John Barlow: Visit to Vimy Ridge Memorial

MP John Barlow, Foothills

Words are difficult to find, but emotional is how best I can describe seeing the Vimy Ridge Memorial in northern France. The sculpture and setting dedicated to the 11,285 Canadians killed in France during World War I, especially those whose resting place is unknown, is quite simply breathtaking.

Earlier this fall I had the opportunity to travel into northern France to visit the Vimy Ridge Memorial and Menin Gate in Ypres, the memorial to those Allied soldiers who died at Passchendaele. It was an opportunity to visit both of these sites on the 100th anniversary of two critical pieces of Canadian history.

Seeing the Vimy Memorial firsthand was nothing short of awe-inspiring, especially the renowned figure of Canada Bereft, her head bowed in sorrow representing a young nation grieving her dead. Her beautiful, but solemn face overlooks Douai Plain and she clearly remembers the horrors the men and women endured here and, still after a century, those memories remain paralyzingly painful. When I reached the front of the memorial and took a closer look at some of the names of the Canadians who were killed in action, I understood her remorse.

There, upon the wall, the name “Barlow” was etched in stone, carved in memorial several time over.

Perhaps as many as a dozen Barlow’s were killed in France in World War I and their names are immortalized on the wall of the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

I do not know how many, if any, are directly related to my family, but all the same to see their names on the wall was difficult. Even now as I type these words the memory brings a wave of emotion. Slowly, I rubbed my hand over each of their names, hoping for an impossible glimpse into who these men were. Where did they come from? Did they have a family? How did they die?

I will likely never know the answers to most of these questions, but as a result of seeing their names they are now irrevocably connected to me and my community here in Alberta.

They are part of my family.

There are communities all over southern Alberta who share similar stories. Their young men shipped off to Europe to find adventure, but many never returned. Their names now forever etched in the wall at Vimy Ridge.

At the Vimy Ridge Memorial and Menin Gate there is a deep shadow of loss, but there is also an overwhelming feeling of pride.

It is unfathomable to try and comprehend the hardship these men went through in Vimy, Passchendaele and throughout Europe. In fact, truly many of them were merely boys, all younger than my own children, which makes it even more difficult to possibly understand what they endured and accomplished.

However, for me, what those men and women did was fight as Canadians, for Canada and for their friends, families and communities.

They did not realize it then, but their sacrifice helped build a nation.

There is no way to express an entire country’s profound pride and gratitude to the men and women – and families – who earned the right to be called our nation’s truest heroes. They are heroes, heroes who not only helped bring about the Birth of a Nation, but served valiantly to ensure Canada is a country that is strong, proud and free.

This peaceful, just, and democratic country, this way of life we hold so dear, is owed to the generations of courageous men and women we remember and honour at Remembrance Day.

I was humbled to share a small glimpse of what they endured in France and, for me and my family the magnitude of Remembrance Day is much more profound.

Lest we forget.