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Annual Report

Remembering Vimy Ridge 100 years on

One hundred years ago, Canadian soldiers were given the order to seize Vimy Ridge, France, and drive out German forces entrenched there almost continuously since the beginning of the First World War. On April 9, 1917, the soldiers stormed the ridge and liberated their French allies — 3,598 Canadians were killed and some 7,000 were injured. The town of Givenchy-en-Gohelle was on the front line between German and allied forces and is the site of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.

In 2017, the University of New Brunswick’s Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society and Kent Building Supplies sent 500 Canadian flags to the town as a way to mark 100 years since the liberation. The mayor of Givenchy-en-Gohelle, Pierre Senechal, had declared 2017 the Year of Canada in his community as a thank you to Canada for its role in liberating the village from German occupation during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

As part of the celebration, every household and business in Givenchy-en-Gohelle displayed one of the donated Canadian flags on their properties.

The poignancy of the connection came alive in March, 2017 when residents of the French community connected with an audience at UNB via videolink. During the call, Mr. Senechal thanked UNB and Kent for the flags, and expressed his gratitude to Canada.

Studying wider impact of war

The Gregg Centre’s mission is to study the wider impact of war. The complicated connection between Canada and a town in France, reinforced by this gift of flags, is a reminder that wars don’t end with signed treaties — wars echo.

“This project speaks to the complex chains of consequence that follow armed conflict,” said Gregg Centre director Marc Milner. “Although the First World War had a tremendous impact on Canadian history, it carries a sense of having happened ‘over there.’ The symbolic gift of flags is a way for us to think about the tangible connection forged at Vimy between two nations, and also to look at the way those events echo in the town itself.”

Since 2008, the Gregg Centre has been involved in the delivery of teachers’ professional development study tours in France and Flanders. During that time, hundreds of high school teachers from across Canada have visited such sites as Vimy, Ypres, Passchendaele, Dieppe and the landing beaches in Normandy, to learn about the latest research on the wars by professional historians, and to gain insight on the latest pedagogical thinking at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Reaching across the ocean

Givenchy-en-Gohelle was one of the communities that the teachers group visited in July, 2017. Programs like this are one of the ways UNB remains part of the global community, reaching beyond its geographical location.

Dr. Milner points out that the university itself has a direct connection to the assault on the ridge.

“Two New Brunswick infantry battalions played central roles in the assault on Vimy Ridge. Among them were UNB alumni, so it’s fitting that once again New Brunswick, and UNB, are lending a hand to Givenchy-en-Gohelle — this time for a happy occasion.”