Blog 4 - April 9
Hello Ranger Family
The day we have come thousands of km to participate in was here - April 9th. We attended the Vimy Ridge memorial a couple of times during the Sunrise and Sunset ceremonies, however never had time to explore it. Now, we would be witnessing the 100th anniversary event that all of Canada and beyond has been waiting for. The schedule for the day was very simple, attend the event and the reception, however it was very hectic.
First, we first went to a hotel in Arras to have lunch and meet other delegates. While we were eating, police were checking the buses for any potential threats. After lunch, we lined up outside of our buses to allow a bomb dog to give us a sniff. Once on the bus we had a police escort all the way to Vimy Ridge…. I felt like a politician or another VIP.
Once at the site entrance I saw the long line of spectators walking toward the memorial. The line, four people deep, seemed to go on forever. Because of our “delegate” status we were driven all the way to the east side of the monument.
When we pulled around the corner and got my first look of the event site, I was shocked, it was a flood of people. Our seats were segregated from the rest of the spectators by a metal barrier, the type you see at parades. Also, because of high ranking VIPs like the Royals, the PM and French President, you needed a pass to get into this area.
I was really curious about the other people who had come to witness this event and left the confines and safety of our area to venture into the general access area. It was very difficult to walk through this area as it was standing room only. I learned later there was approximately 25,000 spectators at the memorial and that most, if not all, were Proud Canadians. They were wearing some form of Canadian flag or other sign of being Canadian, such as a Tim Horton’s or hockey team hat. Everyone was in great spirits, smiling, sharing friendly greetings with one another.
I witnessed a couple of reunions, as old friends in the crowd discovered each other. One thing I found astonishing and heart warming was learning that there were approximately 15,000 students from across Canada in attendance.
After squeezing through the throng of spectators, I eventually made it back to my seat as the ceremony was about to begin. With military precision, at 1600 hours, the event started with the arrival of the dignitaries. Once they were seated the event commenced and to be honest it was similar in many ways to any military commemorative ceremony, except with many great performances.
I really don’t have much to say regarding the actual event that can’t already be seen on TV or YouTube. However, I will mention that the weather was perfect. It was 21 degrees Celsius and sunny, without a cloud in the sky. Later many of us discovered our sunburnt faces.
With most military ceremonies, the Last Post and playing of O’Canada are the emotional part for me and this day was no different. The Last Post is so solemn, it’s an opportunity to think about the fallen and the bond with them as soldiers. Then the moment of silence after to say a quiet prayer in respect. Next the playing of O’Canada.
“O’Canada, our home and native land”, is all I could sing before choking up. I think only my wife, Katrina, knows I am incapable of singing O’ Canada because of being overwhelmed with emotion, its hard to explain (now you know). The anthem just fills me with pride and it takes over. Today was no different.…except everyone was singing, 25,000 proud, it was wonderful, my favourite part of the day.
Once the ceremony was complete the delegation started to make its way back to the buses. Police held back the crowd from leaving while we passed. As we were walking by the crowd started clapping and shaking the hands of the veterans, especially the older ones. Once on the buses it was back to Arras for a reception hosted by the Minister for Veterans Affairs, The Honourable Kent Hehr. Afterward, onto the buses and to our hotel. Our day was done.
Here is a bit of a Prince Harry side story. My friend Rob McCue, who I mentioned in my last blog, had the opportunity to give the French President a tour of the Vimy Ridge trenches. He was chosen for this honour as his grandfather fought at Vimy Ridge. After the tour was complete Prince Harry along with Prince William, Prince Charles, the PM and President were walking away. Prince Harry glanced over to where Rob was standing, made a 90 degree turn and walk straight towards him. It turns out Prince Harry saw Rob’s Afghanistan medal and wanted to talk with him as he was a fellow vet of the conflict. Rob said that Harry was very genuine and they had a great little chat, which was more like two soldiers talking about their experiences.
That’s it for now.