Saturday Sculpture Vimy War Memorial, France.

Vimy War Memorial

Overlooking the Douai Plain, the Vimy Memorial is located approximately eight kilometres northeast of Arras and is the centrepiece of a 250-acre preserved battlefield park that encompasses a portion of the area over which the Canadians made their assault during the initial Battle of Vimy Ridge. The imposing structure stands amid craters and unexploded munitions that still honeycomb the grounds which remain largely closed off to the public for reasons of safety.

The Memorial is dedicated to the Canadians who served their country in battle during the First World War, and in particular. to the 60,000 who gave their lives in France. It also bears the names of 11,000 Canadian servicemen who died there who have no known grave.

The rough terrain is because it cannot be properly excavated due to unexploded munitions.

Designed by W.S. Allward, it took 11 years to build. He had initially hoped to use marble for the facing stone but was persuaded that this would not weather in northern France. After a two year search he found a limestone of just the right colour, texture, and luminosity in the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace at Split in Croatia and managed to procure supplies from an ancient Roman quarry located in Croatia near Seget.  Oscar Faber, a Danish structural engineer who designed the substructure for the Menin Gate at Ypres, prepared foundation plans and provided general supervision of the work.

Vimy Memorial from the road with designated pathway to the Monument


During the Second World War Germany took control of the site and held the site’s caretaker in an internment camp for Allied civilians. There were rumours that it had been desecrated and to demonstrate that this was not so, Hitler, who reportedly admired the memorial for its peaceful nature, was photographed by the press while touring it on 2 June 1940. After the war it was found that it had not been damaged in any way and that it had been carefully looked after by the Germans during the war.

The site of 250 acres, most of which is forested and off limits to visitors to ensure public safety, is of rough terrain and because unexploded munitions make the task of grass cutting too dangerous for human operators, sheep graze the open meadows of the site.

4 thoughts on “Saturday Sculpture Vimy War Memorial, France.

  1. It is certainly a remarkable piece of work both for its form and its “monumental” size. It also makes an interresting change from the usual figures of Victory clutching a laurel wreath. I also wonder whether it is unique in being a memorial in one country to the war dead of another – if not unique, then probably unusual.

    The search for the perfect stone to replace marble is a story in itself.


  2. I’ve been with First World War History for a large part of my life it seems and I never feel haunted at these sites. It’s strange, isn’t it. There seems to be something about that particular war that dispenses with this – maybe it’s because of its distance in time, who knows. And as a ferocious reader, I came to the history through prose and poetry of that period which I still love, so maybe that’s what makes the difference!


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