Topic: Vimy Pilgrimage
In July 1936, the Vimy Pilgrimage saw 6000 Canadians, both veterans and family members of survivors and casualties, sail to Europe on five liners of the Canadian Pacific and Cunard lines to attend the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial. Joined by many other Canadians who were already overseas, over 800 were in attendance when King Edward VIII unveiled that great monument on 26 July, 1936.
The schedule for the Pilgrimage saw the many voyagers travel to England for a few days after then unveiling after which, by special invitation of France, 5000 Pilgrims again crossed the Channel to visit and tour. One highlight of this tour was a grand banquet for the 5000 Pilgrims at the Hôtel des Invalides on 2nd August, 1936. During this banquet, each pilgrim was presented with a gift from the grateful nation of France. The Vimy Pilgrimage book which recounts the trip, "The Epic of Vimy," makes only passing mention of this offering, the Vimy medallions:
"Throughout its duration commemorative medals minted by the Republic of France as a souvenir of the Vimy Unveiling and of the visit of the Pilgrims were distributed to each one. These are in bronze and are appropriately impressed with the heroic figures of the Canadian memorial on Vimy Ridge."
Marshall Phillippe Pétain spoke to the Pilgrims on this occasion, his remarks are recorded in the "Epic of Vimy" and begin as follows:
"Soldiers need no lengthy speeches in order to understand each other. Let me express to you simply and in a few words the profound and sincere pleasure it gives to the war veterans of France to welcome the members of the Canadian Legion."
"During the war the daily communiqués from the front reported reverses: for the Canadians they announced only victories. They were doughy fighters who gained the objectives assigned to them, nor did they allow these to be retaken. The memory of the Canadians remains vibrant within the heart of the French poilu, for he who has endured the severest tests knows how to appreciate real valour. St. Eloi, Langemarck, Festubert, Passchendaele, Vimy — all those places where you covered yourselves with renown are as familiar to us as the Battle of Tahure, Verdun or Hartsmanweilerkopf."
"This rampart of Vimy which you stormed on April 9th, 1917, dominates the Plain of Douai. That you have seen for yourselves. From 1914 the French High Command recognized its importance. Upon its occupation depended the possibility of effective action against the only vulnerable flank of the enemy. Thus on May 9th, 1915, the 33rd French Army Corps, which I had the honour to command, received the order to capture it."
"The Moroccan Division, detailed to the assault, crossed the Ridge and penetrated into Petit Vimy, but in the face of furious counter-attacks were obliged to withdraw. It then required two more years before we became masters of those heights. That was your work."
"Your four Divisions, supported by the powerful artillery, launched themselves forward in the dawn of April 9th, 1917, and overcoming all German resistance, captured numerous prisoners and much war material. The Canadian Corps, happier than the 33rd French Corps in May, 1915, assured after a violent contest the definite possession of this position which was of utmost strategic value."
The bronze Vimy medallions are 50 millimetres in diameter and 4 millimetres thick. The face of the medallion features a bas-relief of the Vimy Memorial statue of Canada mourning, with the following texts, either raised or inscribed:
- 26-VII-1936 (the date of the unveiling)
- A de. Possesse (Albin Francoise de Possesse, the artist who created the medallion)
- Scupt Walter S. Allward (the Sculptor of the Vimy Memorial)
- Pelligrinage Canadien – Canadian Pilgrinage (sic)
On the reverse is a silhouette of the monument, with the following texts:
- Canadian War Memorial on Vimy Ridge
- IN MEMORIAM SEXACINTO MILLIUM CANADIENSIUM QUI ANNO DOMINI MCMXIV-MCMXVIII ARMIS VITRA MARE VITAM PRO PATRIA VITRO DEDIDERUNT (Roughly translated to: "In memory of 600,000 Canadians, who, in the years of our Lord 1914 to 1918, under arms and from across the glittering sea, surrendered their lives for their shining native land.")