As happens on the anniversaries of historical events much is taking place this weekend across Canada and in France to mark the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April of 1917. Memorial services, commemorative readings, wreath ceremonies, unveilings, and media presentations are going on and have been scheduled throughout the weekend. Hymns will be sung, poems read, speeches made, prayers recited, and flowers placed to mark a bloody three day battle which it is said was a defining moment in Canada history. It has been viewed by many as the moment when Canada became a country.
Heavy return fire. The whole earth seemed to be in the air. When in air, came down to be blown up again. Worst battle in history of war to date. Hundreds blinded, arms and legs off. One man without arms or legs still living.
Lt H. L. Scott (in his diary)
April 13, 1917.
There is little I can add to what is already out there on social media, in the press and available in the way of commemorative material – written, audio and visual. So to commemorate the centenary I though I would post two canvases and a print from the remarkable collection that Max Aitkin, Lord Beaverbrook commissioned and financed in 1916. He created the Canadian War Memorials Fund and establish a cadre of official war artists to paint the Canadian war effort. Nearly 120 Canadian and British painters, photographers, and film makers produced works from the trenches and the front while back in Canada others painted pictures of men and women working at home for the war effort. Amongst the artists who captured the often brutal images of the Great War were A. Y. Jackson, Frederick Varley, and Arthur Lismer – all future members of the Group of Seven.
Richard Jack (1866-1952) was a British artist and Canada’s first official war artist. His depiction of Vimy Ridge focuses on the the technology of the battle rather than the tragic cost.
Even before the war ended in 1919 Vimy Ridge had worked its way into a nascent National identity. Many of the artists were to find themselves working in the area and recording the landscape during the waning years of the war. Nova Scotia artist Gyrth Russell captured this image of the crest of the Ridge in 1918. His paintings captured the crumbling buildings and war-torn landscape of the Canadian sector around Aubigny.
Under Beaverbrook’s guidance a remarkable collection of drawings, paintings, photographs and film recorded Canadians’ experiences in that Great War to end all wars. He had always wanted the collection to find a permanent home and had plans drawn up for a Memorial Museum. The collection has now found a permanent home at the Canadian War Museum and many of the works can be found online at World War One: Official Art.
All images were taken from the Canadian War Museum website