James Ross Sutherland never talked about his experiences at Vimy Ridge during World War I.
“He was a man who was very open and challenged you to discuss things, but when it came to the topic of the First World War, I came to realize that was a wall that I was not to come to,” his daughter, Joanne Sutherland said.
Even a postcard sent by Sutherland to his wife refers to the battle only as “a bit of excitement.”
The Battle of Vimy Ridge, horrific as it was, is a defining moment in Canada’s history. Over 10,500 Canadians were injured and approximately 3,600 of them were killed between April 9 and 12, 1917.
Next year is the 100th anniversary of the battle. Vimy Foundation director Jeremy Diamond is looking to increase awareness about the importance of this battle to Canada’s history.
They recently had Ipsos Reid poll 1,005 Canadians about the Battle of Vimy Ridge. A decisive 83% agreed that the battle should be one of the most important celebrations during, the Sesquicentennial anniversary.
“We are hearing from people on a regular basis about the centennial,” Diamond said. “There is this incredible energy and interest from people a year out that want to be involved because they know this is going to be something special.”
The poll also revealed that 1 in 20 Canadians are going to France or know someone who is for the celebration. Many of them will be seeing the battlefield for the first time.
Sutherland has been at the site of the battle several times and each of the times it has been very moving for her. “Visiting Vimy is something I believe all Canadians should try to do,” she said.
It’s an incredible experience, she said, to walk the grounds where Canadian servicemen fought and getting a feel for what they went through.
Sutherland’s father helped successfully storm a hill which turned the tide and led to the Germans surrendering Vimy Ridge to the Canadians. He was seriously injured four months later in the Battle of Hill 70. Part of his rib cage was blown out and his lungs were badly damaged.
Oliver Dewar carried a stretcher in the war. He transported the injured to safety and cleared the dead off the battlefield, including at Vimy Ridge. His sons have never been to visit the site. They believe it’s the duty of all Canadians to visit Vimy Ridge.
“There’s a difference between learning about the dates of battles and knowing about the people and what they had gone through,” Sutherland said. “We wouldn’t be living in the country we are today if all those soldiers hadn’t done their service.”