Below are some Vimy Ridge memorials and cemeteries I would recommend you visit. If you drive to Vimy Ridge from the Channel Ports you will see the Vimy Memorial long before you reach the Memorial Park.
The Memorial stands 27 metres above Hill 145 and dominates the whole ridge. It looks like a stunning, white tuning fork – the twin pylons representing the joint suffering of Canada and France.
Work on the Memorial began in the late 1920s and a huge amount of preparatory work had to be done before the Memorial proper could be built. In all it took nearly eleven years to erect the Memorial because of the technical preparation required to build on a site which had suffered four years of intensive fighting. Before the 15,000 tons of reinforced concrete could be poured for the foundations the site had to be cleared of thousands of live bombs and shells.
In all, there are twenty twice-life size figures on the Memorial – the impact from both distance and close up is stunning. Around the base of the Memorial are carved the names of the 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in the Great War who have no known graves.
The Vimy Ridge memorials and cemeteries includes Canadian Cemetery No 2. Close to the memorial Park are two cemeteries. There is a maple leaf on the cemetery gate of Canadian Cemetery No 2 and, as well as the many known Canadian and British burials, there are also many unknown burials.
Although the cemetery was started just after the Canadians took Vimy Ridge in April 1917, the majority of the graves were moved here from elsewhere, over several years following the Armistice. They were either moved from smaller burial grounds, isolated graves, or were bodies recovered from the battlefields as time went by. This accounts for the higher-than-usual proportion of unknown graves.
Nearby is a contrasting cemetery – Givenchy Road Canadian cemetery. This small, war-time cemetery is of an interesting design, with a low circular wall surrounding the headstones, as the burials were a mass grave in a shell-hole.
Vimy Ridge is located about 5 miles north of the bustling city of Arras, which is an ideal place to stay when you Visit Vimy Ridge. Arras has a population of over 43,000 and is the capitol of the Pas-de-Calais region.
It is a communication, farm and industrial centre with oil works and factories making machinery, metal products, and esparto goods. Despite extensive damage in both World Wars Arras retails much of its old Spanish-Flemish flavour. The town square, bordered by 17th century buildings, forms a notable ensemble of Flemish architecture.
Being close to the front line it was very badly damaged during the First World War but remained a key allied strong point. Being built on chalk it was easy to dig large underground caves for housing troops and stores. Soldiers from New Zealand mining companies played a key role in the tunnelling and you can now visit the underground museum, Carriere Wellington, which incorporates parts of the tunnel system. You can also see the memorial to the 41 New Zealand tunnellers who lost their lives.
Arras was completely rebuilt and boasts an excellent range of hotels to fit all budgets. The city has good road connections making touring the local area easy, and also has a good rail service, so you can access Arras by TGV from Paris quickly.
The centre of the city is designed around a very attractive square, which has lots of bars, restaurants and cafes. It makes for a relaxing wind-down after a busy day of touring the battlefields. The main square is especially striking after dark when it is all floodlit.
If you want somewhere quieter than Arras when visiting Vimy Ridge memorials and cemeteries then stay in Albert. The town was also right in the front line during the fighting and, like Arras, was very largely destroyed. Albert was completely reconstructed after the war, including widening and re-orienting the town’s main streets. The Basilica was faithfully rebuilt to the original design and, when you walk around inside, you simply can’t imagine the total destruction that took place.
Explore the adjacent Abri [shelter] museum which houses souvenirs of the war. The underground shelters in which the museum is located served as protective bunkers for local residents during bombardments.
Albert is ideally situated for touring Vimy Ridge and the Somme battlefields, It has fewer hotels but they are traditional French hotels – basic but offering excellent hospitality and food. Some are right opposite the Basilica, which played a key role in the fighting.
Atop the Basilica is the Golden Virgin and during the Great War a number of legends developed among both sides fighting for control of Albert. The leaning Virgin became a common sight for the thousands of British troop passing through Albert, which was only three miles from the front lines.
Sitting in one of the cafes today, right opposite the Basilica, it is hard to imagine what Albert must have looked like after the end of the First World War.
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