This day started early, and brought our first sight of rain during the tour. The group embarked on another journey through time to walk the same grounds the members of our regiment walked 97 years ago. The tour drove down the old Roman road between Arras and Cambrai—the center line for Canadian Corps attack on August 28th, 1918. This was the second operation of the final 100 days campaign. The Canadian Corp attacked over a span of four days in order to break six kilometers of the outer defenses of the Hindenburg Line, a line of defence that had long been considered unassailable. On September 2nd the corps attacked the main defenses of the Hindenburg Line with tank support and broke through in three hours. During this battle seven more Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross.
Serving members of the British Columbia Regiment (BCR) along with the Regiment’s Association next took part in a parade alongside the Calgary Highlanders and Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s Own) in Viller les Cagnicourt. In 2008 the British Columbia Regiment had dedicated a plaque to Private Walter Rayfield, VC, who had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery on September 2nd, 1918. Three more plaques have now joined Rayfield’s, and were dedicated at the parade to the memory of Sergeant Arthur Knight from the Calgary Highlanders (10th Battalion CEF), as well as Lieutenant Colonel Cy Peck, and Lance Corporal William Metcalf from the Canadian Scottish Regiment.
The contingent marched through the city to the sound of the pipe band, and took part in the ceremony. Once the ceremony concluded, members were able to view the plaque dedicated to Private Rayfield and the other three other Victoria Cross winners. A reception was hosted at town hall, which had been decorated with WWI museum items and a great collection of posters, school projects, and pictures. The Canadian contingent was delighted with the warmth and generosity of the local people.
The tour then moved on to Canal du Nord, which was stormed by the Canadian Corps on September 27th, 1918. This was the battle where Lieutenant Graham Thompson Lyall of the 102nd (North BC) Battalion was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions. During the battle, Lieutenant Lyall and his platoon captured a strong point in addition to 13 prisoners, one field gun, and four machine guns. The memorial for Lieutenant Lyall is located in the village in Bourlon alongside the French war memorial.
The Canadian War Memorial for this battle is at Bourlon Wood—a feature that was captured during the first day of the battle. Vern Salisbury, assisted by Major Virk and Corporal Parker, walked up the numerous steps to visit this memorial. One of the coolest moments happened on the way down from the memorial. Vern is a big fan of the pipes, so Pipe Major Matt Dolan played the pipes while Vern made his way down the steps. While coming down the stairs Vern raised his hand with a clinched fist like he had just won the lottery. The enthusiasm from Vern made everyone’s day just that much better!
One of the highlights of the trip was the visit to the Vimy Ridge Memorial. This is the last site where the Canadian Regiments would gather together for a parade. The Vimy Ridge Memorial is absolutely breath-taking whether it is the first time or tenth time you see it. Having the honour to march on the same ground as those who fought in the war was amazing. While the clouds gathered over the memorial during the march, the skies opened up and the sun shone on the guards once they arrived at the base of the memorial.
After the parade, the group toured the Grange Tunnel and the preserved trenches used in the preparation for the attack. The trenches were the jumping off place for the PPCLI during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The group was able to walk through the tunnels and experience the conditions. Once the tour was over, Major Evans presented the tour guide with the BCR Commanding Officer’s coin.
After a long day of parades and memorials, the tour group along with our bus driver, Peter, was looking forward to a well-deserved day off.
Submitted by: Captain Majeet Vinning, Colonel (retired) Keith Maxwell and Bob Hall
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