As the Canadian National Vimy Memorial towers behind them, members of Prince Rupert’s Captain Cook Sea Cadets corps gather on the site of the three-day battle. (Contributed)

The Guns of 1917: With Sun and Song, Vimy Celebration Begins

A special six part series of columns by William Roubicek on Vimy Ridge

William Roubicek is a recent graduate of Charles Hays Secondary School and member of the Captain Cook Sea Cadets. This is the third of six columns that chronicle the journey by his corps to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

The siege of Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Corps began at 5:30 a.m., the morning of Easter Monday 1917. Exactly 100 years later, I woke knowing it was the day my historical journey would culminate on the legendary hilltop itself.

The battle was the first time all four Canadian divisions fought together in the First World War. 3,600 Canadian soldiers died and 7,000 were injured during the attack.

My cadet corps dressed in our ceremonial uniforms and boarded the tour bus. With 25,000 people expected to attend the memorial, we had to wait in a security line for a solid two hours in the blistering sun.

The heat made waiting in our white top caps, tunics and gunshirts uncomfortable. But it was nothing compared to the terror faced by soldiers from my country on the very earth where we stood.

One long line and three bottles of water later, we walked to the front of the main grounds. There, we met Canada’s Minister of National Defence, Harjit Sajjan. We took a picture with him and talked to people nearby.

That’s where I started to learn the true beauty of the celebration. It lay not in the official spectacle, but in the people themselves.

They had come from all around the world. We didn’t know much about each other, but we felt connected through our presence for a single, solemn purpose.

One of the attendees I met was a professional opera singer. He had overheated under the cloudless sky and was desperate for water. One of my friends graciously offered his bottle, which the singer accepted.

The ceremony began. Representatives of Great Britain, Canada and France entered while a military band played the three anthems.

His thirst quenched, the vocalist sang each anthem perfectly, with a booming voice.

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