On April 9, 1917, while people around the world celebrated Easter Monday, 170,000 Canadian and British soldiers led an offensive against the German army at Vimy Ridge in France. By the end of April 12, 1917, the armed forces had taken control of the region, but left behind were over 3,500 men who had been killed in battle, in addition to over 7,000 injured.
This Sunday marked the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and people across the country marked the occasion by holding memorial services.
In Stettler, members of the Stettler Legion gathered at the cenotaph in Sharp Memorial Park at 10:45 a.m. for a wreath laying ceremony. The ceremony also included the singing of the national anthem, as well as two minutes of silence, held at 11 a.m., followed by the playing of the Last Post.
Although the ceremony was small, Rosalind LaRose, district board commander for the Stettler Legion, remarked on the importance of holding such events.
“I would have gone there all by myself with my husband if I had to,” LaRose said. “There would have been a ceremony, even if it was only two people.”
The Battle of Vimy Ridge has left a legacy; one that Stettler’s Dorothy Hebert is acutely aware of.
Hebert’s grandfather Oliver Horsfall served in the Canadian forces at Vimy Ridge, where he was wounded by shrapnel.
This was all too common for those who survived the battle, Hebert explained.
“If you didn’t get shot at, you got shrapnel, because you were in a trench and there were bombs everywhere,” she said.
Hebert also had two great uncles who served at Vimy Ridge. One, Tom Scotland, was blinded, while the other, David Scotland, was killed.
Big Valley celebrates Vimy Ridge veterans
The village of Big Valley also hosted a Vimy Ridge memorial service on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Big Valley cenotaph.
Approximately 40 people attended the ceremony, in addition to 10 members of the Big Valley Legion who led the service.
Big Valley Mayor Asaph Ken Johnson laid a wreath at the service, and Legion Treasurer Bob Boswell delivered a speech to mark the occasion on behalf of the Legion President, who was unable to attend the ceremony due to an injury.
The legacy of the First and Second World Wars is important to Big Valley residents, as many have personal connections to those who fought and those who were lost.
“If you look at the number of soldiers that we lost in the First and Second World Wars, from a little village the size of Big Valley, it’s a huge percentage,” said Boswell.
Big Valley would have had a population size of around 1,000 during the time of the First World War, Boswell explained, and the 12 soldiers from Big Valley who died during the First World War represented a major part of the town’s population.
“The village, and Alberta overall, stood up for the country when it was necessary,” Boswell added.
With 32 years of military service behind him, Boswell was well aware of the sacrifices that the men who fought at Vimy Ridge would have made.
“If you looked at the conditions those young men fought under, they were absolutely horrendous,” Boswell said. “By today’s standards we wouldn’t put a pig in those conditions. And these guys did it for four years.”
For Big Valley Legion member Dennis Johnson, brother of Asaph Ken Johnson, the memorial service hit a personal note as well, but for different reasons.
While Johnson did not serve in the military, the event brought back memories of his stepfather.
“I only found out seven months before my stepfather died that he was on the beach at D-Day,” Johnson said.
As Johnson noted, many who fought in the First and Second World Wars didn’t like to talk about the experience.
The service was personal for Boswell’s wife Sue as well, and not just because of her husband’s military service.
“I was born in Sheffield, England after the Second World War,” Sue said, “but I still remember seeing all of the bomb sites.”
Sue explained that the Nazis had bombed heavily in Sheffield because the city was home to several steel factories.
Despite the cold morning, those in attendance at the memorial services held in the Stettler region and throughout Alberta were united by a sense of importance in remembering those who made sacrifices as part of their military service.
“Having spent a long time in the military, I’m a true believer that we need to remember the sacrifices made by the people who served in the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Korean war and those who have fought for our country since,” Boswell said.