphlet is one of the best that we have seen, with the current tour trail superimposed over the original trenches and tunnels from over 100 years ago. The site itself is much more “raw” than the refurbished version at Vimy. Original trenches still exist as they did then, clearly visible throughout the entire site. As you walk along the guided trail, the pamphlet describes each numbered station giving you a very realistic overview of how things unfolded during the battles. The Caribou Monument itself is magnificent! It sits high upon the battlefield overlooking the valley below. The noble bronze caribou is the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and sits atop a mound surrounded by rock and shrubs native to Newfoundland. It is designed so that you can walk up and around the spiral footpath to the top of the monument. So very well done. We enjoyed this site immensely and definitely recommend a visit.
As we still had a three hour drive ahead of us, we decided to leave Dieppe for another day. We drove through so many cute little villages and passed by so many cemeteries. The beauty is breathtaking but the history is just so horrific.
We reached our BNB just before 7 PM and by the time we settled, got some groceries and had a bite to eat, we were pretty much done for the day. Another emotional day viewing these magnificent memorials.
Just as a side note, I have to mention the Canadian student tour guides. These students are employed by Canadian Veterans Affairs and travel overseas to guide these sites for a four month tenure. The only qualifications that one needs is to be a post secondary student and to speak French. We spoke to a few of these “kids” and we found them to be very enthusiastic about this posting. So, if you have kids or grandkids that are looking for some adventure, this is an amazing program to get involved in.
Also, while we tramped around France and Belgium looking at battlefields and cemeteries, Richard’s youngest daughter Hilary gave birth to a beautiful daughter on April 10. We are so proud and can’t wait to get home to see the newest additions to our family. Congratulations Hilary, Dane and Norah! We love you!!
The Beavers at the base of the flag poles.
A view from the monument.
The Last Post
From the Battlefields
With the amount of undetonated artillery they use sheep to keep the grass down.
On the Flagpole
Just in the small area of France we were in today there are 410 Commonwealth cemeteries, 20 French and 13 German. We passed close to some and others we saw in the distance. Out in the middle of nowhere we decided to stop at one.
Monument to the Highlanders who played a crucial role in the Beaumont-Hamel campaign.
Col walking one of the many trenches. This one is about two feet higher than it would have been at the time of the war.