Monday, May 4, 2015

Vimy Ridge

Lucas, one of my cyber-friends, knowing my interest in oak trees and the emotional attachment that can go with them sent me a link to this article:

Green is woods.  Brown is elevation.  Canadians fighting from left-to-right, pushing Germans up the hill.

On April 9, 1917 close to 100,000 Canadians poured from trenches, dugouts and tunnels to begin the Battle of Vimy Ridge.  

Among the soldiers was Leslie Miller, a farm boy from Toronto.  When the guns had gone silent, Vimy Ridge was barren ground.  Nothing was left standing, not even the old oaks. From this, Miller somehow located acorns buried in the mud of the battlefield. He sent them home to be planted on his farm, located on Kennedy road in Scarsborough (Ontario).  When he did make it back home, nine saplings were growing and Miller would tend them the rest of his life.  He passed away in 1979.

For those who have little knowledge of Canadian history, Vimy Ridge is to Canadians what The Rough Riders storming of San Juan hill is to the US.  It served notice that Canada was now a force to be reckoned with on the world stage.  Vimy Ridge was astride the western/lowland approach to France.

World War I was a war that chewed up soldiers and spit out bodies.  No longer was the individual foot-soldier with a backpack and thirty rounds of ammunition the hero.  Ground was gained by artillery and machine-gun fire.  Ground was held by the foot soldiers.

Approximate location of Vimy Ridge.  Canadians advancing from bottom toward top.  Resupply from the south.  German resupply from the north.

The Canadians pushed the Germans up and over Vimy Ridge.  They overcame the initial tactical advantage the Germans had  i.e., artillery could be mounted at the military crest of the ridge and rain shells on the attackers with little risk to the crews.  They also overcame the logistical difficulties of the rough country their supply lines snaked across. 

Case Vanderkruk...and Andrew Barbour are working to produce enough (progeny from Miller's Oaks) to return to Vimy for the battle's centennial in 2017.
The process to return Vimy oaks began when Monty McDonald, a long time friend of Miller's, came up with the idea of repatriating the Vimy oaks in Scarsborough back to Vimy, France.

On January 24, 2015 a ceremony and gathering of cuttings (to be grafted) from the oaks was held at the Chinese Baptist Church (current owner of the property).  McDonald welcomed the nearly 100 people who attended the event.  He introduced former Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent, who said "These trees stand as a symbol of the strength and determination of those who gave so much nearly 100 years ago, and it is truly an honour to be here to witness the beginning of what will become a lasting reminder of Canadian sacrifices on Vimy Ridge."

All of this is possible because a farm boy had a habit of putting seeds in his pockets.

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