Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance.
The Vimy Pilgrimage – Part III
Finally, on 26 July 1936, the Vimy Memorial was ready for its unveiling. The Vimy Pilgrims arrived on the site early in the day, taking time to explore the battlefield that Will R. Bird had told them of in 1931, especially the tunnels and trenches fortuitously preserved by Major Unwin Simson of the Canadian Engineers. As the official ceremonies began, the Pilgrims fell in to ranks as though on parade. Crowded around the Vimy Memorial were more than 100,000 people. While King Edward VIII mingled through the crowds of veterans, British and French Air Force Squadrons flew low over the monument, dipping their wings in salute.
With the King taking his spot atop the monument, numerous dignitaries delivered speeches, with Ian Mackenzie, the Canadian Minister of National Defence, being met with resounding cries of “Vive La France! Long Live the President! God Save the King!” The King then delivered a brief speech in both English and French, before pulling the drawstring on the Union Jack that cloaked the Canada Bereft figure, officially unveiling the Vimy Memorial. The Last Post was sounded, followed by two minutes silence, ended by the sounding of Reveille. In the valley leading to the Douai Plain, artillery cracked a 21-gun salute that reverberated across the old battlefield. Following along back home, the entire ceremony was broadcast live to Canada by the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission.
Randall Christie, one of the 6,200 Canadian Vimy Pilgrims, remarked: “in spite of the large number there was a strange quietness noticeably amongst the Pilgrims… Minds were flashing back a few years and the memories of those with whom we served and who gave their lives on this very ground came back to us” (Christie & Roncetti, For Our Old Comrades, p. 74).
Follow this link to hear King Edward VIII’s speech: http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/1936-vimy-ridge-memorial-unveiled