The Battle of Vimy Ridge:

ARMY CADETS COMMEMORATE CANADA'S EPIC GREAT WAR VICTORY BY STANDING VIGIL 

By The Army Cadet League of Canada

From Volume 23 Issue 3 (April 2016)

Canadians all know the importance of Remembrance Day, when we so respectfully remember our fallen soldiers and honour our veterans every year. In 1918, 1100 hours on November 11 (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) was a significant moment for Canadians as it marked the end of World War I — the exact time when the Axis and Allies stopped fighting.

Many of us attend Remembrance Day commemorative ceremonies for personal reasons. It may be that a family member took part in one of the many battles in which Canadians fought bravely throughout history. We carefully and respectfully attend these important ceremonies to honour the memory of those who fought for a just cause and have allowed us to live a life in freedom and safety.

Each branch of the Canadian military has fought significant battles, which are commemorated annually. For the Royal Canadian Navy, it is the Battle of the Atlantic and for the Royal Canadian Air Force it is the Battle of Britain. On each of these significant dates, our Armed Forces, veterans and cadets take part in ceremonies and have beenfor many years.

In the case of the Canadian Army, the most significant combat came at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which occurred on April 9, 1917. Recently, Army Cadets across the country have taken on their own annual remembrance ceremonies for this great battle where our Canadian soldiers fought under the Canadian Ensign and distinguished themselves as brave and outstanding soldiers. This and their actions in the following 100 days earned Canada a seat at the Armistice negotiations at Versailles in 1919 and our country received recognition to stand as its own true nation rather than a Dominion.

On Easter Monday in 1917, in a freezing rainstorm and after four days of battle, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps, fighting side-by-side for the first time, captured Vimy Ridge. The Canadians succeeded where others had failed with dramatic losses. The victory at Vimy is said to be Canada’s “coming of age” as a nation. This victory, however, was not without a price: more than 10,000 casualties and, of those, almost 3,600 gave their lives for King and country.

Commemoration ceremonies now take place annually on Vimy Ridge Day at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, and in cities and towns across the country.

Cadets from the 2784 Governor General Foot Guards Cadet Corps brave the rain while standing vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 2011. Similar to Easter Monay of 1917, the weather during the inaugural ceremony was cold and rainy (MICHEL ASBOTH). 

Cadets from the 2784 Governor General Foot Guards Cadet Corps brave the rain while standing vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 2011. Similar to Easter Monay of 1917, the weather during the inaugural ceremony was cold and rainy (MICHEL ASBOTH). 

In 2010, Canada marked the end of an era on Vimy Ridge Day with the passing of the last First World War veteran. Canadian youth were challenged to take up the torch of remembrance to preserve the memory of those who served, particularly between 1914 and 1918. The year 2011 marked the beginning of this new era, when The Royal Canadian Army Cadets commemorated the anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge for the first time. Since then, Army Cadets all across Canada rise to the challenge each year to commemorate this anniversary.

Cadets hold their vigil at the National War Memorial in the evening of April 8, 2011. (The Army Cadet League of Canada)

Cadets hold their vigil at the National War Memorial in the evening of April 8, 2011. (The Army Cadet League of Canada)

The Army Cadets’ commemorative ceremonies are unlike others as each unit chose how it would commemorate this great battle. When presented with the various ceremonial options, cadets from the National Capital Region, Halifax, St. John’s, Toronto, Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and other Canadian cities voted to remember Vimy in their own way.

For example, in the National Capital Region, cadets hold an overnight vigil to honour the soldiers who waited in cold, wet tunnels and trenches on the night of April 8 for the horrendous battle to begin in the early morning hours of April 9. As the history books state, the battle was held up due to the very bad weather on April 8. So it was on this date in 2011 that the very first Royal Canadian Army Cadet Battle of Vimy Vigil was held at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

That evening, over 300 cadets paraded at dusk on the National War Memorial square for an official ceremony. They were at their finest and held their positions with pride as His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, walked through the rows of each unit on parade. The Governor General delivered a powerful speech about the importance of our youth and remembrance that set the tone for a very significant night for these young folks.

During the moment silence after The Last Post was played, a gull circled the war memorial calling out as it flew. It made the hair stand up on the necks of many of the soldiers present. Ironically, later that evening the rain started to pour and continued for the larger part of the night, which seemed to represent quite well the conditions the Canadian soldiers faced in 1917 and in which the cadets continued to bravely hold their posts. Throughout the night, cadets in teams of five took 20-minute shifts to stand vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, himself a casualty at Vimy.

In the morning, although exhausted, these young cadets proudly handed over the parade to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members for the official April 9 ceremony with Chief of Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk and a variety of other government and city officials. Army Cadets made such an impression that morning that, since then, they have become active members at the official parade at the National War Memorial along with the CAF members. In a small way, this devotion is an extension of what is the “Vimy Effect” that Gen. Rick Hillier refers to in his 2011 book Leadership. Vimy’s success, and the 100 days that followed, effectively changed Canadian attitudes not only in the military but also in government and business after the war.

Ceremonies and other commemorative activities organized by Army Cadet Corps from across the country continue to flourish and gain popularity in their local towns and communities. Since 2011 Army Cadets can proudly wear the Battle of Vimy pin created by The Vimy Foundation to honour Vimy Week.

It is with their affinity for Canadian military and regimental history that Army Cadets relate to this significant battle. With the 100th anniversary in 2017, we can be assured that Army Cadets from across the country will uphold this new tradition and, in many cases, some of them will proudly represent Canada in Vimy, France.

And once again this year, Army Cadets will turn out in the thousands to stand vigil and parade to honour those Canadians of 1917 who were not much older than the cadets of today when they faced the daunting challenge of the First World War. Today’s cadets will ponder after the bugle becomes silent that those Canadians on Vimy were not born heroes but were instead ordinary Canadians, like us, who when faced with a catastrophic choice, chose to stand and do their duty. Saying that they “paid the full measure” does not adequately describe them.

For more details about the Army Cadets Vimy Commemoration ceremonies visit http://www.armycadetleague.ca/news-events/vimy-commemoration/. To view photos of these annual ceremonies from across the country, visit https://www.facebook.com/RCACVimyEvents/