Although it was the first day of the official part of the presidential campaign in France, the main TV news broadcast from France 2 in Paris, rebroadcast by SBS in Australia on Tuesday morning, 10 April 2007, began with film of what the presenter called a rare event: Queen Elizabeth II was on the soil of France.
He went on to describe her appearance was “en tant que souveraine du Canada”. Her Majesty was in France, as Queen of Canada, to preside over the ceremonies to rededicate the great Canadian Memorial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, fought ninety years ago. The refurbished memorial was originally dedicated by King Edward VIII, as King of Canada, and it stands on what will forever be Canadian land, a mark of the gratitude France bears for Canada for that great victory.
In the presence of over 15,000 Canadians, The Queen, in English and in French, paid tribute to the Canadians who took the ridge, a German stronghold which she said had become a "symbol of futility and despair". "It was a stunning victory," she said. "In capturing this formidable objective, the Canadian Corps transformed Vimy Ridge from a symbol of despair into a source of inspiration. After two-and-a half years of deadly stalemate, it now seemed possible that the Allies would prevail and peace might one day be restored".
The victory came at a price. The 27,000-man Canadian Corps, under the command of British General Julian H.G. Byng, later Governor-General of Canada, with Canadian General Sir Arthur Currie as Chief-of-Staff, lost 3,598 men, and suffered over 7,000 wounded. The Canadians ensured that their detailed and intricate battle plan would succeed where those of the British and French in 1915 had failed, at enormous cost. Led by the Canadian Corps, they were joined in the operation by the British 5th Infantry Division, with British artillery and air support
The success of the attack raised Canadian prestige enormously, assuring the reputation of the Canadian soldier, and the status of the Canadian nation. It would not be inaccurate to say that Vimy has a similar ranking in the Canadian national conciousness as Gallipoli has for Australians and New Zealanders. As Her Majesty said:"Those who seek the foundations of Canada’s distinction would do well to begin here at Vimy."
In her address, shown on a large video screen, The Queen commended all those Canadians who have served in the cause of freedom, including those six soldiers who died at Easter in Afghanistan.
"To their eternal remembrance, to those who have so recently lost their lives in Afghanistan, to Canada and to all who would serve the cause of freedom, I rededicate this magnificently restored memorial", she said.
The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, offered his own tribute to the Canadian soldiers who, against all expectations, had captured the ridge during a four-day battle that began on Easter Monday, 1917.
"Every nation has a creation story. The First World War and the battle of Vimy Ridge are central to our story. We Canadians are a long way from home. But there may be no place on earth that makes us feel more Canadian", he said.
The French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, said that the "courage and spirit" of young soldiers struck a blow that set the allies on the road to victory. He thanked Canada for this.
The service included an inspection of the troops by The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, a fly-past, a wreath-laying and the traditional rites of a Remembrance Day service including the last post.
On the motion of the Canadian Legion, the Canadian Red Ensign was flown at Vimy with the present Canadian Flag, and it has been decided that the Red Ensign will always fly over Vimy..
How appropriate it was that the Canadian nation was led by their Queen in this great act of remembrance. The Queen of Canada, as a constitutional monarch, acts on the advice and at the request of her Canadian ministers. Is it not time that Her Majesty, The Queen of Australia was invited by her Australian ministers to be present at one of the commemorations on the battlefields which are so etched into the memory of our nation, and where so many noble Australians served and fell, as countless memorials across our great Commonwealth testify, for God, King and Country?
[I am grateful to Harold, of the Monarchist Alliance , who advises that this is the link to the “Journal de France 2 du 9 avril 2007 avec la reine du Canada” : http://jt.france2.fr/20h/]