THE SIGNIFICANCE OF VIMY
AN ADDRESS BY THE VENERABLE ARCHDEACON
F.G. SCOTT, C.M.G., D.S.O., D.D., D.C.L., LL.D.
Thursday, 22nd October, 1936
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen, the Empire Club of Canada today honours those pilgrims who took part in the Vimy Pilgrimage. We also pay homage to that marvellous monument, itself, erected At Vimy in honour of those Canadians who made the supreme sacrifice. It is fitting and proper that our guest-speaker should be one who, by his character and genial characteristics endeared himself in are affection and fraternal spirit which will live always in the life memory of all the veterans, of the Great War. Gentlemen, our beloved Padre, Canon Scott. (Loud Applause.)
CANON SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen, when a speaker goes to introduce me I settle down with a very comfortable feeling, hoping that he will entertain the audience as long as possible. Unfortunately, this introduction has been lamentably brief. We are told that Mark Twain was once going to make a speech somewhere and he had a very enthusiastic introducer who kept on talking and talking for so long a time that someone on the platform pulled his coat tails and made him sit down. Mark Twain then got up and said, "Mr. Chairman, I rise to move a vote of thanks to the chief speaker of the evening." I was in hopes that the Chairman today was going to be the chief speaker but he introduced me very briefly and I suppose, although you possibly gathered a wrong impression from his words as to my character, you know, certainly, my name.
It is a great pleasure to be herein Toronto to meet all my old friends, so many of them I knew in the bitter days of the war, and so many of them I have met one different visits to this great city which we, in Quebec, always call "Toronto, the Good."
(Voice from the Head Table: Ironically? (Laughter.)
But it is a great pleasure to be here and I just thought I would tell you some of the impressions that came to me at the Vimy unveiling ceremony. I feel that the unveiling of that monument and all that was connected with it was really something more than the simple display of a great memorial. It has a tremendous bearing on our whole national development. Today, I take you in thought, in order that we may realize what the monument at Vimy stands for, I take you in thought back, many of you, in your memory, to those bitter times at the end of 1916, when the Canadian Corps had returned north from the Somme, fighting which had ended in a very grievous disappointment because we had been told, that the great offensive which was to be launched down at the Somme -on July 1st, 1916, would probably put an end to the impasse in which both armies had found themselves. You remember the bitter fighting .at the Somme. You remember the terrible attack made by the Germans on the French at Verdun. The year 1916 had closed leaving us a very anxious feeling. Then we Canadians were told that we should open the year with a very early campaign by an attack on Vimy Ridge, a height of ground which commanded an important section of the mining district of France where both the French and the British had once suffered very severe reverses.
Well, there was an inspiration in the idea that the Canadians were going to do something big and to take the initiative in opening the new year of war. There was something exhilarating about it which caught their imagination and preparations were begun for the attack. Those of you who were over there will remember the stores of ammunition brought up. It was piled in all directions by the roadside, covered up and camouflaged, ready for the great attack, and you will remember, too, that the way the Canadians prepared for the attack was by very careful discipline. The Canadian Corps was not a wild horde to be let loose in intoxicated frenzy, as battles of old were sometimes fought. The attack had to be thought out carefully and was planned by men who knew every little detail had to be attended to. I speak, of course, for the Division I know best, the 1st Division, but I am speaking for the others as welt, when I say all our staff officers were busy, night and day. Far on into the night, I know Colonel Kearsley, our G.S.O., a very splendid man, used to be up studying conditions,.
As a preparation a large model was made of Vimy Ridge which was kept at Headquarters and not only the heads of every unit, but the platoons of the various units were brought up there and shown the contour of the country over which they had to make the advance. Each individual was to know exactly what he might expect when the charge was made.
I lay stress on this because I think the most wonderful thing about the Canadian Corps in France was the fact that there was discipline behind it, discipline and thought and self-denial. There was no idea of parade and no striving for the limelight. Its successes were the result of careful discipline.
The attack on the Ridge, we were told was to be the opening one of the year. It was to be made on Easter Day, the 8th of April. I was not surprised when I heard (later that the date had been changed to the 9th. One learned a good deal in the war. One thing was the use made of that peculiar psychological feeling which an individual experiences when he goes to have a tooth pulled and is turned away by the dentist saying he has a sick headache and asking the patient to come tomorrow. The man goes the next day with much less feeling of fear. I think it was some knowledge of that peculiarity of the human mind which generally made the army postpone our attacks. I was not surprised, therefore, when the attack on Vimy was changed from Easter Day to Easter Monday, April 9th.
We look back upon that attack and are amazed at the performance. I remember I went up in the early hours of the day to Bray Hill and waited until five-thirty, the hour when the attack was to open. I looked down upon the great plain stretching out before me in, the dim light of early dawn. Occasionally, a 'very-fight' would go up and hover for a moment in the air or a shell would fall behind the lines. I thought what a tremendous thing it was for the Canadians to have that great task laid upon them. We had a nine mile front and on it, I think 3,000 gums. In addition to our own artillery we had a great many guns that belonged to British units. It was a wonderful thing at that early hour to look across the plain and think of all that was involved. The attack was to be, we were told, the opening of a year which was to end the war and one was filled with enthusiasm mixed with anxiety.
Well, I reed not dwell upon that but the attack came off and our old 1st Division made, as General Byng told us afterward, every objective on the scheduled dot of the clock. It was really a great triumph.
The 4th Division, had a harder proposition before them as they had to take a hill in their advance, but at any rate it was a wonderful attack by all the four divisions and the spirit of the men was marvellous.
Now, our men were not trained warriors. They had been trained but they had no lust for blood. Many of them had no antipathy to the enemy whatsoever, lout through the entanglements of the war, brought about--we don't know even yet by what meansthose men simply felt that a duty had been laid upon them and they had to carry it out.
When the evening came the snow was falling and I walked along the front line where the men were trying to dig themselves in before darkness fell. One felt that the victory was sublime, not because of its importance but because it was a triumph of the sense of duty in the hearts of our men and of courage and self-sacrifice. It was an exhibition of discipline and that comradeship which linked the men together through the love of a great country which lay far away from the sound of guns, the homeland of Canada.
And so the victory was won. A British officer met me one day as I was riding along the road; asking me if I was a Canadian, he said, "You know, never since the world began has an attack been made with such spirit. Some of the men were smoking their cigarettes; some of the men who were reported sick got well immediately and joined in the attack." I reminded him that there were many British units, especially artillery, in it. He said, "That doesn't matter, it was the sprit that was there." That great spirit had prevailed and Vimy was won.
Unfortunately, that was not the beginning of the end of the war. Long, weary months still lay before us but that victory stood out as the great initiative action of the Canadian Corps which had now been consolidated by General Byng into a wonderful fighting force.
Well, the war was over and years passed away and then it was decided that a monument, a great monument should be erected on Vimy Ridge. I speak now with the greatest hesitancy because there are a lot of Colonels around me and people who know more about the war than I do. As a non-combatant, I really wasn't in the war, I was merely a spectator. I think the attack on Vimy Ridge was by no means the most difficult problem the Canadian Corps had to face. Probably the weary and disappointing fighting at the Somme; the terrible fighting through mud at Passchendaele; and the attack on Hill 70 all involved far greater suffering and anxiety than the taking of Vimy Ridge, but it stood out as a clear cut action of the Canadian Corps, consolidated now, as I have said, by Lord Byng and General Currie and the other Generals into a national unit capable of individual action.
For this reason it was decided after the war was over that a big Canadian monument should be erected to commemorate the capure of Vimy Ridge, a monument which would be a tribute not to blood-lust, but to the triumph of discipline land duty in the hearts of men who were trying to play their part and do their bit, regardless of their own feelings, regardless of their own sufferings, in order that Canada might live.
In order to carry out the idea worthily, a design was sought for the monument. The Government got one from a man whom Canada should honour to the very end. (Applause.) I don't know whether Mr. Allward is here today. We in Canada are proud of that monument and we should be proud of the mind of the man who designed it. It stands there as glorious and uplifting, probably the greatest war monument in the world today. Well, the memorial was put up. A great deal of expense was put into it. It cost, I think, almost two million dollars and many people wondered if the thing were worth while. There were many objects, they said, which might be helped that would be more useful than that monument but with government support the monument went on.
Then, one night when I was going to give a talk to the Canadian Legion in Ottawa, as I was being introduced by my friend, Captain Ben Allan, he said that the Legion was going to organize a pilgrimage to Vimy in 1936 for the unveiling of the monument. He went on to say that everyone would have to secure his position in the pilgrimage by subscribing ten dollars. I didn't happen to have ten dollars in my pocket but I did have a blank cheque. It doesn't always mean the same. I filled in the cheque trusting that I had ten dollars in the bank and passed it up to him. He at once said, "The pilgrimage has begun. Canon Scott is Pilgrim Number 1, and here is his cheque." I felt that such a pilgrimage was just what we needed for the unveiling of the monument. The old soldiers would go and bring their kindred with them. I felt that was just what we needed to reveal the good things the war had left us. We had heard of the sufferings, we had heard of the broken homes and had heard of the anxiety at home and so on. We knew all that. But we wanted to have something to show to outsiders, the good qualities, the glorious qualities of those men who had brought about the victory.
So, the organization of the Pilgrimage went on, and last July I was one of the members of the great host of five thousand. It is the last pilgrimage I am ever going to attend. It was so strenuous. You had to take the brown trains and the green trains and so on, and I, who never was very good at submitting to discipline found it rather embarrassing at times. Luckily, I had a grandson with me. His father had been in the war and was wounded. My grandson soon took over the command and he used to lead me in the right way.
We had a wonderful departure from Quebec. By that time the spirit of the Pilgrimage had taken hold of the heart of Canada. Many and many letters I received from old soldiers, imploring me to get them taken, imploring me to try and raise the money for them to go. One felt if really we could have done so, it would have been a great thing for every man who had fought there to go on the Pilgrimage but, of course, 'it was impossible and some of the very best men, the men who did most and who suffered most, had to be left behind. I shall never forget our departure from Quebec, the glorious evening, and the ships coming down one after another. We saw the lights of the city on the hill and a great sunset behind the citadel as we moved out on our way to the old country of France which had meant so much to us and which lives so long in our memories with tender, amusing, tragic and inspiring thoughts.
Luckily for us, Heaven was on, the side of Canada. We had a delightful voyage. The weather was fine and people were all friendly. When I said I was going to the Pilgrimage some of my friends said, "Oh, you are going on that great spree. You will have to play crown and anchor and all sorts of other things which are associated with the lives of the soldiers in the war." There was nothing of that kind. There was something about the object of that journey which, I think, underlay all our merriment and all our delight in the voyage, something which sanctified it, and when we arrived at Le Havre and actually got on French soil, and when we heard the cheers of the French people, "Vive le Canada," we began to enter even more really and deeply into the spirit of the great Pilgrimage. Wherever we went the Canadians were received with the most enthusiastic applause and you know such a thing spoils a man. On my return to London, I met some of the soldiers there and I said, "I am so lonely. I have walked these streets and there isn't a soul who has called out 'Vive 'le Canada' or shouted applause," and they said the same thing. We got spoilt by the wonderful reception which France gave the Canadians.
Well, you know, when you go on a pilgrimage of that kind it means you have got to be up to the mark. I say this just to give an idea of what we did on the day of our arrival. We had breakfast on the ship at a quarter past five in the morning. We landed and travelled all day through the old places whose names stand out in our memory. In the late afternoon I went up to St. Julian and planted two trees in front of the church gate and, got back to Arras very late at night, not knowing where I was going to sleep. Finally, I was billeted in a large boys' school called "Le Petit Seminaire."
The next day, Sunday, July 26th, was, of course, the big day. I had had an idea I might hold service but it was perfectly impossible. I said to my grandson, "I am going down to the old cathedral tomorrow at eight o'clock to hear the service of the national church of France." The last time I saw that cathedral it was. not all in ruins but very much damaged. I remember walking through one of the aisles one day and to my astonishment I came to a shell hole made in the floor and I looked down and there I saw a number of artillery officers having a conference right under me in the crypt. This time, when I entered the cathedral we found the whole place was restored A vast crowd of people were there. The Bishop was having a special Requiem Service for the Canadians. We were both dressed up as pilgrims. I had all my medal's on, and so the Beadle took us, to the astonishment of my grandson and myself, up to the front seat 'in the middle aisle. On the other side of the aisle were a lot of French Generals in uniform. There were two flag bearers in front of the chancel. My grandson and I were the only people in the space reserved for Canadians in the middle aisle and when the service was over the Bishop came down and addressed us and told us how glad he was that the Canadians had come. I think he thought I was representing the whole Canadian Corps and he said some nice things to us and then he held out his hand for us to do homage which we, of course, did.
By the by, there is a story told of Mr. Longfellow when he went to see Queen Victoria. She held out her hand to be kissed, as a Sovereign. Instead of doing so he gave it a very hearty shake in a true democratic manner and the old lady said, "My servants are very fond of your poetry, Mr. Longfellow."
However, we didn't make that mistake.
I was told later that some of the French officials said representatives of the Canadians had been at the service and it had been especially arranged for them.
We had a great scramble to get ready for the trip to the monument. I went in a car with General Ross. The monument, I suppose was about fifteen miles from Arras. Thousands of French people were walking there but our soldiers had gone in busses. They all wore khaki berets. We had hard work to get through the crowds. It was a lovely sunny day. Many of you remember what the Ridge used to look like, all torn and marked with muddy trenches, barbed wire and shell holes. Now, when we went down from Arras we found that everything was changed. On all sides were beautiful green fields and in their midst we saw the places we remembered of old. As we went along General Ross told me when we crossed the 1st Division front. That was the front I had been looking over on the morning of April 9th, 1917.
At last we saw in the distance on the Ridge those two great pylons standing like sentinels guarding the plain beyond. The monument as seen in photographs had not appealed to me. I didn't understand it but the whole impression was changed when I saw it with .my eyes. It was a marvellous achievement of Mr. Allward to be able to interpret in stone the living spirit which ought to be commemorated on that great Ridge.
When we got to the monument we found the French Algerian cavalry looking very picturesque with their cloaks and sabres drawn. They had been on our left at Ypres in the first gas attack. One of them had joined the Highlanders rather than run away in that battle. They had rewarded his valour by arraying him in kilts. Now, these men were brought to give picturesqueness to the picture. The great monument was thronged with people. Only those with tickets were allowed to get to the platform. Below in the plain our soldiers were drawn up and on the hills around was the civilian population of the countryside. Standing on the edge of the monument I looked down and saw our fines of men possibly 5,000. A great many had joined us from England. I looked over the green fields where once we had seen nothing but desolation. There was that plain which so many of you gentlemen had done your best to destroy and damage Then I saw far over in the distance the city of Lens with its factory chimneys now smoking. New life was springing everywhere. I could hardly believe my eyes at the change which had come. I think a good many of us felt a little lonely when we did not find the old dugouts and the smashed buildings. But, after all, it is the right thing to remove the traces of war. France has recovered that wonderful spirit which she had after the war of 1870 and now all is prosperity.
We waited on the monument for the time when the King was to arrive. Great storm clouds passed over the sky. We wondered if it were going to rain. If Heaven hadn't been on the side of Canada and we had had a very heavy downpour, of course it would have been very unpleasant, because there was nowhere to go in case of a storm. But the clouds gathered and produced a most glorious effect, with the two gray pylons standing up against the darkness behind them. Just before the King came we heard the noise of aeroplanes and then in formation of threes, nine aeroplanes flew over us from the direction of Arras land we knew they heralded the approach of the King. Excitement grew more tense every minute until at last we heard a band playing, "God Save the King," in the distance. Then guns fired a royal salute from some battery near by. The sound of guns at that place brought back many queer feelings in the hearts of the cold soldiers who knew their voices of old. The band played "God Save the King," and then the King appeared and took his stand on the place they had arranged for him beside the draped figure of Canada. The moment die arrived you can imagine the cheers that went up. Gentlemen, it was a thrilling moment. There above the crowds the slight figure of our great King, the man who is always anxious to do right and has ,a happy faculty of doing it. I just thought as he stood there, receiving the plaudits of the men he had been with in the war, what a wonderful link the monarchy is to the great Empire of which we are so proud to be a part and which some of us .are so unwilling at times to do our duty to preserve. The King stood there .and was welcomed by the men with rousing cheers. Then he went down the steps and passed through the ranks and he welcomed the men in his hearty way. He walked past one man with a red patch and he laughed and said. "The old red patch." That would please General Macdonell. Then he shook hands with the blind men, and the war-mothers who had lost their sons and he came up the steps and made that wonderful speech. On the platform he was welcomed by the President of France whom he thanked for that gift of territory which France had made to Canada. The significance of the event was intensified by the fact that this was the first time that a King of England, had ever acted as King of Canada. His Majesty was accompanied not by British Ministers but by Canadian Ministers and all of us on that soil around the monument were standing in Canada. Had a war suddenly broken out in Europe we should have been on neutral territory. Such mingled emotions came over one at this time. Read the King's speech, and you will note how very cleverly it was worded. I noticed particularly one phrase. When he was speaking about the way the men had fought, he said, "In, the cause"--he didn't say, "The cause of fiberty"--but "In the cause which Canada had made her own." It was a very clever way of getting over the difficulty of not saying what the cause was. After the King made his speech he unveiled the statue. The Last Post was sounded and two minutes of silence followed before the Reveille.
At this point of the ceremony something happened which simply gripped the throat and if Hollywood had arranged the scenic effect of it, it couldn't have been better. The storm clouds which formed the background of the two great pylons began to break up and between these pylons which represent two races which make up Canada there lies the figure of a crucified soldier. Mr. Allward has done this work very cleverly. There is no visible cross but the position and the attitude of this dead or dying man between the two pylons suggest crucifixion with extraordinary dramatic effect. Just as the Last Post was sounded, a ray of sunshine fell through the parted clouds on this crucified figure and as the Reveille sounded the clouds rolled away and a golden light fell over the plain. It was really a most marvellous ending. The people around me were spell-bound, but couldn't talk about it. We all had throats and soldiers' throats get choked up now and then.
Then the King laid a wreath on the monument and when he left the people crowded up and laid their wreaths. It was my privilege to lay a wreath for the Empire Club of Canada. (Applause.) It was a very nice wreath, too. Once of the best things about it, I think, is that as far as I know, it has never been paid for but it was laid there all right.
After the depositing of the wreaths was over, General Ross asked me to go and have a few prayers in the place where the King had stood. The General had a boxful of the ashes of the wooden crosses which had stood on the Canadian graves and which had been burned. While he sprinkled the ashes on the base of the monument he wanted me to say some prayer from the Burial Service. So as I stood above the parapet I began with those wonderful words, "I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord." Many a time I have used that service over graves on Vimy Ridge, and it seemed so strange to think of the changes in the world since then. Now, those gallant fellows who laid down their lives there for Canada have been worthily commemorated by a grateful people.
There are just one or two things I want to say in conclusion, for the time is nearly up. When the idea of the Pilgrimage was first mooted there were a good many criticisms. Some people said, "This is just a great big Canadian advertising scheme." It wasn't that. Other people said it was fostering the idea of the glories of war. It wasn't that. There was no advertisement about it. There was no idea of admiration of war. It was simply a commemoration of those qualities of duty and self-sacrifice in human beings which lead not only to greatness in a nation but to greatness also in individual lives. That is what the Vimy monument stands for. That monument, with its crucified soldier, lying there, linking the two great pylons, with the statue of Faith pointing upwards high above, the mourning Canada will stand for all time as an uplifting symbol in our national life and in our national memory.
What a long way, Gentlemen, Canada has travelled since those days when thirty-one thousand untrained men came to Valcartier at the call of the Empire. They were the founders of a new and greater Canada. Valcartier is the cradle of our national life. They were going to fight for liberty and civilization. We can say that here, though the King couldn't say it ire Europe.
When I saw the President of France and the King of England standing on that monument shaking hands, and heard their words of thanks and welcome, I said to myself, "What a marvellous thing. Here, Britain's daughter-nation, Canada, has brought together the potentates of Europe to be interested in our affairs and to applaud lour victories." It was a wonderful achievement and that monument will stand, my friends, for discipline, for courage, for self-sacrifice, for love of God and love of man.
It is not in vain that we had that commemoration. I have no sympathy whatever with the words we so often hear from pseudopacifists, that the keeping of Armistice Day is promoting the spirit of war. It isn't. We keep Remembrance Day up, not for flag waving, not for the idea of upholding the glory of war, but out of gratitude which the country feels and will feel, please God, forever, to those men who laid down their lives that we might live.
It was a marvellous, a wonderful experience, and that monument, I trust most of you will some day see. At times when I wake up in the night I think of those two great pylons far away in France and the beautifully kept cemeteries along the country side. What a wonderful thing it is that Canada has been able to write on the great page of European history something that will be a pride to our descendants from generation to generation. Those cemeteries in France will always stand for high ideals, will always teach us the true value of life. I have given that message again and again to people who are timid, who are over-anxious, and to people who are letting their lives fail'. I have told them the great lesson which those men have taught us, that the way of the Cross is the way to glory, and that self-denial, courage, the taking up of the Cross and following unto death those principles which are the basis of all true Christian life, that these are the courses which will help us in our daily work here, as they helped us in the war. There is need today in our ordinary life for just those qualities which that monument stands for. The unveiling of that monument was the commemoration not only of those who died there but the consecration of our national life to a higher purpose, and to a deeper realization that we care only be great through the power of God, if we strive after high things and leave our pettiness and our self-interest aside. The great problem, as Mr. Bourassa said the other day, the great problem in Canada is the development of national unity. We are divided in language, divided in many other ways. I feel, as true Canadians, we have just one object in life before us, that is to forget these differences. Let every man have the utmost liberty of race or religion whatever it may be. Let us, above all these, stand together for the unity of Canadian citizenship and those two pylons, with the crucified soldier between them and linking them, stand as the symbol of just that spirit which will make Canada great. That monument with its sublime symbolism will always be an uplifting power in the life of Canada.
On Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele,
Our silent armies sleep,
Through Summer's sun and Winter's gale
And 'neath the starry deep;
No more for them the dawn of day,
Nor sunset on the hill,
Their shouts and songs have died away,
Their giant strength is still.
The march of time goes swiftly by
And brings its care anal toil,
But in eternal youth they lie
Beneath a foreign soil;
With iron, limbs and fire for breath
They charged amidst the gloom,
And shared along those fields of death
The comradeship of doom.
Yet not in vain they watch and wait,
Strong champions of the right;
They are the sentries at our gate
And guard us through the night.
From selfish aim and paltry ease,
From slavery of the soul,
The men that save the land are these;
They point us to the goal.
(Applause, prolonged.) PRESIDENT: May I express the thanks of this meeting and of, those listening on the air, in even briefer terms than those I used in the introduction of our guest-speaker. May I, like Mark Twain, rise to move a vote of thanks and myself second the motion, and declare the motion
carried unanimously. (Applause.)