Lizzy Hoyt's first visit to Vimy Ridge
My first visit to the Vimy Ridge Memorial was in 2005 and can be counted among the few life-changing experiences I’ve ever had.
At the time, I was studying as an exchange student in Lille, France. During this exchange, I met a couple of other Canadian girls and, together, we decided to take a weekend trip to see the monument.
From Lille, we took a train to Arras followed by a bus ride to the town of Vimy. Arriving at Vimy, we discovered that there was no transportation to the monument and decided to walk the remaining few kilometers. As we reached the highway at the edge of town, a small hatchback pulled over and an elderly French gentleman got out of the car. He didn't speak English but introduced himself as Mr. Devloo. He asked if we were Canadian and if we were going to the monument.
“Yes” we all replied.
“Come with me. I’ll drive you there,” he said.
I remember thinking to myself at this point that my mother would not be happy with me getting into a stranger’s car! However, the man exuded friendliness and had a wonderful smile. He was kind enough to drive us all the way to the visitor’s centre at Vimy Ridge and offered to pick us up at the end of the day, too.
Being at Vimy Ridge was very moving and very overwhelming! While there, I learned about the battle and about Canada’s important role, but I also became acutely aware of the personal side of war. Perhaps this realization came in a way that is only possible by being present in such a powerful place.
A few things at Vimy Ridge really emphasized the human elements of the war. One of them was learning how close the trench lines were to one another. I had heard stories of soldiers throwing cigarettes back and forth between the lines but had never realized that it would have only been a short toss. I had imagined the enemy to be a mere outline of a person off in the distance.
Walking through the underground tunnels was also very moving. The tunnels were small and cramped – just wide enough for two men carrying guns to pass each other. I saw marks that individual soldiers had carved into the walls as they waited below ground on the night before the battle and could not imagine what those hours must have been like. Thousands of men filled the tunnels on the evening of April 8th and their only refuge from these cramped conditions would be a walk through no-man’s land in a cold, wet blizzard the following morning.
The grounds at Vimy Ridge were large and beautiful but also very sombre. Massive craters littered the landscape and many areas were fenced off from the public due to explosives that remain undetonated to this day. Somehow though, amidst all of this upheaval, beautiful trees still grow tall and green throughout the grounds.
The graveyards, filled with so many young men and teenagers, were heartbreaking. For every soldier buried, there was a devastated mother, father, wife, child or friend. I couldn’t help but think of all the young, promising men in my life - my boyfriend, my family members and friends - that could have been in the same place, had I lived only one hundred years ago. It could just as easily have been any of them lying anonymously in a grave reading “A Solider of the Great War”.
At the end of the day, Monsieur Devloo was waiting in the parking lot. He had brought books to show us pictures of the town of Vimy before and after the war. He showed photos of where the bus had dropped us off and where he had picked us up. Before taking us to the train station in Arras, he took us to see another Canadian cemetery, as well as a German cemetery. The German cemetery had dark wooden crosses rather than the white tombstones of the Allies. Monsieur Devloo told us that at each cross, there were four men buried. The crosses seemed to stretch over the land forever. It was surreal. When we arrived in Arras, we said our thank-yous and goodbyes.
I heard from one of the Canadians working at the Vimy Ridge Memorial that every day, Monsieur Devloo would drive to the train station in Arras, look for Canadian tourists and offer them a ride to the monument. Apparently, a reporter caught wind of this at one point and decided to interview him. She asked him why he did this. His answer was simple: Because the Canadians came for him - twice.
Monsieur Devloo passed away in January 2009.
Personal Thanks from Lizzy
Thank you Sarah for jumping on board with enthusiasm and for your tireless work through to the end of this long project! To my incredible family for supporting this project and my music, I am overcome with gratitude! To the entire 'Vimy Ridge Video' team, I thank you for sharing your time, talents and expertise.
Thank you to the following people and organizations for supporting the arts, our history, and this project:
• Alberta Foundation for the Arts
• Private Donor
• PCL Construction Management Inc
• Oto Cadsky
• Ted and Pat Blundell
• Robin Lamoureux Professional Corporation
• Canadian National Vimy Memorial and Veterans Affairs for granting us permission to film on site. We appreciate your support in our efforts to share this important Canadian history with others.
• The Commonwealth, German and French War Grave Commissions for giving us permission to film the cemeteries honouring your fallen soldiers.
...and also to
Thank you to Jessica and Sunil Sookram, and Cheryl and Allen Deckert for helping to organize our fundraising event. We really appreciate your support!
Marliese and Eddie Chang, Daris Klemmer, Sandra Woolsey, Isabelle Vonder Muhll and Jonathan Choy, Katarina Bozic, Helen Irving, SIRRS LLP, Barb and Phil Payne, Stout & Company LLP, Nancy MacBeth, Barbara Ellis, Myrna and Ross Purser, Margo and Mike Baehl, Vickerson & Hankison Barristers and Solicitors, Jean Scott, Joanne and Gordon Hearn, Don Yee, Bev and Paul Sweet, Josephine Moonen, Rhonda and Ron Scott, Erin and Greg Montemurro, Laurel Scott, Nick Lees, Central Aviation Inc, Janet Hoyt, Country Club Tour, New Asian Village, French’s Jewellery, Robert Bailey, Sherbrooke Liquor Store, Nora Bumanis, Rod MacMillan, Beki Deckert, Mickey’s Flowers, CC on Whyte, Becky Moonen, Keri Zwicker and Bin 104.