Remembrance Ceremony in Honour of the 95th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge
Vimy, France, Monday, April 9, 2012
Today, my solemn duty as Governor General of Canada is to speak to all Canadians and for all Canadians.
We stand on hallowed ground—a place of agonized conflict, a site of appalling loss of life, a vessel of sorrow, a crucible of courage, a hallmark of ingenuity, collaboration and resolve undertaken by men at arms in the cause of peace.
We stand on hallowed ground—the final resting place of 3,600 men; a much-revered, far-flung patch of Canada some 4,000 kilometres from our closest shore.
The battle that took place here on this long, deceptively low slope is for Canada and all Canadians an indelible memory. It is an unfading, undying symbol of who we are. It is a military engagement unlike any other in our history, for something deeply special happened here on this hallowed ground 95 years ago.
After their allies failed for months to take the ridge—at a cost of some 300,000 dead and wounded—the Canadians now in charge realized that sheer numbers alone wouldn’t be enough to carry the day. Radically different steps needed to be taken. So the men of the Canadian Corps went to work.
They built models and courses that simulated the battlefield and then studied those models and drilled on those courses relentlessly.
They devised and exhaustively rehearsed an intricately calibrated creeping barrage of artillery shells to insulate the infantrymen who would advance up the slope.
They combined expert use of the latest scientific methods and hard-won battlefield intelligence to locate, target and eventually destroy the enemy’s heavy guns and mortar emplacements.
And most importantly, the Canadian entrusted with operational authority of the fight—General Arthur Currie—did something ingenious and highly risky. He entrusted every soldier under his command—all four divisions of the Canadian Corps—with the whole battle plan. Nothing was hidden from the men. No risk. No peril. No agenda. No expectation. In the weeks leading up to the battle’s start on the morning of April 9th, 1917, every Canadian soldier—from colonel to private—was given the big picture and asked to help make every detail of the plan and the action better.
Currie’s trust did more than acknowledge and motivate the troops as colleagues in a greater cause. That trust in the rank and file of the Canadian Corps showed a caring for and respect of fighting men that was rarely if ever seen at that time. That trust also tapped deeply into the authentic Canadian experience of equality, collegiality, community and inter-dependence—qualities that living in our vast and somewhat unforgiving country demanded of us for mere survival. And by calling on that profound wellspring of ingenuity and compassionate collaboration—a strategy very much taught to immigrant European settlers by our country’s Aboriginal peoples—Currie inspired his incredibly tenacious men to bring forth the best that Canadians have to give.
What should all Canadians recognize and remember 95 years later—95 years after the single bloodiest day in Canadian military history? We recognize and should always remember that out of the staggering death and destruction of that battle, out of the stunning carnage of that day, out of the cruellest conflict in our national life, we Canadians have been able to grasp and carry forward something that is true and honourable and lasting: that we are a smart and caring nation, that to prosper we must become ever smarter, ever more caring, and that when we work together in a spirit of ingenuity and compassion, the best that Canadians have to give the world is the best that anyone can give.