As Canada geese honked overhead, and a red sunrise turned orange – then powder-grey – a solemn crowd gathered beside the military gravestones at London’s Woodland Cemetery.
About 250 people assembled last Sunday in the pre-dawn to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle at Vimy Ridge.
Among the roll of 47 Londoners killed during the four-day battle were 17 Western students and alumni. War historian John Sargeant and cemetery manager Paul Culliton read the names aloud.
“Reading the names, and remembering the sacrifice these young men made, put a lump in my throat,” Culliton said. “It was profoundly moving.”
A total of 3,598 Canadians were killed and 7,004 wounded during the battle, which raged from Apr. 9-12, 1917. It was the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Corps had fought together, paying with blood to achieve the largest advance the Allied forces had seen during the war to that point.
Vimy Ridge has become a symbol of the forging of a Canadian identity. More than 25,000 people gathered in France to mark the start of the battle, and in London, Culliton said he was pleased to see many at the sunrise ceremony.
Serving and retired military members placed five wreaths at the base of a flagpole just west of the headstones. Each Canadian division was represented with a wreath, and a fifth represented the battle at Vimy. Western student Michaela Latta helped place the wreath honouring the 4th Division.
A Thanatology student at King’s University College, Latta said her participation in the remembrance was emotional.
“It meant a lot of be part of this. I felt very honoured to be able to do this – knowing I would be representing not only those who fought in the war, and those who didn’t come home, but also the families and those with ties to people who were there.”
Families have placed more than 50 memorials to First World War soldiers at Woodland, off Springbank Drive, even though most soldiers were buried overseas. The cemetery has a veterans’ section, a testament to the service and sacrifice of soldiers from 1939 to present day.
Over the years, students have developed a relationship with Woodland, including helping restore some of the historical monuments and headstones.
Western students and alumni who gave their lives at Vimy Ridge include:
Cpl. John Brown (18th Battalion); Pte. George Dunham (58th Batt.); Pte. Aubrey Gomme (21st Batt.); Pte. Alfred Goodman (18th Batt.); Pte. James Kellestine (15th Batt.); Pte. Fred Lewis (60th Batt.); Pte. Ernest Lockey (21st Batt.); Pte. Cyril Lowe (142nd Batt.); Pte. Thomas Mason (44th Batt.); Pte. Williis McIntyre (50th Batt.); Pte. Joseph Muldon (5th Batt.); Pte. John Paterson (15th Batt.); Pte. Charles Perring (15th Batt.); Cpl. Leslie Sadler (58th Batt.); Pte. Herbert Smith (18th Batt.); Pte. Samuel Smith (15th Batt.); Capt. Stanley Stewart (11th Batt.).