Vimy

I do not love war, but I love the courage with which the average man faces up to war.
-James Michener

Those that know me might accuse me of not getting my facts straight too often… and they might have a point. But I’ve never let not knowing the facts get in the way of forming my opinion.

April 9th was Easter Day, one hundred years ago. If you’re a Canadian you know what happened on this day and if you don’t, then shame on you. Maybe you skipped History class the day World War One was being taught. I made my living as a teacher for thirty one years but I don’t know how much I actually taught anyone. I do know that whether I was teaching Grade One phys.ed in Ottawa, Canada or college- level English as a second language in Nimes, France, I did learn a lot more from my students than they might have from me. In some of the courses I was given to teach I didn’t know an awful lot before I started. In Law for instance, I didn’t know a legal tort from an apple tart, so I had to stay a least one day ahead of my students.

That was certainly true with my knowledge of Canadian military history. I grew up in Quebec and the society and culture of la Belle Province did not give a lot of support to either of the two world wars. In high school history we would spend a lot more time on Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain than we ever did on those years between 1914-18 and 1939-45. Conscription was a dirty word in Quebec and most in that province witnessed a lot more violence in the protests against going to the war than they ever did at the front. Not much attention was paid to any hostilities that the English and Germans were undergoing at the turn of the century in their battles for empires; it was more focused on the hostility that some French-Canadians felt against ‘les maudit anglais.’

And for that reason when I did start teaching Canadian high-school English in Lindsay, Ontario I didn’t know the difference between Vimy Ridge and the newspaper column ‘Goren on Bridge.’ And even though my mother had taught me that card game at a young age I soon became way more interested in the four divisions of Canada’s Expeditionary Force than I ever did in bidding in bridge. And as I did in the classroom, I’m not going to bore you with a recital of the facts of how in a very short few days Canada’s four divisions in the first time that they ever fought together did something that the both the British and French divisions had failed at for for years; capturing the German-held stategically -important Vimy Ridge.

When I turned on CBC Radio this morning they were denigrating Vimy Ridge of course, not too mention all of Canadian society at that time. We were racist, misogynist, homophobic and hide-bound. Of course we were. I’m not disputing that. And I wonder what the intelligentsia will say about our society one hundred years from now. And I’m not glorifying war. The whole misadventure of 1914-18 was one horrendous mistake which should never have happened. But you can’t blame the the 3598 Canadians who were killed and the 7000 wounded in one battle for that.
Winston Churchill was not talking about Vimy Ridge but I’m going to steal a line from him that he used to describe another event of incredible bravery during yet another war.
War should never be glorified, but it should be remembered. And as far as wars go, for Canada, “It was our finest hour.”

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