With Remembrance Day approaching, my thoughts turn to the soldiers of my own country and others who went to war “to end all wars.” That was the slogan attached to the WWI, or “The Great War” as it was called in the years between 1918 and 1939.
I wrote my fictional story, “When the Boys Came Home,” about a soldier returned from WWI and the effects war had on him and on those he left behind.
Today, I have a real-life story to share. The photograph at the top of the page is of one of the four original memorials raised at Vimy Ridge by Canadians. They were replaced in 1936 by the iconic statuary that stands on the ridge today.
The father of a friend of mine, helped to build and install the cross at the peak of Vimy Ridge, three weeks after the ridge was captured. Carpenter Andy Wallace of Victoria, along with Sapper McIver, both of the 44th Regiment out of Winnipeg, were ordered to fashion a cross to commemorate the thousands who died there.
Using the rudimentary tools they carried with them, the carpenter and the sapper worked on the eight-by-eight inch oak logs within range of the enemy’s guns. Concrete for the base was mixed and poured by other members of the regiment.
In a letter from A.C. King of Toronto to Andy Wallace after the war, Mr. King wrote: “Here is a picture of the cross. It doesn’t look so big but, boy, oh boy, that concrete took some mixing.”
The cross was about 12 to 14 feet high and about six feet wide. It was held together by wooden dowels and had no inscriptions or carving on the cross itself. There is a brass plate on the base that dedicates the memorial to “the memory of the officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the 44th Canadian Infantry who fell in the attacks on Vimy Ridge, the Triangle, and La Coulotte in April, May and June of 1917.”
The monument was originally erected on Vimy Ridge, France by the 44th Battalion in 1917. In 1924, the monument was moved to its present location in Vimy Ridge Memorial Park on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg by members of the 44th Battalion Association and next of kin. Plaques on the sides of the monument listed those in the 44th Battalion who had lost their lives during the Vimy Ridge battle. Dedicated in June 1926, it was restored by the Department of Veterans Affairs in June 1967 and by the City of Winnipeg in October 1992.
Thanks to my friend for sharing her story, and thanks to Andy Wallace for his service to Canada.