I felt you then.
The wind whips my hair into my face and I shiver, wrapping my jacket tighter around me.
I stand in a field of pristine white, calm and pure. It tells of peace, surrounded by the solitude of death.
I know this place, this is Vimy Ridge. This is where our boys lie, thousands dead on that fateful day.
Each white grave marker is adorned with a Maple Leaf, carved into its marble surface. There are flowers growing around them; roses, bright red like blood against the white stone. I remember the line "We are the Dead" and tremble, though it is warm. The mood is quiet, solemn. People walk through the rows slowly, reading the headstones, sometimes stopping to touch the white stone with a shaky finger.
We leave the cemetery and walk towards the monument rising in the distance. On either side of us are trees, strangely familiar. Maple trees and pine trees, native Canadian trees, all planted by our government. One tree for each dead soldier, a forest of heroes.
The light filtering in through the trees is subdued, fragile like life itself. Even the land still bears its scars; the ground is bumpy with craters and shell holes.
We reach the tunnels and trenches, carefully preserved. I walk where you walked, stand where you slept and don't know how you bore it. There are signs shouting "Danger, stay on the Path, unexploded mines." It's the ubiquitous Government of Canada signs with its traditional fonts and colours. I feel so at home. We are on Canadian land, in the middle of France.
I wonder if you feel that too.
We leave the tunnels and head towards the monument, the sun just setting behind the twin towers. The sunshine is bright, obscenely joyful, but it cannot touch this frosted scene.
I walk on alone, now surrounded by dozens of happy tourists chattering away about mundane things.
I wonder at them, and am even a bit angry. Do they not know? Do they not care, that you lie dead beneath their feet?
Walking away from them, I head down the path towards the giant monument. It looms in front of me, stark and desolate against the orange sun, bigger than life. For a brief moment, I am breathless in awe. Two towers, one with the Maple Leaf, the other with the Fleur de Lys. I see the statue of Canada Bereft, a young woman representing a young nation, looking down in sorrow at all her dead children. Tears prick at my eyelids and I blink them away. I am stoic. I will not cry.
I feel you then, watching and waiting.
Moving closer, I can now see the names. Eleven thousand names etched into the marble, lost but not forgotten. English, Scottish, French, Polish, First Nation surnames, from Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec. Canadian names. These are my people, lost forever.
The walls and the names go on forever. I never understood before how many eleven thousand was. These tears come now, I cannot stop them.
I feel your hand slip into mine and it comforts me.
Now I am not alone, there are two others. I know from their faces that they too know this place. They are Canadians. We stand together and remember you.
It is ninety years now since that day. You were called in to do the impossible, where the French and English had already failed before you. Liberate Vimy Ridge from the Germans. They said it was impossible.
But you did it. Four days and nights of blood and terror. A new team of Canadians, working together for the first time, four divisions becoming one. You took Vimy Ridge, to the astonishment of the French and English and the gratitude of the villages around.
I close my eyes and hear your voice, feel your pain, see your grief. I know what you want.
You at Vimy Ridge lived our creation story, written with your blood and tears and paid for with your lives. Your victory turned a small unsure colony into a proud new nation.
We will not forget. Canada will never forget.
But we must remember too the price of all this. The price that you paid in the Great War and the price paid by countless others after you, even today.
In War, even those victorious lose. How high is the price of peace!
I hear your cry. I will not forget you.
A/N Well, this is so unlike me. This story came from nowhere, just a little while ago. I saw an ad for Passchendaele (Yay Paul Gross!) a film about Canada's involvement in WW1 and I remembered my trip to Vimy Ridge.
If you're Canadian, you know Vimy Ridge. Go visit and see for yourself. You'll leave a changed person.
If you're not Canadian (or French), then you probably didn't understand some things. Meh. Look it up.
Also, this vignette was not proofread by my beta. I just wrote it and posted it straight away. Any mistakes in it are mine.