Absent Voices #4: Giving Voice to the Dead and the Non-living: Music and Collaboration on the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Canadian National Vimy Memorial in Northern France. Designed by Walter Seymour. Completed in 1936.

In early April, Canada will mark the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge: a seminal conflict in the First World War, relying on the successful collaboration of British and Canadian forces on the French battleground, and which was to be the first true moment of nationhood for the infant Canada. Indeed, the battle was hugely successful in military terms, which saw the soldiers retake the ridge from German forces in three days. But lest we forget, such success also inevitably relies on the deaths of thousands.

To that end, let us also consider the Vimy Memorial: a monolithic, modernist construction unveiled in 1936, comprised of two stone pillars jutting up from the battleground at Vimy. It is grand, imposing; the structure dominates the ridge and peers over the picturesque French landscape below. Around the base of the structure, some 11,000 names are engraved: the dead Canadian soldiers whose locations remain unknown. However, in a startling juxtaposition of style and form, the pillars are inlaid with twenty neoclassical statues, each variously personifying virtues, symbols, people, and tableaux. At the base of the memorial, Mother Canada (both a personification of the nation and a symbolic Mater Dolorosa), looks despondently upon the now-peaceful ridge, still scarred by this century-old battle. Continue reading