Saturday, April 07, 2007

Vimy Ridge Remembered

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This Easter Weekend is the 90th anniversary of the attack on Vimy Ridge towards the end of the First World War. Nations are born on the battlefield, and Vimy Ridge was Canada's baptism in blood. Canadian troops lobbed over one million shells at German emplacements that week, with a success rate of over 80%. It took 100,000 Canadians to take and hold the ridge; 3,598 were killed and 7,104 wounded.

The Great War has always been a special fascination of mine, probably because I had the privilege of knowing a veteran of that conflict. My great-grandfather Charlie Stroklund (who died when I was 16 aged 88) was a sapper with the 10th Field Regiment out of Regina, and saw action throughout France and Belgium, most poignantly at the Somme.

Charlie was a big man (6 foot 4 and over 200 pounds) but he could never talk about what he saw there. Whenever anything reminded him of it he'd dissolve into tears, even half a century later. It was a point of contention between my mother, my grandmother and me when, as a young writer, I was always eager to glean from him what I could. I don't believe Charlie ever minded my pestering him like they did, but there was never much he was able to tell me.

Fortunately, as an old writer, I'm able to honour his survival with my words. Returning to Canada, profoundly affected by what he'd been through, he nonetheless perservered, and with his bare hands proceeded to help build this country. His contribution? Dozens of Saskatchewan's iconic grain elevators.
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