Under cotton clouds in a deep summer sky, we came upon it, twin white spires rising from a low green hill: Vimy Ridge.
We had not planned to come here. But as we set upon the next leg of our journey it showed up as a minor detour, and for Canadians footloose in France, it was an obvious choice.
Vimy Ridge is our largest and most significant war memorial outside of Canada, a national monument anchored in soil paid in sorrow, and deeded in perpetuity by a grateful France.
It is a monument to courage, to service, and to folly — the folly of nations that we must time and again answer in summoning legions of our most precious youth to strive, to suffer, to die, and, time and again, to overcome the nearest thing to hell one can find on this earth — and to the courage and service of those who, then and now, answer that call.
This great battlefield of that Great War, a hundred years onward, remains rent and rutted, though as the world rolls-on, in its majesty time has wrought gentleness.
In strange symmetry, where shrapnel once flew and high explosives spent their rage, from grassy craters mature trees now rise tall, broad branches spreading against a bright sky, roots delving deeply into damp, dark, hard-won earth.
Words cannot carry the weight and power of this place. They cannot touch the coolness of stone carved with the names of the more than 11,000 Canadian casualties of that war who have no known grave. They cannot whisper the rippling breeze, bearing upon it a soft distant hum of insects and the songs of birds darting high above this lush, living land, where once arose the crash and cries of battle and the screams of men in agony.
In this sanctum, where once war thundered and roared, they cannot speak the quiet peace that now pervades.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
— For the Fallen, 1914, Robert Laurence Binyon