On Sunday, April 9, there will be an important commemoration at the Bay Street Armoury to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge.
Victoria’s military reserve units will be joined by close to 40 community organizations in recognition of this 1917 pivotal battle, now remembered as a critical milestone in this young country’s “coming of age.”
Why is this commemoration taking place? There are three reasons.
One is that history matters. It teaches us about lessons of the past and counsels us not to repeat mistakes.
The second reason is that a healthy reserve army is a vital asset to have in a country that spends only one per cent of its gross domestic product on its armed forces.
The third reason is to illustrate the importance of the link between our reserve units and the community.
One hundred years ago, when the four infantry divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were sent in to take this challenging enemy stronghold, few thought success would be achieved. Two previous attempts by the French and English armies had been repelled.
But the Canadians were successful. The battle marked the first time that all four Canadian divisions attacked together, and men from all regions took part in the action at Vimy.
Most of the soldiers involved were from reserve battalions.
Today, the nearest regular army base to us on Vancouver Island is in Edmonton. There are, however, reserve regiments throughout British Columbia, including the Vancouver Island-based Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s).
These reserve units are mandated to backfill the regular army in times of natural disaster or military commitments such as the ones in Bosnia and Afghanistan.
Scores of Vancouver Islanders served alongside our outstanding regular army in both military zones. The cost of our reserve forces is a fraction of the cost of the regular army and, with small increases in funding, could bring us closer to fulfilling our NATO commitments and give us greater credibility in the eyes of our protective neighbour to the south.
This is not an appeal to make Canada a militaristic nation, but rather to ensure that we are prepared when, as history shows, another emergency inevitably surfaces.
Vimy has become a symbol of sacrifice for Canada. In 1922, the French government ceded the ridge and the surrounding land to Canada. Canada’s most well-known war memorial was unveiled on the crest of the ridge in 1936.
It was a fitting spot for the memorial — a ridge where, as Brigadier-General A.E. Ross declared after the war, he had “witnessed the birth of a nation.”
The April 9 Vimy 100 celebration at the historic Bay Street Armoury is a free event open to the public.
Please come out, visit the many historic and contemporary displays, enjoy the bands, colourful pipes and drums, and help us honour our past and prepare for our future.
Murray Farmer is the honorary colonel of the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s).