By 1916, the futility of the war and the staggering cost of human life were apparent to both sides of the conflict. The Battle of the Somme is remembered as the fiercest and most futile fighting of that year. This Battle lasted for five months and raged throughout the summer and fall months of 1916, and came to end simply because the winter weather made any further fighting virtually impossible.
Over one million soldiers were killed or wounded in this conflict, including 25,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders. This tragic loss of life did not lead to any substantial gains in territory or momentum by either side.
Battles like this continued throughout 1917, culminating at Vimy Ridge, which many historians consider to be one of Canada’s greatest military victories. It marked the first time that all four Canadian divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force had fought together. Along with soldiers from Britain, they achieved the largest Allied advance into German territory. 11,000 Canadian soldiers were killed or wounded in this battle. This victory was the result of careful preparation, strong leadership and remarkable resilience and perseverance.
Today, if you travel through France, you will come upon a striking memorial. It was erected to commemorate the great Canadian achievement and sacrifice at Vimy Ridge. Next April marks the 100th anniversary of the triumph of Vimy Ridge and many celebrations are planned to honour this historic event.
Next year also marks our country’s 150th anniversary. Moments like this often lead to reflecting upon the events and people that have shaped Canada. No doubt, the role of our brave soldiers will figure prominently in these reflections. It is evident that by fighting for freedom in the First World War and all of the subsequent wars in which Canadian soldiers have fought, they secured the peace and freedom that we enjoy today.
As Gerda Freiberg, Monday’s Holocaust speaker reminded us, we should never take our freedom for granted. Each of us has a responsibility to make the most of the freedom to make choices and shape our personal destiny.
We talk a great deal here at Greenwood about the importance of character. We would be well served to learn from the example of Canada’s soldiers who have persevered through insurmountable conditions, grappled with fear and demonstrated great selflessness in serving others.