The sights of Passchendaele, 100 years later
An official Government of Canada delegation is in Ypres, Belgium, from Nov. 7 to 12 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, which has become an enduring symbol for Canadians of the futility of war and human lives lost.
The Allied campaign was a major offensive fought by British, Canadian and other Commonwealth soldiers against German forces during the First World War, from July to November 1917. The Canadian Corps joined the fight in October and captured the Passchenaele ridge overlooking Ypres on Nov. 6, after weeks of fighting in the mud and moving only a few hundred metres at a time. The soldiers were under constant attack in heavy rain that never seemed to let up; the scene was a muddy quagmire. More than 16,000 Canadians were killed or wounded.
The Canadian delegation now in Belgium includes representatives from Indigenous and veterans organizations, descendants of Passchendaele veterans, parliamentarians, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and youth wanting to learn more about Canada's role in the First World War. They are getting an intense, up-close look at the hardships Canadians endured in a battle "known more for its muddy horrors than its military triumph."
Among them is Warrant Officer Matt Russell. He holds a picture of his great grandfather who fought here. His memory "makes me feel really proud," Russell said. "It is a little emotional because it's hard to imagine what they went through."
Canadian Forces members, families and dignitaries took part in a ceremony Thursday at the St. Julien Memorial near Passchendaele. The "Brooding Soldier" monument marks the location where Canadians withstood the first German gas attacks of the First World War in 1915.
Bruce Leeming travelled from Combermere, Ont. to discover more about Passchendaele, where his grandfather fought. Russell Wilkinson survived and even contributed to the Canadian effort in the Second World War. "He never spoke about the wars but one thing he did say was Passchendaele was his hell."
Though the Battle of Passchendaele is remembered more for its death toll than its strategic value in the war, Belgians are keen to show their appreciation to Canadians for their sacrifices. More than 4,000 Canadian soldiers died and another 12,000 were wounded. Houses display the maple leaf flag on "Canadalaan" (Canada Lane) in Passchendaele.
On "Canadalaan" in Passchendaele now sits the new Canada Gate, designed by Nova Scotia artist Nancy Keating. The steel monument accompanies the "Last Steps Memorial Arch" on the Halifax waterfront, meant to symbolize the trip taken by 350,000 young soldiers. "You think of them proudly marching through and then when you think about what the reality was — the horror of war — that was the message I was trying to give."
For the first time, Joe De Remigis from Toronto got to see his great uncle Anthony Scarizze's name etched into the wall at Menin Gate. It was misspelled. When Scarizze enrolled at age 14, "He went along with it because he didn't want to cause any trouble," De Remigis said. The names of more than 54,000 war dead are engraved at the monument in Ypres.
Canadians took part in a special Last Post ceremony Wednesday night at Menin Gate to mark the Canadian effort in the Battle of Passchendaele. The bugle call has been performed at the monument practically every night since 1928.
Kiera Wortley from Winnipeg won an essay contest to become one of five youths part of the official Canadian delegation at Passchendaele centennial commemorations. "I wish more people saw how important it was," she said. "Lots of people at my high school don't care at all about history but I think it's important to acknowledge."