Honour Canada's fallen heroes at these war memorials in Europe
Canadian soldiers attend an official ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Vimy battle at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in Vimy, northern France, Saturday, April 7, 2007. (Michel Spingler / AP)
Published Friday, November 11, 2016 5:47AM EST
As you pin a poppy to your lapel and head out to a local Remembrance Day ceremony to honour Canadian soldiers who have served for their country, you may not realize that our troops are also being celebrated all over the world.
On this day and throughout the year, impressive war memorials dedicated to the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers during the First and Second World Wars are open to the public. These European memorials provide visitors with the opportunity to learn the stories of those brave men who gave up their futures so we could enjoy ours.
If you’re planning a European vacation anytime soon, it’s worth your while to visit some of these stirring spots.
First World War (1914-1918)
Canadian National Vimy Memorial: France
The Vimy Memorial is perhaps the most impressive and well-known tributes dedicated to Canadian soldiers in Europe.
It stands tall on a ridge overlooking the Douai Plain, about 10 kilometres north of the city of Arras in northern France. The monument honours the great victory at Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917 when Canadian troops captured the heavily-defended position from the Germans, a feat British and French armies had been trying to accomplish for more than two years.
The battle was a turning point for the Allied forces during the war and established Canada’s reputation on the world stage. The triumph at Vimy Ridge was not without sacrifice, however. The fighting killed 3,598 and wounded 7,004 Canadians.
The Vimy Memorial pays tribute to the soldiers who fought at Vimy Ridge as well as all of the Canadians who served during the First World War. There are 11,285 names of Canadian soldiers who were posted missing or presumed dead in France carved on the walls of the memorial. The towering monument also includes two limestone pylons and a statue of a cloaked woman that represents Canada mourning her dead sons.
If you’re planning a visit to the Vimy Memorial, it might be worth waiting until April of next year. The Canadian government plans to hold special commemorative ceremonies there on April 9, 2017 to mark the 100th anniversary of the historic battle.
Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial: France
A bronze statue of a caribou stands tall on a mound overlooking the rolling fields where many men lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The caribou, an emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, gazes out to where the enemy lines once were in Beaumont-Hamel in northern France. Newfoundland didn’t join Canada until 1949 and was a British dominion during the First World War when it sent its own armed forces to fight alongside other colonial troops.
On July 1, 1916 the Royal Newfoundland Regiment fought its first and deadliest battle at Beaumont-Hamel. Only 110 of almost 800 men from the regiment survived that dangerous advance on German lines.
The base of caribou monument has the names of 820 soldiers with unknown graves who died during the war. Of those 820 names, 591 of them belong to the hard-hit Royal Newfoundland Regiment. The memorial also includes a replica of the “Danger Tree,” which marked an area where many Newfoundlanders lost their lives from heavy artillery fire.
The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial is the largest of five memorials in Europe dedicated to the troops from Newfoundland.
St. Julien Canadian Memorial: Belgium
Towering almost 11 metres high, the imposing granite monument known as “The Brooding Soldier” is a striking centrepiece of the St. Julien Canadian Memorial located about 50 kilometres northeast of the city of Ypres in Belgium.
The sombre statue was built to honour the 18,000 Canadian soldiers who heroically fought during the Second Battle of Ypres and the 2,000 men who were buried in unmarked graves at St. Julien.
On April 22, 1915, the German forces released chlorine gas against Allied troops for the first time during the war in an attempt to break a stalemate near Ypres.
After the French line was overrun by the poisonous gas, the Canadians helped to prevent the Germans from encircling the Allied troops by conducting multiple counter attacks and managing to hold the line in the face of violent shelling and chlorine gas. It was this deadly battle where the Canadian troops first earned their reputation in Europe as a formidable fighting force.
The St. Julien Canadian Memorial recognizes the Canadians’ achievements in Ypres as well as the ultimate sacrifice of 6,035 Canadian men who died during those terrible 48 hours there.
Passchendaele Canadian Memorial: Belgium
A block of Canadian granite is surrounded by a peaceful grove of maple trees at the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial in Belgium, about 16 kilometres east of Ypres.
The monument marks the famous battlefield where more than 15,000 Canadian troops lost their lives or were wounded while fighting to capture the village of Passchendaele.
In late October 1917, the Canadians endured miserable muddy conditions as they painstakingly inched their way towards the German-held village with two other British units. The Allied forces met stiff resistance by the German forces’ artillery before they managed to push their enemies back and hold the Passchendaele ridge.
The rebuilt city of Ypres is visible from the memorial at Passchendaele which shows just how hard the Canadians had to fight to gain ground from one battlefield to the next. An impressive nine Victoria Crosses, the highest award for bravery a Canadian soldier can receive, were awarded after the Battle of Passchendaele demonstrating the heroism of Canadian troops during that conflict.
Second World War (1939-1945)
Juno Beach Centre: France
The D-Day landings on the Normandy coast in France is one of the most famous events during the Second World War.
On June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day, allied troops attacked five different beaches on the coast of Normandy in a coordinated effort to open the way to Germany from the west. The Allied troops pushed their way to the French city of Caen, an important German communications centre. They eventually liberated Paris on Aug. 25, 1944.
The Canadians’ success during the conflict came at a heavy price. More than 5,000 men died during the Battle of Normandy, with 340 of those soldiers dying on D-Day alone. The Canadians suffered the highest death toll of any division in the British Army Group during the Normandy campaign.
The Juno Beach Centre, in the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer in France, is located beside the beach where more than 450 Canadians parachuted in and another 14,000 bravely fought their way to Caen. French city of Caen, an important German communications centre.
The interactive educational facility and museum offers a wealth of information concerning the D-Day assault and Canada’s larger role in the war.
Visitors to the centre should also take the opportunity to wander the famed beaches on the town’s coast to see where all of the action took place on that important day.
Square du Canada: France
Two years before the Allies stormed the coast of Normandy on D-Day, they attempted an attack on another French beach at the port of Dieppe.
On Aug. 19, 1942, Allied troops, the majority of which were Canadian, took part in a disastrous raid regarded as one of the darkest moments in Canadian military history.
Of the 4,963 Canadians who left Britain to participate in the mission, only 2,200 returned. The raid claimed the lives of 916 Canadian men and another 1,946 were captured as prisoners of war. The calamitous operation served as an important lesson for Canadian soldiers on how not to conduct a coastal operation.
The Square du Canada consists of a small monument and a plaque located in a dedicated park on the western end of the beach in Dieppe. Although the memorial in the park is relatively small, the main reason to visit Dieppe is to stand on the beaches where so many Canadians lost their lives.
Cassino Memorial: Italy
A 15-foot high monument with the names of 192 Canadians stands tall in the middle of the Cassino War Cemetery in the Cassino commune in Italy.
Inscribed on the green marble memorial are the names of 192 Canadians and more than 4,000 soldiers who died during the Italian campaign. Hundreds of Canadians were buried in the Cassino War Cemetery.
The Italian Campaign began in 1943 when the Allies pushed from the south to the north of Italy for more than a year in order to attack enemy territory in Europe and divert the Germany’s troops from the Eastern Front.
More than 93,000 Canadian soldiers fought in the battles of the Italian Campaign. Cassino was one of the last German strongholds in a line of military fortifications in Italy. The Canadians helped launch an attack in May 1944 that broke through the enemy’s lines and opened up the way to Rome.