Canada'S Unknown Soldier
Canada at last has it's own Tomb of The Unknown Soldier after the remains of a World War I soldier were exhumed in France and brought home to Ottawa.
Canada’s Unknown Soldier arrived home on May 25, 2000 from a World War I battleground of France, where he lay for nearly eight decades. Canada honored its Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial in Ottawa more than 80 years after World War I fighting ended. He was buried May 28th.
The remains of the Unknown Soldier were exhumed from a war cemetery at Vimy, in northern France, where more than 1,600 Canadians are buried without identification. About 3,600 Canadians died in battles with the German army in 1917 in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
In the May 28 ceremony, the serviceman became a symbol of renown and sacrifice in a country that did not have a tomb of an Unknown Soldier to represent the approximately 116,000 Canadians killed in war, 68,000 of those during World War I.
A horse-drawn gun carriage carried the maple coffin, draped with a Canadian flag, from Parliament Hill to the nearby site of the tomb. The eight-member bearer party that accompanied the Unknown Soldier across the Atlantic from Vimy walked alongside the gun carriage and removed their caps in the cold wind as the casket arrived on Parliament Hill. The bell of Parliament’s Peace Tower tolled steadily as the casket was carried past.
A 21-gun salute marked the military procession. Thousands of Canadian war veterans from across the country followed the carriage on foot. At the stone memorial, Canadian Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and Prime Minister Jean Chretien paid their respects to those who died in the wars.
After the ceremony, samples of sand from all of Canada’s 10 provinces were poured over the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. A representative of Canada’s natives placed a bag of tobacco and a feather on the coffin, an aboriginal tradition. A bronze carving of a helmet and a sword will cover the tomb.
Organized by the Royal Canadian Legion and the Canadian government, it took about five years for the remains of the Unknown Soldier to be brought to Canada.
Canadian Defense Minister Art Eggleton received the remains of the serviceman at the Ottawa airport on the afternoon of May 25.
“We do not know where he was born, who his family was or what his dreams were,” Eggleton said in an address at the ceremony welcoming the soldier home.
“We know only that for more than 80 years he has laid in the soil at Vimy, in a grave marked simply ‘Canadian soldier known unto God.’ And we know that he is now home.”
“This soldier will lie forever as a reminder, a reminder that we owe our peace, freedom, our prosperity to those who have gone before us,” Eggleton said.
Eggleton said it is fitting that Canada’s unknown soldier is one who lost his life at Vimy.
“The victory at Vimy in World War I is rightly celebrated as our national coming of age. But we must never forget that the price was paid in blood,” Eggleton said.
At Vimy, Canadian soldiers formed their own corps for the first time under Gen. Sir Arthur Currie to seize the hill the Germans had held for three years. Canada, then not fully sovereign from Britain, signed the Versailles peace treaty as a nation.
Some 20,000 Canadians went missing in World War I. A memorial on the Vimy hill, a 267-acre area that France donated to Canada in the 1920s, bears the names of 11,285 of the “presumed dead.”
The tomb will be sealed by a granite lid, decorated with bronzes by sculptor Mary-Ann Liu and will bear the inscription: “The Unknown Soldier, Le Soldat Inconnu.”
The remains were turned over to the Canadian military in France in a solemn ceremony beneath the Vimy Memorial dedicated to 66,000 Canadians who gave their lives in the First World War. The soldier symbolizes 27,000 comrades, who have no known graves, said Eggleton.
“Although we know who they are, we know not where they lie.”
Since his death in the First World War, the soldier had lain beneath a headstone marked with a Maple Leaf and the simple inscription: Known unto God.
He was buried near the soaring Vimy monument, where a sculpture of a hooded woman representing Canada broods over her war dead.
“We don’t know his name, we don’t know his age, we don’t know his unit,” Veterans Affairs Minister George Baker said in France.
“Nobody knows. Only God knows that.
“This is a truly great day for Canadians,” he added. “This is a continuation of our pledge that we will never forget.”