Two years in the planning with the Thelus Mayor, Bernard Milleville, the Return To Vimy Tour day to join the town of Thelus in commemoration of the rededication of the Artillery Memorial was my favourite experience of the entire tour. All the artillery members in attendance, active service and retired, were led by piper Colin Norris, as they paraded down the flag festooned main street. While tour members were readying themselves to parade from the Mairie (town hall) to the Artillery Monument, I had the chance to run ahead in the street to take photos. While I was waiting, townspeople came up to me to say "Merci beaucoup, pour notre liberation". Two elderly people whose living rooms fronted the street, hand cranked their windows open and stuck their hands out just to hold my hand. They waved, shouted "bonjour", smiled, and were so welcoming. Thelusians dressed in red and white, waved flags, and passed out chocolates. During the formal speeches at the monument, in the spring sunshine, the whole town came to acknowledge our visit and remember the fallen. After the parade, refreshments and desserts were shared. A photography exhibit of photos, some previously unseen, curated from many family collections and the town archive, from the First World War and between the wars, were on display. Here, the Thelusians chatted with soldiers, and shared their experiences and family stories about the photos. It was a very special, intimate experience that I won't forget. Reflecting on the tour as a whole, this was my highlight of all the commemorative events. A celebration of liberation, inspite of the fact that the entire town of Thelus was destroyed 100 years ago. Thelus Remembers 1917 - 2017 Thelus Se Souvient.
Walter Seymour Allward, the sculptor of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, was all ready famous when his design was picked for the Vimy construction. This project took fourteen years from his start to unveiling, 1921-1936. When I stand on the path leading to the monument I am struck by the whiteness of the stone. It gleams, even on the days when the skies are grey. The process of selecting the stone took Allward two years of travel. It was obviously an undertaking of great passion. The stone he selected comes from an old Roman quarry in Croatia, at Seget. I wonder at that task – quarrying and then transporting the stone to France for the stone carvers to transform it into this massive work of art. My first experience standing at Vimy, made me recall back the narrative in the novel by Jane Urquhart, The Stone Carvers. She explores the power of art to transform lives and loss and Allward’s commitment to complete this monumental work of art. I can hear the sound of the chisels of stonemasons ringing around me as I gaze upon the twenty faces of the monument’s human figures and the 11,000 names of fallen Canadians engraved on this luminous limestone.
It's one month ahead of the ceremony until our Fields Of Fire Tours group of 200 stands together at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. This group comprises gunners and signallers from across Canada - Regular Army and Reservists, serving and retired, and many spouses and partners too. The serving soldiers were selected by their units to represent them at this centenary commemoration. Our Vimy 100 tickets have arrived allowing us access to this special event. All that's left to do is pack and hope for good weather. We will blog regularly to share our experiences as the tour unfolds.