Local Teenagers visit Vimy Ridge in France
Vimy Ridge – Two local teenagers recently returned from the Vimy Ridge battle site in France and have a lot to say about the trip. David Alexander of Pointe-Claire and Yaman Awad of Anjou were part of a group of 16 students and four chaperons who visited Belgium, France, and the UK this summer. Many important battlefields from both World War I (WWI) and World War II (WWII) are found here.
Vimy Ridge, near Arras, in northern France was the scene of ferocious fighting between Canadian and German forces in April 1917 during WWI. Four Canadian divisions stormed high ground held by three German divisions and, after four days of intense fighting, the Germans retreated from the ridge. This action saw 3598 Canadians killed and 7004 injured while 4000 Germans were taken prisoner.
“From Belgium, we traveled along the old front line (and through northern France). It was a life-changing experience. We all had to do research and I looked up the history of my great, great uncle who was killed near there. It was pretty special to see the family connection,” related Alexander, 17, and now a Dawson College student in science.
“The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is spectacular, especially when you visit with a group of people who know its significance. In that part of Europe, it is still easy to see signs of the war from 100 years ago. Some local farmers are killed each year digging up unexploded shells in their fields. They also find bones and helmets.”
“Yes, this changed me,” Awad said. “This event made Canada emerge on the world scene; Vimy Ridge is almost like where Canada’s second birth (after 1867) took place. Going there was like a pilgrimage. I also spoke with local French citizens who told me they were thankful that Canada helped them 100 years ago and again in WWII.”
One of the things that most struck Awad was visiting graveyards and seeing how young many of the casualties were: in one case he looked at the tombstone of a 15-year-old boy. “The legal age of enlistment was 18 but many kids used fake ID. The authorities didn’t take time to really to check enlistee’s ages…”
Alexander and Awad also talked to surviving veterans from WWII. “I talked with a British marine who participated in the 1942 raid on German-held Dieppe. He was only 17 at the time, the same age I am!” recounts Awad, who also relates the importance of preserving these veterans’ stories.
Another destination was Juno Beach in Normandy where some 20,000 Canadians were among the Allied soldiers who landed on French beaches in June, 1944. These Normandy Landings were key to winning the war against Nazi Germany less than a year later.
For Alexander, history is just a hobby, and he sees his future in the sciences. Awad, now finishing at Collège de Maisonneuve–which despite its name is a high school– plans to take history courses next year, but is unsure if he wants to eventually become a historian.
Alexander and Awad both were recipients of the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize. This prestigious summer scholarship is offered by the Vimy Foundation to youths 15-17 years of age to study the interwoven history of Canada, France, and Great Britain during the First and Second World Wars. During the two week, fully-funded scholarship program, prize winners from Canada, Great Britain and France attend lectures and visit key historical sites such as major museums, battlefields, cemeteries and memorials, including Vimy Ridge, where they are introduced to ideas and viewpoints not typically taught in classrooms. Another similar program is the Vimy Pilgrimage Award. More info at: www.vimyfoundation.ca
Wikipedia was used in background fact-checking with this article