P.J. O’Neill has a strong sense of when Canada became a nation.
“Canada has never been conquered,” he said. “We’ve never had foreign enemies on our (soil).”
On Saturday, April 9, 2016, members of the Todmorden Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 10, commemorated the 99th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France. In April 1917, the Canadian Corps was ordered to seize Vimy Ridge, then occupied by the German Army.
Historians and veterans often describe the four-day battle during the First World War as the moment Canada became a nation, largely because for the first time at Vimy, the Canadians fought together as a self-sufficient army. Nearly 10,000 Canadians were killed, wounded or taken prisoner in the battle.
“(April 9) is a special day,” Legion member O’Neill said.
Approximately 60 Royal Canadian Legion members gathered at the west end of the Branch 10 for the service and wreath placement.
“It is important to remember the past fighters, but also necessary to recognize the men and women who are serving the country today,” O’Neill said.
Following the service, members, guests and other dignitaries made their way to the Legion’s second floor for a further gathering to honour past-president Eric Hewitt,
who served from 1980 to 1984. Legion President Angie Gaulteri spoke about Hewitt.
“We are assembled here to solemnly remember and pay our respects to our comrade, Eric Hewitt,” Gaulteri said. “A death we mourn, but a spirit that will live on forever.”
She added that Hewitt’s principle of unselfish service was one that others should uphold, “to serve our country and our God in a time of war and in peace,” she said.
Every year a single poppy is placed on a past-president’s photograph at Todmorden to honour his memory.
Legion 10 hopes to have an even bigger Vimy ceremony next year for the 100th anniversary.