War. War Never Changes.
This morning I'm watching the Vimy coverage on TV. The Battle of Vimy Ridge, an event that happened 100 years ago. I sit here with tears in my eyes and am not sure why. Is it for my great-grand father that fought there? I can't even remember him. Is it for his brother who died just before the war ended? I shed tears for him at his grave in northern France. Is it for my grandfather who isn't here to see the commemoration? Maybe. Is it knowing that 100 years later that things haven't changed all that much? Sure, we have antibiotics and the internet and countless other innovations. Yet still people try bombard each othwr into submission, or oblivion. Which ever suits the purpose of those in charge. To me that makes today much sadder than it should be. War. War never changes.
I want to talk a little bit about the book tonight. With the 100th anniversary of the battle at Vimy a few days away it still hardly seems real that the book is here. Since a few of you have asked how this evolved I'd like to share how I became a part of it.
Our trip to Vimy occurred all the way back in 2005. My grandfather, wife and I spent 2 weeks of that spring in France and Holland. The main purpose was the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War 2. With so much happening I decided to keep a journal. From the day we set foot in Apeldoorn I documented the whirlwind of ceremonies, parades, and visits to war cemeteries. Through it all we experienced an unbelievable amount of generosity and hospitality that made the trip memorable but also overwhelming. The main purpose of the journal was to keep track of everything so I could look at it after we returned from our trip and digest it in the time in deserved. Over the years that journal has been tucked away and often forgotten.
In the summer of 2016 two things happened that set things in motion. Firstly, my grandfather died at the age of 94. No one in our family felt cheated by his death but nonetheless it was a huge adjustment in our lives. When you miss someone you often find your thoughts filled with memories of them. From the laughter his great grandchildren brought him, to the fishing trips each spring. I write this with the start of trout season just around the corner. The first one without my grandfather. He left a lot of fond memories without it having to involve anything extraordinary. And of course there was Vimy.
That hot spring day at the beginning of May all those years ago still remains vivid in my mind. In one day we found the grave of my grandfather's uncle and visited the battlefield where Grampie's father and uncle fought. In the weeks that followed his death I reflected on this every day. It was during this time that I came across an interesting post on Twitter. A publisher of Canadian military history was calling for essay submissions about Vimy Ridge. This would be part of an e-book that would come out in time for the 100th anniversary. I had seen the calls for submissions earlier in the summer, when my grandfather was still alive. The thought briefly crossed my mind. In the end I didn't feel that I should even bother trying. With no degree or military experience what qualifications did I have to talk about any of it?
Now that he was gone I was filled with two equally strong feelings. One was that I wanted to share our story. No matter how ordinary it may seem, the fact that countless Canadian families have almost certainly experienced similar stories made it extraordinary to me. I deeply wanted to be a part of that book. Thirty years ago my grandfather had given me a copy of Pierre Berton's Vimy. A copy he had received from his brother. I read that book over and over. i read it until the pages fell out. That book started a passion for Canadian military history that resulted in accumulating mountains of books on the subject. It felt right. The time felt right. That emotion was the more logical one. The second feeling was more visceral and to the point. It was simply "What the %@$* do I have to lose?"