The Terrible Heartbreak of War: Syria April 2017 and Vimy April 1917

Mother Canada at Vimy

This week we were horrified by the gas attack on Syrian civilians, and we Canadians will remember the sacrifice of our soldiers at Vimy. War never occurs, no matter what year or under what circumstances, without terrible heartbreak.


On Tuesday, April 4, 2017 the world heard the shocking news of a sarin gas attack in the northwestern province of Idlib in Syria. The victims (reportedly 100 dead, and more than 70 injured) were, of course, civilians: women, men and children. Some pundits speculate that Trump’s statement of having no problem with Bashar al-Assad gave the latter permission to act against his own people with expected impunity. Some say the only fighter jets in the air that day were Russian, but Russia denied any responsibility for the attack. Later Russia pronounced that an explosion at a rebel-held building containing chemicals caused the attack on civilians. As we all know, the first casualty of war is truth. We also know from history that the international community complains and says, “Never again!” … again and again. Now, after six years, there are as many as 500,000 people dead. Of course the person who has the power to stop these atrocities is the man in the highest office in Syria. Meanwhile, civilians suffer… again and again.


WWI soldier Roderick MacLennan

Great Uncle Mac

On Sunday, April 9, 1917 Canada will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the taking of Vimy Ridge by all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and one British division, from the German Sixth Army during World War I. Over time, Vimy has come to symbolize Canadian military achievement, and reminds us of the sacrifice those young men made for our country. Approximately 4,000 of them died, and 7,000 were wounded. In a previous post I mentioned my visit to the Vimy memorial, but I didn’t go into much detail. It is hard to put into words what a moving experience it was. The long drive from the main road meanders through a woods of strange bumps and hollows, which, I learned later, were created by the shells of battle. The stark beauty of the landscape and the monument evokes a feeling of sadness for all the soldiers of the war, and incomprehension of the awful things humans do to each other. While I was there, I thought of my Uncle Mac. My great uncle, Roderick MacLennan, was not part of the battle at Vimy because he had died at the Battle of the Somme six months earlier, eighteen days after his 21st birthday. He was mourned by my grandmother for all the rest of her days.

Terrible Heartbreak

It doesn’t matter whether actions in war are honourable or dishonourable. It always leaves some sort of heartbreak in its wake.

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The statue on the centre wall of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial is known as Canada Bereft, or Mother Canada. It was carved by Luigi Rigamonti. The close-up photo (above) is by Richard Lautens/Toronto Star.

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