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.
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.
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.