Top: Jake Forsyth stands in front of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial during his trip to France with Canadian Scouts. The group participated in Maples for Vimy, a project commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge that partnered with French students to plant memorial maple trees. Photos: Courtesy Jake Forsyth
Centennial youth leaves living memorial at Vimy
By Janice Bennink
The April 9th commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France was viewed by thousands around the world. Apart from the main ceremonies, memorials took place across the country. Last month, Centennial resident and CCRA executive Jake Forsyth returned from France with his own memories as a participant in the Maples for Vimy project.
When Jake, a leader from 2nd Highland Creek Scouts, learned about Maples for Vimy last fall, he felt compelled to participate. After months of fundraising, he was able to join Scouts and Girl Guides from the London/Strathroy area on a trip that would leave a living memorial honouring the veterans of Vimy Ridge.
Throughout the week preceding the anniversary date, the group toured and planted maple trees on the Ridge and in communities surrounding the Canadian National Vimy Memorial where Canadian soldiers were deployed.
The significance of tree planting became clear once the youth began their work. The sites are located where Canadians fought – one of the sites, currently a school property, was a former landing strip. Jake said “in these small towns, they are very grateful. Throughout the whole town, there were Canadian flags and banners saying ‘welcome Canada.’”
“We had locals asking to take pictures with the kids. At the school where we planted, we had 40 kids throughout the day come up and talk to us.”
The group also toured war memorial sites in northern France and Belgium including the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, St. Julien Memorial and Menin Gate Memorial. They visited war cemeteries and toured historic sites, including preserved trenches and tunnels.
Visiting the cemeteries and memorials was, for Jake, an “eye-opening” experience.
“After you learn about it in high school history, you see for yourself instead of a bad textbook photo. To see hundreds of thousands of headstones and to read them, looking for the Canadian ones, you realize ‘that guy was my age and he was fighting.’”
When the Scouts toured Flanders Fields, they visited the tomb of a 15-year-old boy who had lied about his age to fight. Jake recalls that “almost everyone was crying because the Scouts were all 14 or 15 themselves.”
For him, one of the trip highlights was a group reading of ‘In Flanders Fields’ at the site of the field hospital where Colonel John McCrae wrote the famous poem. “It’s one of those poems that you learn at a young age and sticks with you. To be in that spot where John McCrae sat and wrote it was incredible.”
Jake returned home with a renewed understanding of honouring the past, but he also recognizes the current and future value of Maples for Vimy.
“Just going to plant the trees is of value to someone. We had the opportunity to put something there that can help to bring them together. When we did the dedication ceremonies, it seemed that the whole town came out and thanked us for planting the trees.”