N.B. reservists ready to pay respects at Vimy Ridge

1 / 3
The oaks of Vimy: One man's mission to restore a natural treasure to the battlefield

Ten reservists from New Brunswick are packing their bags for what they're calling the trip of a lifetime. 

They're going to Normandy to tour the battlefields of the two world wars and attend commemorative events marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which began at 5:30 a.m. on April 9, 1917. 

"I've never been to France before and it's one of the places I always wanted to see," said Bombardier Olivia Hovey, who got her first taste of the army when she signed up as a cadet during high school in Woodstock.

The Loyal Company Association helped to raise $80,000 for accommodation, tour guides, bus travel and museum fees. 

Personal expenses on this journey, including all evening meals,will be paid out of pocket, about $800, by each reservist.

'Trip of a lifetime'

The chosen reservists said they were nominated by their senior commanders.

"I think there were tears involved," said Master Cpl. Michelle Flanagan of Saint John, describing how she felt when he heard she could go.

"It's going to be the trip of a lifetime to be able to walk where so many people have lost their lives, defending.

"It's what the army's about. It's what the Canadian Forces is about."

As a gunner, Daran Caines of Saint John said he's especially proud of the role of the Canadian artillery at Vimy Ridge.

Days before the attack on Vimy, Canadian shells pounded enemy positions in an unrelenting barrage. The Germans called it the "Week of Suffering."

Caines said the six-inch howitzer proudly restored and on display at the Saint John Armoury, makes it impossible to forget what Canadians accomplished at Vimy Ridge.

"Vimy Ridge is where Canada first came to fight, shoulder to shoulder with other Canadians," he said.  

"We were under our own Canadian command and that was important. And we were recognized on the world stage as a fighting nation."

To wear dress uniforms 

Caines said standing under the Canadian National Vimy Memorial exactly 100 years after Canadians captured the ridge, at a cost of 3,598 lives, will be an experience he will never forget.  

"I think it will be overwhelming just being there in that place and thinking about past Canadians and just understanding the sacrifice that went into taking that piece of ground," he said.

The reservists have received special permission to wear their dress uniforms on four formal occasions, including the Vimy centenary.

"It has to be top-notch," said Flanagan. "You are the pride of Canada. You need to look the part. You need to be sharp. 

"People need to look at you and say, 'Wow, those are our Canadian Forces.'"

The New Brunswick reservists are scheduled to fly overseas on April 1 and return April 10.