Vimy Flight, a team of volunteer pilots and their ground support, performed a commemorative fly-past over the Vimy Ridge Memorial in France on April 9 with four Nieuport 11 planes.
WATCH: See a video clip of the flypast on our Facebook page.
As part of the Birth of A Nation Tour – honouring those who fought in the war – the pilots are visiting communities all across the country, also commemorating Canada’s 150th year of nationhood.
Dave Wilson of Marshdale is one of the 11 pilots who make up the team – one reason why pilot Larry Ricker flew the plane from Stanley, near Windsor, to the area, where he landed on a grass airstrip owned by Don MacKenzie.
[Leading a lofty mission: Pictou County pilot part of flypass at Vimy]
The planes don’t fly very fast – between 50 and 65 knots – and team leader Allan Snowie said cars are faster. Ricker made the trip in 55 minutes, arriving later than expected because he had to wait for winds to die down before taking off.
Nova Scotia is the first stop on the tour, since the planes were shipped to and from France via CFB Greenwood. Wilson said it will take until September to make the entire trek, and he and the other pilots will take turns flying different legs.
[Vimy Flight pilots kick off cross-Canada tour in Greenwood]
He said getting to participate in the fly-past was “a unique opportunity to represent the country and get an understanding of what really happened, because it was a big turning point for Canada. It was a very moving occasion,” he said, noting that the weather was perfect.
“You get an appreciation for the scale of how everything was ruined for miles and miles, and cities knocked down.”
Alex Munroe of Alma, a pilot, former cadet and now a volunteer with 374 F/L Chisholm Royal Canadian Air Cadets in Stellarton, was also at Vimy for the commemoration, and he went to see the plane on Wednesday.
The 19-year-old said the former battlefields are dotted with craters, and sheep are used to mow the grass because live ammunition still lies under the ground. “Back then, they would shoot the shells over, but they would get stuck in the mud and they wouldn’t detonate.”
He said graveyards are everywhere in the region. “It’s life changing in the way when you’re 19, and walking down a row of graves and you realize half of the graves – they’re younger than you – it changes something in your heart,” he said. “At that time (during the war), I would have been the one going off to war. It’s a surreal feeling to know you would be the one…”
Munroe also saw the fly-past by the Canadian pilots. “It was really impressive,” he said, noting that 100 years ago they would have been doing same flight.
About the Battle of Vimy Ridge
The Battle of Vimy Ridge took place from April 9 to 12, 1917.
Nearly 20,000 Canadian soldiers made up the first wave of troops attacking Vimy Ridge in northern France.
The Royal Flying Corps provided air reconnaissance and support to advancing ground troops, but lost 131 aircraft in the first week of April.
The Canadians lost nearly 3,600 men storming German trench networks on Vimy Ridge, strategic high ground that the Allies needed to secure the northern French city of Arras and the surrounding countryside.
The battle was the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together as one formation, and not as a subordinate unit in the British army.
The victory at Vimy Ridge is said to mark the “birth of a nation” for Canada, and it changed the way the war was fought.
With files from The Chronicle Herald