Cadets' visit to Vimy Ridge an act of pure remembrance
BY NADINE ARMSTRONG
The Hants Journal
In the spring of 1917, thousands of Canadian men fought at Vimy Ridge, never to return. This year, 27 West Hants Cadets will make the trip to the National Canadian Vimy Ridge Memorial to honour the 11,285 soldiers that lost their lives in France during World War I, 3,598 of whom fought at Vimy Ridge.
The towering limestone monument has been undergoing repairs and restoration over the past few years. Now, in celebration of its 90th anniversary April 9, it will reopen as a tribute to Canada’s efforts during the First World War. Cadet Officer Marina Claton-Theriault plans to have the 76 Minas Sea Cadet Corps of Windsor there with her to commemorate the occasion.
She says WWI made Canada what it is today and believes it’s our duty to make sure this message is relayed to youth. “It’s the youth that will need to keep telling the story. If they don’t remember, the history of what happened will fall to the wayside,” Theriault said.
She visited the site during her own ‘pilgrimage’ in 2001, as part of a ‘Nova Scotia Youth Leaders’ initiative. It was an experience she’ll never forget. “It’s so phenomenal. In my heart of hearts, every Canadian should visit.”
She recalls her visit to the Beaches of Normandy and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as the Cemetery near Juno where D-day took place. Her voyage was not only a history lesson, but an emotional experience. “When you stand on the beaches of Normandy, it’s so silent. You feel nothing but death.”
She hopes her cadets will return home with the same sense of loss imprinted on their memories. “They don’t know it yet; to them it’s just a trip. It will hit home when they get there, though. This trip will put power in the history and make it real for them,” Theriault said.
Show where he fought
World War II veteran, Myron Philips will join Theriault and the cadets to tell his story and show them where he fought. “It will be good for the kids to see the emotion from a veteran who has been there,” Theriault said.
Philips is best known in the area for spreading the word of remembrance to schoolchildren. During the month of November for the past 14 years, he has visited schools to share stories and answer unending questions from curious young minds. “They love it best when I show them my medal with the hole in it,” he said. The medal had been attached to his hat and was damaged when a bullet grazed his head. “I learned there and then to wear my helmet,” Philips laughed. “The medal made too easy a target.”
Despite his 91 years, Philips hasn’t forgotten his part in the war as a young 24 year-old-soldier. As an engineer, he rebuilt roads and bridges and had the daunting task of clearing minefields. “You never forget,” he said.
He has since revisited his old wartime haunts to place Canadian flags and take pictures of graves where family and friends lost loved ones.
Share the moment
When he visited the Vimy Ridge Memorial last year, he said he couldn’t get a good look because “the damn thing was closed.” This year he’ll be there close up and in uniform for the opening ceremony and is pleased to share the moment with his local youth. “We’ll soon be gone and if anyone will remember, it’ll be them. I want them to realize that war should never happen again. It’s an awful waste of manpower.”
Theriault and the cadets have been fundraising for little over a year and are astonished at the $50,000 they brought in. “It took awhile at first; I don’t think people really believed we could to it.” She said fundraising dollars really started to flow in over the past few months.
It’s an honour many have realized is worth the price. They’re the only cadet corps going as a solid group, they will stand on Vimy with the Canadian military and may even be inspected by the Queen Theriault says. “For some kids, going to Halifax is exciting; they have no idea! This will be the trip of a lifetime.”
Last Tuesday evening, West Hants Municipal Council Warden Richard Dauphinee with Councillor Rick Gaudet visited the cadets and presented them with a cheque for $1,500 to go toward the trip to Vimy.
When retired military officer Gaudet heard the corps hadn’t received any government fund, he pleaded their case to Council, which agreed unanimously to contribute with the single largest donation to date.
Dauphinee said that the cadets would learn more during this trip than in two months’ worth of school. “We felt that we should be involved and proud to be part of it,” he said. “Many of these young kids would never get a chance to leave West Hants, and they’re the future of our country,” Gaudet said.