Canada commemorates WWI Battle of Vimy′s 100-year anniversary in France | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 09.04.2017
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World War I

Canada commemorates WWI Battle of Vimy's 100-year anniversary in France

Marking a small but strategic victory during World War I, the Battle of Vimy has played a pivotal role in Canadian history. Canada's premier has described the event as a turning point for the war and his country.

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France: Hollande and Trudeau remember Battle of Vimy Ridge

More than 20,000 people, many of them Canadians, gathered for a ceremony in northern France on Sunday to remember a World War I battle that left an indelible mark on Canada's national identity - 100 years after it happened. 

On a balmy spring day, with the thermometer pushing 23 degrees Celsius (74 degrees Farenheit), Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau led a procession of dignitaries, including French President Francois Hollande and British royalty, through the solemn commemoration of the century-old battle at Vimy Ridge.

"They were, most of them, young men in their late teens, in their early 20s," Trudeau said at the ceremony. "Going as far as sacrificing their lives, these men both ordinary and extraordinary of the British dominion fought for the first time as citizens of a single and same country...side by side here in Vimy."

Some 3,600 Canadian soldiers died and more than 7,000 were injured during the three-day battle. Largely because of its military achievement in northern France, the North American country was a separate signatory to the treaty that ended World War I.

"In this sense, Canada was born there," Trudeau said.

Amid sleet and snow, Canadian volunteers managed on April 9, 1917 to push back German forces from a long-held strategic post. To protect soldiers from shelling, they, along with New Zealand forces, built miles of tunnels - one of the war's great engineering feats allowing troops to pop up quickly into their positions.

Although the battle is not considered among the largest during World War I, it played a key part in establishing Canada's role in the conflict and eventually symbolizing the nation's founding events.

100 Jahre Schlacht von Vimy (picture-alliance/Photoshot)

Canadian troopers advanced in the muddied battlefield to push back German forces during World War I from a strategic position

Canada's defining moment

The battle marked the first time four military divisions from Canada had fought together as a unit dubbed the Canadian Corps.

"It made the Canadian Corps think it could do anything. It made the soldiers believe that they were really good soldiers, better than anybody else. They had done something that the British and French were not able to do," said Canadian military historian Jack Granatstein.

Printed on the back of Canada's $20 bill, the memorial at Vimy is considered one of the finest World War I memorials in Europe, paying homage to the 11,285 soldiers killed or "missing, presumed dead" during the battle.

Britain's Prince Charles attended the commemoration with his sons, Princes William and Harry, who dropped boots symbolizing the dead soldiers and ceramic poppies at the grand war memorial that marks the site of the battle.

"Their sacrifice must inspire us to do everything to avoid that senseless losses happen again," Charles said of the Canadians who lost their lives in France. "Let's renew our commitment to remember their heroism in the face of suffering and fear."

ls,bik/se (AP, AFP)

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