THIRTEEN YEARS AFTER
WILL R. BIRD
This month fifteen years ago the Canadian Corps won world renown by capturing Vimy Ridge. Today there rises on the site of battle a memorial in imperishable stone that is an artistic triumph
VIMY RIDGE! Vimy, and the craters! Vimy and . . .
It was a dull misty morning and, standing there on the road near Cabaret Rouge, the Ridge seemed to me the most isolated ground in France; and the grandest, the most romantic.
The fog hid all the distant fringes.
The tall tower of Notre Dame de Lorette was visible on the left, and behind me I could see the top of the mins at Mont St. Eloi. On the right, the church of Neuville St. Vaast was a white indefinite blur.
The hillside in front was scarred with white streaks-old roads and footways that time has not erased. I climbed, slipping and sliding on the wet, greasy soil. Up on the high ground, among the first shell craters and debris, the fog helped to bring back old scenes. Souchez and all villages and restorations were hidden, and all sounds were muffled. It was easy to give fancy full rein.
On and on and on. I climbed in and out of shell holes, skirting the bigger ones, marvelling that such conditions remained. Vimy seems more like it was the last week in April, 1917, than when I last saw it in 1918. Then it was covered with huts and dumps and water pipes, etc., and the old trenches and saps and front line seemed obliterated. Now, they seemed to have suddenly appeared again as if they had never really gone, and all the huts and pipes and dumps have gone. The Ridge is deserted, a wilderness, but
to every veteran who served there it is one part of the old front that will hold him enthralled.
Old trenches and old craters ! All around the Pimple one blunders into old wire and cuttings and gullies and strongholds. From there one can realize just what advantage old Fritz held, and if I knew the names of the various cuttings on the lower slopes I might find every trench, or traces of them. Second Division veterans always talk about the Souchez sector and of trenches that existed at the “end” of the Ridge; trenches and old ways such as Rotten Row, Keilet Line, Boche Walk, Cooker and Morrow Alleys, Ration Road, and Northumberland Avenue.
Wandering along the lower slopes, one sees old wire and iron stakes, battered helmets, and old mess-tin covers. Here and there a broken bayonet shows, and if you probe at the loose heaps between the shell holes you can always uncover something. Bombs of every kind are there. I’ve heard of a tourist finding one of the old “bottle bombs.” a grenade made by filling a soda bottle with melinite and small scraps of iron.
One big crater beside the Maple Road has been filled in, but it seems that every other one is as it was, all the way along until Litchfield and Zivy Craters are reached. At Hill 140 a small memorial of the French bears the inscription: “Aux Morls De La Division Marocaine.” Just beyond, at Hill 145, is the Canadian Memorial, but I went first along the old craters toward Litchfield. Broadmarsh is easiest to identify, as every contour seems unchanged, and it is easy to locate the old sniping positions which the Germans had there.
From the crater rim one gets a view of the permanent trenches, and the cemetery that is being established about 300 yards from the old front line and a little to the left of the Broadmarsh area. In it are buried many of those unknown dead they have found on the Ridge. Rarely a month goes by that they do not find at least one body. It is hard to estimate how many dead there are among the old craters and shell holes, in chalky cuts and gullies, hidden in old ditches and weed tangles. Last year a tourist stepped into an old trench and almost trod on a body that had lain there all the years, barely covered by debris. Two boys visited the Givenchy Wood last summer, and while playing there found a German and Canadian soldier lying together, their hands locked so tightly that they were buried together as they had died. It was easy to read their story. One, or both, had been badly wounded, and they were trying to help each other when death overtook them. No weapons were there, no sign of enmity. They had died as comrades.
Standing at Broadmarsh. the grev-white concrete trenches look ghostly in a fog. but the way the two lines run parallel tells to even.’ visitor that each hour on Vimy in wartime held ominous possibilities. In many places the trenches and posts are not more than sixty yards apart. Near Durand Crater, about eighty yards inside our old lines, there is a small hut. and there someone is always on duty, ready to escort visitors through Grange Tunnel and into the old German underground. That small building is the only jarring note on the landscape. All else seems exactly as it was after the battle, a mighty memorial, more impressive than words can describe.
Over against La Folie Wood you can find much old wire in the rank weeds and bushes, some of it festooned to those short wooden stakes in use in earlier war days; and there are shell craters half filled with slimy green water, and old telephone cables, and rusted shells, and rotting rifle stocks, and here and there a half-buried steel helmet. Swing to your right and you cross old German trenches. There is much old wire, and in it you find those six-pointed “spreads” with dreadful spearheads that the Germans used only in a few places. They are there yet. in scores, sinister, horrible. And as you cross the Maple Tree road and go over to the craters you find many more trenches and emplacements and dugouts. I slid down one sticky, muddy entrance, taking a great fall of clay with me, unable to stop myself until I was far down in a chalky passage so small I could barely keep on.
Once down, however, and the dugout itself was just as it had been in 1917. The walls were blackened where candles had been fastened, and there were tiny pools of water on the floor and much filth. The timber that had held bunks had been taken, but the place still seemed to reek of occupation. Only one “souvenir” remained, and I did not touch it. Near the door, just inside a cross timber, a thin board was still nailed in place. The end of it had been broken off, but one familiar German word was lettered on what remained — “Verboten."
In all. I found five old dugout entrances, but did not attempt to go down another. The craters seem unchanged. Here and there wire and stakes are still in place along the lips, and down in the craters themselves you can find stick bombs. Mills grenades, Stokes, old bully tins, water bottles, almost anything. Roaming around the old lines,
I found two nine-point-twos under one small bush, and in two shallow craters there are seventeen Stokes shells. At three different places I uncovered sniping plates, and at one there is a broken, rusted Ross rifle. Along one bit of old trench an old bivvy is still visible. The corrugated iron roof is sadly sagged, but you can peer into the dark pocket and see a mass of rotting equipment at the far end.
The first crater inside the protected zone is. I think, Watling Crater. A remnant of De La Fourche, the old trench that used to run back through Neuville St. Vaast, is a short distance from the crater. Ross Street is easily found, and then the craters are all as they were—the Twins, Chassery, Albany, Devon, Vernon. Common,
Birkin. Patricia. Grange. Dufheid. Durand, etc.
Our old front line is in quite fair condition in the area where it has not been made i>ermanent.
Goodman Trench. Grange and La Salle, and the P Line, are easily followed.
Roam around them and you’ll remember those
outstanding points that stick in your memory. Each spot rushes back, vivid, realistic, so that old duckwalks appear as if by magic and you look eagerly for a wisp of smoke at the place where the cooks were established. Suddenly you are remembering that a dugout was just here. There is no trace of it, but you are certain.
Enquire, and you will be told that the entrance was filled in because it was unsafe and so many ardent tourists will not heed warnings. Then you remember the night you helped carry Jim or Bill or Davy down that C. T., and a lump comes to your throat. It’s strange to be here, thirteen years after, and see every figure there in the gloom, and the stretcher, and Jim’s white face. And you’re all so silent, unspeaking. Why was it that during those long nights death seemed a fearful, an awesome thing, so that every man was hushed? And yet if the same thing happened in daytime no one seemed to mind it?
THE mud around the entrance to Grange Tunnel is as slippery as ever it was, and all about the permanent trenches the walking is bad on a wet day. Often one hears it argued that the Canadians “made” Grange Tunnel. I
was very lucky to get the exact details from an officer who was there from May, 1916, until after the Vimy show. He said:
“We took over from the French on the 5th of May, the 172nd Company R. E. Tunnellers. and found they had four saps—three vertical ones, and another that ran under and parallel to our parapet. The Germans had easily the better of the mining situation and were nearly under our line at places, so we started four incline shafts at our third trenches or resistance line. These shafts were to go to a depth of eighty feet, then forward under the outpost saps. We called these saps B, Y, D. and L. It was originally intended to take Vimy Ridge in the autumn of 1916, and D sap was to lx? used in blowing a large crater to protect the (lank of attacking troops from the machine guns at Broadmarsh Crater. This mining objective was reached in the summer of 1916, and then was abandoned for the time.
“In January', 1917, it was definitely decided to mine Broadmarsh itself, and the sap was continued and a large chamber cut under the crater. Half the charge of 30,000 jxuinds of ammonal was in place when the enemy blew from above and did a lot of damage, but eventually the mine was fully charged and tamped. Toward the last of March the Germans blew two more mines in that vicinity, so, as we wanted to keep as much ground as possible open for the assault, it was decided not to blow Broadmarsh. The tamping of sandbags was withdrawn, but the boxes of ammonal were so crushed by the enemy blow that they were left. (They are still there.)
“H was a vertical shaft driven and used as a listening post. N became a danger zone, and it was blown and counterblown many times. Three tons of ammonal were placed in N2 but were never blown, as by this time Grange Tunnel was under construction and it was policy to keep the mining situation quiet. The mine was under the lip of Grange Crater and is still there.
“This particular portion of the front was blown up by both sides on many occasions, but eventually the British got the upper hand and ran out galleries under the German posts and cut mine chambers there. On one occasion they were within two feet of a German tunnel. In the meantime, D, Y, B, L. all incline shafts, had been sunk and joined by a long lateral.
"The Canadian Corps took over the front in the autumn. By then the mining situation had completely changed, the enemy had been driven Nick and the front line made safe. All the saps were interconnected. The officers of No. 1 section had their dugout on the sunken road near Grange C. T. and it was decided to drive a tunnel from there to B sap.
"When completed, it was the first war tunnel, and attracted a lot of attention, and was used by others of the trench garrison. The higher command noticed it, and it was decided to continue it back to the quarries or Zouave Valley. Incline entrances were made at Grange C, T., from a support trench, at the top of Cross Street, in quarries or Zouave Valley, and in a small trench fifty yards behind the quarries. A dynamo for lighting purposes was installed and various dugouts made, and places for water tanks. Then a gallery with four inclines was made to the surface for trench mortar emplacements. and another for a machine gun emplaceContinued on pane 50
Continued on pane 50
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ment. All the entrances were fitted with double gas doors. The tunnel itself was started about Christmas, 1916, and finished by March 15, 1917, though after that date many of the frills were added. A narrow gauge was laid, and at this period it was possible to walk underground from D sap through the mining system to the old Spanish caves under Arras. During the winter some of the deep levels were flooded, but this was the only difficulty.
“After the French left, every inch of mining and tunnels was the work of the . 172nd Company R. E. The Canadian Corps supplied parties for carrying and helping with the spoil.”
This account should settle all arguments j about Grange Tunnel.
The Vimy Memorial Site
CANADA’S part of Vimy consists of 240 acres. The Maple Road is 2 x/> miles long, and took two years to construct. Such a road was necessary as there is no other approach to the memorial site, and it had to be well made as loads to the extent of thirty tons had to be moved over it.
To build such a road was a much greater task than it may seem. All that area was honeycombed with dugouts and underground passages, and it was necessary to do much drilling and exploring before deciding on the best route to follow. After careful selection one way was picked on which only five dugouts had been discovered.
After the debris had been cleared the grading commenced. This was all pick and shovel work, as many bombs and shells remained hidden beneath the surface. Several times the workers drove their picks into stick bombs, and many of them were seriously injured. All shell holes on the berm of the road were filled with earth and well rammed, but those on the roadbed were pumped dry, filled with wet chalk and rammed. As the work went on, more and more dugouts were revealed until, instead of five, twenty-six were encountered.
When all the dugouts liad been packed,
I concreted and covered with earth ready for the laying of the stone work, heavy rains set in. and after two weeks of wet weather two subsidences appeared. A drill was brought into play and a dugout was discovered at a depth of twenty-five feet. At a depth of ten feet the workers found the stairway, and they went down it to a bomb store. Thirty-six cases of stick and pineapple bombs were removed, and the entire stock looked as new as the day it came from the factory. Luckily the drill had gone down in the vacant spot beside the explosives.
Heavy stone was next set in the road, providing a perfect setting for the finishing surface, and today this road, lined with young maples, is one of the features of the Ridge. It leads direct to Hill 140, leaving the Lens-Arras highway a little beyond Thelus, just where that broad road dips over the top of the crest. At Hill 140 the road turns to the right to Hill 145, and there I got all the answers to queries concerning our Canadian Vimy Memorial.
The memorial will not be finished tins year or next. It may be completed in 1934, but were I a prophet with a reputation to protect I would say that 1935 will be the year that sees it complete in all detail.
The memorial has the finest site of any memorial in France or Belgium. There may be sites that provide a more dominating position, a more commanding view, but they are few and when found have far lesser military importance. Vimy has the importance. and the commanding view as well. Vimy was our Verdun, our French Ypres, one of the key positions of the Western front.
Add the fact that the Canadian Corps served longer as a corps in the Vimy area than elsewhere along the front, and you can see how peculiarly fitting it is to have the finest memorial of all on such a site. Very i few places can excel the view obtained there,
over the wide sweep of the Douai plain and all that famed Lens mining region. And from the plain, looking up at the Ridge, the view is magnificent, sublime; the memorial fitting there with a beauty and harmony that will never be forgotten.
Procuring the Proper Stone
T WONDER how many of those who hurl
impatient questions ever consider the time used in building like memorials? The Reformation Memorial at Geneva kept two architects and three sculptors busy for fifteen years before it was completed. The Leipzig Memorial was sixteen years under construction, the Queen Victoria Memorial fourteen years. The Victor Immanuel Memorial in Rome has been under construction for thirty years and, so far as I know, is not finished yet. Our Canadian Memorial was only begun five years ago, and we have only Mr. Walter S. Allward as both sculptor and architect. .Selecting him was the happiest choice Canada ever made. Ask who you will, any workman on the Ridge, any ¡>erson who knows him, friend or otherwise. and you get the same answer. “He has no equal.”
Had any other than he been in charge of the work, I am convinced that Canada would never have possessed such a memorial as will be hers. He has been adamant in his determination to have only the best material and the finest workmanship, no matter what the delay. In the face of all criticism he has remained unmoved, has paid no attention to all counter proposals, but has held unswervingly to his great purpose. The man seems inspired, as if this one great achievement were all he desires in life.
Nearly all the delay has been on account of the stone not being delivered as was expected. Yet, once you see the stone, you will agree that it has been worth the time. It is the finest that could be obtained. Mr. Allward toured Europe in his quest for what he wanted—a stone of exceptional durability. “We have to contemplate a structure which will endure, in an exposed position, for a thousand years-indeed, for all time,” he said.
His search came to an end at Spalato, on the Eastern Adriatic coast, when he viewed the old palace of the Emperor Diocletian. Here was unmistakable durability, for the palace was built in the third century and even the carving on the eighty-foot outer walls is intact as well as the palace proper. The color of the stone also impressed Mr. Allward. Originally a pink buff, time had matured it to a rich amber. Near by were the old Roman quarries from which the stone had come, and though they had not been worked since the fourth century it looked as if stone of any size could easily be secured. So, three years after the award was given to Mr. Allward, the stone contract was let to Herbert Jenkins, of England, a man of national repute.
The quarry is at Trau, in Jugoslavia, a hotbed of political corruption, and Mr. Jenkins has had to contend with all sorts of difficulty. It took two months to install hoisting machinen' after he had got it there, and everything he uses has to be brought in. It is forty-eight hours by rail to the nearest town, and none of his needs could be supplied there.
The stone is taken by water to Venice, and transshipped from there by rail. It comes in all sizes from a three-quarter-ton stone for the wall to the twenty-eight-ton block used for the figure “Canada.” Soon Mr. Allward discovered that certain blocks had flaws, and so every one is carefully tested. Today there is not a stone in the memorial that has a blemish, but there is $13,000 worth of discarded stone lying about the site; stone that could be cut for use in some smaller structure but will not serve Mr. Allward’s needs. Conditions in the quarry are such that Mr. Jenkins has moved as much as 45,000 tons of rock in order to get 350 tons of perfect stone.
Six thousand tons of stone are needed for the memorial, and at present all has been delivered with the exception of sixty tons. But the w'ork has been held back sadly in waiting for the remainder. Each stone has its place in the structure and, W'hile almost all needed for the tops of the pylons have arrived, those needed for immediate use have been delayed. This situation has arisen through the difficulty of reaching the larger stone first.
Mr. Jenkins has worked tirelessly to fulfill his contract. He has lost, and is losing much money in his undertaking.
The contract price was £113,494, and that did not include the stonecutters’ wages, the cost of excavating, or any difference there might be in w'ages before the work was finished. Mr. Allward wras given an original contract for five years at $12,000 per year, and has now been nine years on the job, doing double duty as sculptor and architect. Half a million dollars have been spent and another quarter million will be needed to finish the work, yet Canada has not spent more wisely during the last decade. The work of keeping accounts is a strenuous task in itself. One account is in Canadian dollars, a second in English pounds, a third in Belgian francs, a fourth in French ones, and a fifth in Italian lira; and to these are added the nightmare of daily differences in exchange.
A Magnificent Work of Art
T TNTIL you visit the spot it is difficult to understand the magnitude of the Memorial foundations. First there was the work of clearing the ground in front, for which steam shovels could not be used. One hundred thousand yards of earth had to be removed, and four feet of the surface was encrusted with stick bombs, dud shells and grenades. It was all pick and shovel work, carried on with every possible precaution. The workers were insured at a cost of forty per cent, and all realized how' much depended on the way they used their tools, yet two men were killed and many injured before the task was completed.
The base of the memorial is 235 feet long and 168 feet wide. Drillers made sure that no further undergrounds existed after one dugout was filled, and then concrete was used. Fifteen thousand tons of masonry and concrete were placed before the memorial proper was begun, all thoroughly reinforced by steel.
The memorial itself is best described in Mr. Allward’s own words:
“At the base of the impregnable walls of defense are the Defenders, one group showing the Breaking of the Sword, the other the sympathy of the Canadians for the helpless. Above these are the mouths of the guns, covered with olive and laurels. On the wall stands a heroic figure of Canada brooding over the graves of her valiant dead ; below is suggested a grave with a helmet, laurels, etc. Behind her stand two pylons symbolizing the two forces, Canadians and French; while between, at the base of these, is the Spirit of Sacrifice who, giving all, throws the torch to his comrade. Looking up, they see the figures of Peace, Justice, Truth and Knowledge, etc., for which they fought, chanting a hymn of‘peace. Around these figures are the shields of Britain, Canada and France. On the outside of the pylons is the Cross.”
I cannot say whether or not such a detail was considered, but if you are at the memorial at sunrise, as I was one morning, you will see that the massive plinth is exquisitely flooded with sunlight, seems placed exactly for it; and if you are there in the afternoon you will see the setting sun throwing its light directly between the pylons, setting between them as it were, giving the watcher the feeling that the whole is a masterpiece of harmony.
The memorial will be 187 feet in height, and will have a weight of more than 50,000 tons. Today the great plinth, bearing the name of Canada’s 11,500 missing, is com-
pleted, and the two pylons are rising. Great stacks of steel bars, the reinforcing for the concrete centres of the pylons, dominate the skyline, and the scaffolding is five stories high. The huge derrick used is a landmark for all the Vimy area, and the immediate district is a village of offices and workmen’s huts, while for a hundred yards about there are blocks of stone, those discarded and those cut ready for placing when their height is reached.
I visited one great roomy hut, the office of Lechat, who represents the contractor, a gifted man who has spent a lifetime at such work. He worked on the Menin Gate, and built the biggest memorial in Buenos Aires, Argentine Republic.
“It was bigger than this Vimy one,” he said, “but the stone was not so hard, and the details far easier. This is the most difficult job I have encountered.”
Mr. Allward has not, so the men at the memorial told me, made a mistake of oneeighth of an inch in all his figures given in five years—a record that they say has never been equalled.
It takes Mr. Lechat one year to complete the figures for the angles, then all is cut on paper first, and afterward on zinc. Each stone is cut and finished on the ground.
“This is not architecture but artistry,” Mr. Lechat said to me. “Such work was never schemed or planned. This memorial is an artist’s dream, a glorious dream, a vision that Mr. Allward held until he could put it on paper. This was never conceived by the usual methods. It will be the most beautiful work in the world.”
What has yet to be done?
First, the remainder of the stone must arrive, then be cut and finished and placed in position. Once the stone is on hand, it will not take a great while to complete the building of the pylons. But there is much more to be done. After all is in place, the studios must be built for the stone cutters. The figures at the top will require a studio sixty-five feet high and forty-five feet wide, with north and south “lights” fifteen by twelve feet in size. These lights must be of special glass and construction in order to resist the wind pressure encountered. There are many days when the wind prevents the use of the derrick, so one can imagine the
pressure encountered by the sculptors at the top. Below, another studio forty-five feet in height must be built for the lower figures, and must have a brick foundation for the “pointing machine,” mechanism that provides perfect measurements for the sculptors. And there must be a “lift” for the fragments from the upper studio. Stone chippings cannot be dropped below.
After the pylons are completed and the studios built, it will take at least twelve months for the sculptors to finish their work. Then the studios and scaffolding must come down, and all the stone work be tooled, and cleaned with steam bresiles and acids. The stone is beautiful, and the Lens coal fields do not mar it in the least as they would cheaper stone. Time will yellow the structure, but it will not darken.
A year ago there was much criticism, and some hotheads advocated a drastic cut of the memorial, leaving it without the splendid 130-foot pylons and the ten figures at the top. Such a move would have been tragic. The memorial would have been dubbed “Canada’s Folly,” and through the years would live the legend that we began something we could not finish.
Canada has placed a magnificent work of art, after the design of a Canadian, in Europe, where so many great works of art are to be found. Europe, viewing the finished work, will change her impression of Canadians as a people. A great French artistspent three days about the Ridge, viewing the site, watching operations. He was shown a picture of the model of the memorial. Tears ran down his face and he said with deep emotion: “I am glad. It is the finest of them all, beyond words—and it is in France.”
Mr. Allward is building greater than we know, is building for posterity. The veterans of the Great War will ever be glad that they were “in on it,” and those that follow after will be proud that they are Canadians. Mr. Allward is giving Canada a heritage in stone comjfarable to that which Colonel McCrae gave us in “ Flanders Fields.”
Editor’s Note: This is the seventh of a series of articles on the Old Front by Mr. Bird. In his next article he will continue his exploration of the area around Arras.