After more than a century, oak trees are again growing on the French battlefield near Vimy Ridge. How this has come to be is a uniquely Canadian story spanning the decades and the country’s breadth.
It begins with Leslie Miller. Growing up on an Ontario farm, his goal was always to be a teacher. He loved people and was gifted in languages, eventually mastering English, French, German, Spanish, Greek and Hebrew.
His first teaching job was in Weyburn in southeastern Saskatchewan. Had the First World War not intervened, W.O. Mitchell, author of the beloved Who Has Seen the Wind? would likely have been his student.
But the war was sparked on July 28, 1914 with the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Although a world away, Miller’s life along with those of the nearly 620,000 Canadian men and women who enlisted was dramatically altered.
The young teacher signed on as a private in the 24th Border Horse that October. By December, he was in Winnipeg as a member of the Signal Corps assigned to the 32nd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, which had only been formed a month earlier. His language abilities made him a prime candidate for decoding messages intercepted from the Germans.
Terrible storms kept the battalion stuck in Winnipeg until February and it wasn’t until April 22, 1915 that they arrived in Shorncliffe, England. Ominously, it was the eve of the first gas attack in Ypres, directed against Canadian and French forces.
Miller was deployed to France near the Belgian border six months later and on Easter Monday in 1917, the 26-year-old was engaged in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
It was brutal. At its end, 3,598 Canadians were dead and more than 7,000 were wounded — the casualties are equal to the current populations of Nelson, B.C. or Weyburn.
“People today have no real sense of that,” Vimy Foundation executive director Jeremy Diamond said earlier this week. “We were a country of eight million when we went to war and 600,000 served. Today, if the same percentage enlisted, it would mean three million people.”
Miller’s war diary is mostly filled with stories about people he met. But he also wrote about those terrible days at Vimy.
“I was out over the top carrying wounded and I was up as far as Thelus village. It was utterly destroyed by our shellfire,” Miller wrote.
He had climbed the ruined tower of the …read more
Source:: Vancouver Sun – World