Ugh. Day 5 children. I feel like a bag of poop; I know, wonderful analogy first thing in the morning Dave. It is what it is though. I fell asleep quick and slept well, but all those nights without sleep have caught up to me. Maybe it’s fitting that today is the April 9th, the day we go to Vimy and commemorate the 100th anniversary of one of the most important military (and otherwise) events in our country’s short history. I’m sure all of the those men were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as they crouched in those trenches. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.
I was up at 0500, but I didn’t go to bed until almost 0030. The wifi at this hotel is not very good, and I had to spend a lot of time fiddling around with their blog, trying to upload pictures and getting them inserted into the post. I know, first world problems. Whatever the case, it is still an issue and my issue to deal with. I had to use some of the precious data on my phone to expedite the process after a lot of frustration using the wifi. I need to run right now and wake up the kids. I know they’ll appreciate the 0600 knock on the door from “Dadistel” (my latest nickname-thanks Ben Grassia).
It’s a crisp and clear morning. The sky is starting to lighten in twilight, as night gives way to dawn. I want to get a photo as the sun comes up. It’s supposed to be 23 today, very unlike it was 100 years ago, when the attack commenced in a blinding snowstorm. Hopefully I don’t burn in the sun.
We are on the road right now, on our way to our drop off point. It’s a beautiful morning right now, a bit hazy, but it looks like it’s going to be a great day. The haze gives the countryside almost mystical feel. I think there’s a lot of mixed emotions as we head towards the Vimy site, probably not unlike was like 100 years ago. Maybe that gives us a little bit of a sense of what the soldiers were feeling before the attack.
So we’re here in the city of Liévin and we’re having our bus “fueled up” and “bombed up” for the celebration. Very fitting for the day; it’s almost like a military operation, with groups of people coming out bringing boxes of food and water for a bus. It’s going to be a long day at Vimy and we need all of this food and water to get us through the day. It really gives you an idea of the scope and magnitude of the celebration and all the planning that went into it, much like Vimy.
So it’s 10 o’clock now we’re in the city of Lens and we’re standing in a massive queue waiting to get the shuttle bus to go to Vimy Ridge. There are hundreds of people standing here…it’s just an amazing thing to be part of. There are groups people from all walks of life; military, civilian and police. I see members of the Canadian Grenadier Guards, Queen’s Own Rifles, cadets and many military members, current and former here waiting for the buses. Everything is proceeding with clockwork like precision.
It’s now almost 1 o’clock and we’re sitting below the base of Vimy Ridge in the sweltering heat. It is unbelievable how many people are here, literally tens of thousands of people. It is a very different atmosphere than 2012. With the pouring rain we had that year, it was a very sombre affair and very sad. In some ways it feels like we’re at a rock concert with a very festive like atmosphere. I’m sure the tone will change when the time for the ceremony begins, but for now it feels a lot different than it has in the past. There’s almost like a whole village created here at the ridge; tents for VIPs, facilities, stands for the media and the display on the memorial itself.
That was one of the best experiences of my life and quite possibly one of the worst. It was one of the most memorable experiences and one of the most nightmarish. I am completely and utterly exhausted and so is everybody else. I just want to go back to the hotel and go to sleep. The end of the day was absolutely crazy.
After hours of sitting in baking under the sun, the ceremony started at approximately 3 o’clock. There was a slight delay with the arrival of the dignitaries but after that they got everything started. It unfolded in 4 movements, each preceded by actors such as Paul Gross reading letters from the war. There were speeches from the Governor General, the Prime Minister and the Prince of Wales. Interspersed were performances by musicians and choirs and fly past of historic biplanes. As I mentioned earlier, it did feel more festive than in 2012, but there were moments of emotion, such as when the whole crowd, however many thousands were there, accompanied the band in playing “O Canada.”
With the kids clearly beat, and some bordering on the verge of heat exhaustion, we decided to duck out a few minutes early to get into the queue for the buses. Unfortunately we were hit with a double whammy. They blocked our exit from the front area of the monument (the part that faces east) just as we got there, and the reason they did, was all the VIPs, the GG, the Royals and the PM all passed by right where we had been standing. Had we stayed in that spot, we may have been able to meet them and certainly get some real good photos and video. Damn!
Once the ceremony was over, things got a little messy, definitely much less organized than the morning. We had difficulty leaving the area through the main exit and the crowd was very agitated after a long day in the heat. When they did let everyone through, we had a real hard time keeping everyone together and organized. This was very poorly organized on the part of the planners and created a great deal of stress. Fortunately we got everyone, in small groups, on the shuttle and back to the bus in Lens. I’m sure the kids will definitely remember their experience at Vimy 100 for many years to come.
We had dinner again at the hotel and everyone now is ready for bed. I think we all had a bit too much sun, very evidenced by sleepy behaviour and possibly sunburnt faces. I know that for myself, even after several applications of sunscreen, I am beet red in a few places that I missed. Tomorrow is a much more relaxed but early day, with visits to Albert for church, Beaumont Hamel and Arras. I going to turn in, but tomorrow’s a new day. Until then…