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A Veteran's Thoughts about Vimy Ridge


Vimy Ridge has been in the news continuously for many days, remembering the 3600 Canadian soldiers who were killed in three days in a battle on that ridge in France in World War I, 100 years ago.

We have built a beautiful monument in remembrance of the soldiers who lost their lives in that unfortunate conflict.

However, I can't help but wonder whether, by putting so much emphasis on this event, by mentioning, repeating and being proud of our military successes, or by seeing war as a means of finding the identity of our country, we are actually glorifying war itself.

When speakers at the remembrance ceremony propound that ‘our men’ laid down their lives that we can live in freedom or a member of the royalty of a ‘colonial’ power suggests that those who died were ‘fighting against oppression,’ one wonders whom they are actually talking about. Who was threatening our freedom and who was oppressing whom during the time of WWI?

Would we honour those who died in that battle more if we quietly remember them, the great loss their death caused to their families, without making so many ‘exclamations’ about it?

Wars are terrible. The American general Sherman is quoted to have said ‘I am sick and tired of killing, war is hell’.

My father was in the medical corps in WWI. He hardly ever spoke about the horrors of that war, but it affected him for some time in his life and led to PTSD, which later may have been a cause for his suicide.

I was not alive during World War One but I am a veteran of World War Two and was conscripted to fight on the Russian Front.

I, and I think many other veterans, would not like to be remembered in such a ‘pronounced’ way.

All soldiers, no matter from which country, were trained and ordered to kill and they did so.

However, it is not easy, even for a soldier, to kill another human being whom he does not know, just because he wears another uniform.

Are we really heroes for killing each other?

Historically, Canada had a noteworthy way of remembering the ones who died in recent wars. They were asking the still surviving veterans of WWII and other wars, if they would be willing to share their war experiences with a generation of high school students. The students wanted to know what war was really like, after they had studied it in their classroom.

I was invited to several schools and tried to take the listeners with me through a day on the front lines. They were very attentive and involved, which I observed from the thoughtful questions they asked.

A teacher who had invited me to her school wrote to the Historical Canada Memory Project organizer:

"The first-hand accounts of his experience as a soldier on the front allowed us an incomparable and invaluable view into the effects of war on real individuals and their families. …his visit far exceeds that of any textbook or film I could have offered my students leading up to Remembrance Day this year.”

I hope that my experience will encourage these young people to promote and work for peace.


By: Helmut Lemke, Burnaby B.C., member of Point Grey Inter-Mennonite Fellowship, Vancouver.

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