Vimy Remembered: An airman’s experience

News Article / September 18, 2017

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By Master Corporal Jeremy Roche

I am a supervisor/instructor at the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Control Operations, a 16 Wing Borden, Ontario, school located in Cornwall, Ontario. We teach Canadian Armed Forces non-commissioned members how to become and/or how to expand their skills as aerospace control operators. I grew up in Newmarket, Ontario, and am in my 12th year of service in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Early this year, I was nominated by my unit to participate in the April 9, 2017, ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in Vimy, France, marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Some 300 soldiers from throughout Canada participated in the event.

The Monument

As an airman within the Royal Canadian Air Force, being part of an event that looks back on the bravery and prowess of our Canadian Corps is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Never could I have imagined that I would be standing on the very ground so devastated by war. And yet, from all the bloodshed, a nation arose.

As I took my first steps toward Walter Allward’s stunningly beautiful monument, all I could think was, “breathtaking”. A true masterpiece, this monument speaks to you; it whispers your name, it touches you like an old friend, and it reminds you that victory did not come easily.

I could hear the battle, the faint sounds of the guns off in the distance, the screams of horror. And I felt the fear of those who sacrificed their freedom, their family, their life, so that I and so many other proud Canadians could be free. A feeling of sadness fell upon me as I observed the names of 11,285 Canadians inscribed on those limestone-clad walls. 

Until this experience, I never truly understood the sacrifices made in the war that was considered to be “the war to end all wars” – until I walked onto the grounds of the first cemetery. 

I was immediately overwhelmed by how many Canadian and Allied soldiers’ headstones there were; so many gravesites; so many lost. I had the opportunity to explore a German cemetery, where nearly 40,000 enemy soldiers were buried. Everywhere you looked there were tombstones; the battlefield was filled with them.

And then, there were the tunnels.

I could not fathom being above that ground, let alone beneath it. The 10 kilometres of tunnels carved into the chalk of Vimy Ridge served a twofold purpose: they were used as underground protection for the soldiers of the Canadian Corps as they moved to the front line, and they were used for the placing of huge underground mines beneath the German trenches. 

You can only imagine what must have been going through our soldiers’ minds as they lay waiting silently, for hours, days, even, for the moment they would surface, amidst heavy artillery fire, to take the ridge. I cannot fathom the emotions they must have experienced as they looked around, wondering, “how many of us will make it? Will I make it?”

And yet, they rose, flooded out of the tunnel, and did what our Allies had not been able to do. They took Vimy Ridge. How could I not be in awe? How could I not be proud? How could any Canadian not be proud?

All of this was the precursor to April 9, 2017.

Lest We Forget

As we marched from our staging area, I could feel the ground shake when our heels dug in. I knew that everyone marching in file felt the same as I did. As we approached the gates leading to the monument, the crowd began to applaud and cheer. I was overwhelmed by how many people were there to pay their respects and to remember the sacrifices of those incredibly brave and dedicated men. I felt tremendous pride, not only for myself but for Canada. 

As the world watched, commemorated, remembered, and honored those who made the ultimate sacrifice, I was privileged enough to be there, standing on the grounds of our fallen. There has never been a moment in my life where I felt more proud to be Canadian. To be able to represent my country, the Canadian Armed Forces, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and my unit, was an experience of a lifetime – one that I will never forget.

Since Master Corporal Roche wrote this story, he has been promoted to the rank of sergeant.

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