Friday, April 9, 2021

On the 104th Anniversary of Vimy Ridge, Let Us Not Forget the Families they Left Behind

Today is the 104th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. 


Some 620,000 Canadians answered the call to serve during the First World War.


They went to war as Albertans, Nova Scotians, Ontarians... they came home as Canadians.

60,000 of them were never to come home again; 3,598 of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice at Vimy Ridge.


As Prince Charles said so very eloquently on the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge,


"Canadians displayed a strength of character and commitment to one another that is still evident today. They did not waiver. This was Canada at its best; the Canadians at Vimy embodied the True North Strong and Free."


If you have ever visited Vimy Ridge you know there are no words to describe how hauntingly sad and yet beautiful it is.


Vimy Ridge is a profoundly moving and meaningful place for all Canadians, but perhaps even more so for military families.


When I stood there, I thought not just of the soldiers lost, but also of the 10,602 wounded, and the countless thousands of others who came home with invisible wounds.

I remembered them all, and I remembered the families they left behind. Families that would never be the same.


Wives, children, fathers, mothers. 3,598 families just like ours. But so not like ours.

They were left to mourn and grieve in a time that was so different than now. A telegram arrived at their door informing them of their loss and that was it.


No regiment standing beside them to guide them through those excruciating early days of loss, no designated assistant to help them navigate the paperwork to receive their widow's pension, no MIlitary Family Resource Centre to provide support for them and their children, and certainly no counselors to help them process their grief.


Their soldiers were never brought home to them, many never even knew where their soldier's remains were; their names amongst thousands engraved on the Vimy memorial.


“Here ends the roll of 11,285 Canadians who gave their lives in the Great War but the site of whose graves is unknown.”


Grave unknown.


All they had was a telegram.


Just a telegram.


They were alone, left to get on with the business of living; their loss an unspoken shadow in their eyes.


Many of them would endure more losses as a result of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, compounding their tragedy and further complicating their grief. 


These women were the very definition of resiliency, and strength, and courage.


And I am humbled to walk in their footsteps.

Today on the 104th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, let us not just remember those brave soldiers who fought and those who were lost at Vimy, but let us also remember those they left behind— the widows, the children, the mothers, and fathers of Vimy.


Remember the soldiers’ sacrifice.


And remember their family’s loss.


For we are they and they are us.

Widows and Wives of Vimy
                                 (National Archives of Canada PA 148874) 




  1. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was part of the Battle of Arras. On the German side were two infantrymen, Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess. They were part of the 16th Bavarian Regiment. Hitler had requested transfer to 16th Bavarian in March 1917. On the Canadian side at Vimy Ridge was another infantryman, William Griffiths. He was part of the 16th Canadian Scottish Regiment. He was my father.
    Rudolf Hess was wounded by shrapnel in the left arm; date uncertain. William Griffiths was also wounded by shrapnel in the left arm, on April 9, 1917, the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Both survived the war. William Griffiths later died from causes related to his war service. Rudolf Hess went on to become the No. 2 man in Nazi Germany.
    After the war, Rudolf Hess had one son, Wolf Rudiger Hess, born in 1937. Adolf Hitler was his godfather. William Griffiths also had one son, William Henry Griffiths, born in 1931.
    Sixty years after the Battle of Vimy Ridge, in 1977, I was the Project Manager of the first national transport plan for Egypt. Wolf Hess, an architect and son of Rudolf Hess, was the airport facilities specialist on the project.

    My father joined the Canadian Army in 1915. After being wounded at Vimy Ridge in 1917, he was evacuated to England for treatment. He, along with many other Canadian wounded, was subjected to electrical shocks, intended to provide an incentive to return to the trenches before proper recovery.

    After the war he was awarded a small disability pension, later upgraded to a 100 percent pension. He died of causes related to his war service when I was about 10 years old. The Government of Canada then reduced the pension by about 50 percent. My mother and I then lived in poverty until I was old enough to work.

    Now, the Government of Canada, primarily through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the RCMP, through illegal means, has literally destroyed my successful career as an international consultant in Transportation Policy and Planning, returning me and those who depended on me to a state of poverty. The Government has stonewalled every effort I have made to achieve a fair resolution of the problem. My love of Canadian governments is not strong.

  2. the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event a wedding anniversary broadly : a date that follows such an event by a specified period of time measured in units other than years the 6-month anniversary of the accident. 2 : the celebration of an anniversary.


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