In the trenches of Vimy Ridge

Each year thousands of tourists and school groups visit the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France and tour the First World War tunnels and trenches while learning about the history and players at the Vimy Centre.

Canadian National Vimy Memorial gives tourists, students opportunity to see WW I trenches first-hand

Visiting the trenches.

Each year thousands of tourists visit the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France and tour the First World War tunnels and trenches. The trenches were muddy, wet and rat-infested during the war, but today parts have been reinforced with concrete to be preserved for tourists.     

A trench is pictured.
(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

Experiencing history first-hand.

Many student groups also visit the memorial. While there, they learn that the Canadian and German trenches at Vimy Ridge were only about 45 metres apart — so close soldiers could hear each other on quiet nights. 

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

Firing positions.

Canadian trenches had various lookout and firing positions that allowed soldiers to see German lines and trenches. Now tourists and students can step and up see the view and how close they were to enemy lines.   

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

Vimy's battle scars. 

Shell craters and pockmarked battle scars are still visible at Vimy Ridge, but tourists can't get close, because much of the area is off limits, not only to preserve the landscape, but because active landmines are still underneath the grass.   

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

Escaping enemy fire. 

Vimy's rolling craters may look pastoral now, but they were wet, muddy holes during the war. Some holes were so deep that some soldiers drowned in the mud when trying to escape enemy fire.   

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

In the 'subway.'

Although it was considered an impressive engineering feat back then, many of these underground tunnels, or "subways," have collapsed or are unsafe to use today. However, the Grange subway tunnel is partially open for visitors.   

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

Soliders' bunkers.

The tunnels were often where some of the soldiers would sleep, but surviving diary entries from the night before the battle suggest most men were unable to sleep, contemplating what they were to face the next morning.     

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

Preparing for battle. 

The Vimy Ridge underground tunnels also had small rooms where the officers would sleep and plan the battles above, but today they contain reconstructed furniture from the era. The tunnels also contained ammunition storage and communication centres.   

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

Final resting place.

Canada No. 2 Cemetery has the graves of 3,000 Canadian soldiers — some as young as 16 and 17. This is just one of many cemeteries that dot the French countryside.   

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

Grave of a young soldier.

W.H. Collyer died at Vimy Ridge at 17. The legal age to join the Canadian army was 18, so he would have lied about his age in order to enter the fight.     

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

A place for reflection. 

The Vimy Memorial was designed by Canadian architect Walter Seymour Allward and took 11 years to construct. It is often a quiet place, even when there are many visitors, as it really is a place of reflection.     

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

Names of the dead.

There are 11,285 names carved into the monument, all Canadians who died during the Great War but who have no known resting place. The names are those still found across Canada today.   

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

Remembering those lost. 

Generations later, relatives visit the monument to find the names of their descendants and leave wooden crosses or small mementos.

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

'Mourning her fallen sons.'

"Canada Bereft" is the largest statue at the front of the memorial and is said to depict "Canada mourning her fallen sons." Its inscription reads: "To the valour of their countrymen in the Great War and in memory of their sixty thousand dead this monument is raised by the people of Canada."   

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)

Vimy Monument at night.

When the Vimy Monument is lit up at night, its lights are timed to turn on automatically with the celestial clock.   

(Lara Chatterjee/CBC) (Lara Chatterjee/CBC)