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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

CTMHV display provides insight into the mind of Canadian soldiers at Vimy Ridge

by Kyle Reid

A special presentation at the Canadian Transportation Museum & Heritage Village (CTMHV) on Saturday gave visitors a glimpse into the minds of Canadian soldiers who took refuge in French caves near Vimy Ridge during WWI.

Zenon Andrusyszyn, Souterrain Impressions Exhibit Curator, described in painstaking detail the work done by his non-profit organization, the Canadian Historical Documentation and Imaging Group (CANADIGM), in recreating the carvings soldiers made in a chalk cave near Vimy Ridge, before the famous battle took place.

The exhibit has travelled across the country and is currently on display at the CTMHV.

Hundreds of soldiers were hiding from shellfire inside the chalk caves in France before taking part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917. It is during this time when they made the carvings on the cave’s walls.

Through meticulous research and efforts to restore the chalk carvings, the CANADIGM team linked the carvings to service records at Library and Archives Canada, providing a living record of the soldiers’ sacrifice.

Because of that effort, Andrusyszyn was able to tell the stories of the lives of many of the soldiers who had left their mark inside the French cave, captivating audience members who attended Saturday’s event. 

One display highlighted drawings of a pig and other farm animals. Andrusyszyn said that his team determined an Ontario soldier and farmer named Leroy Lacey drew the images. He survived the Battle of Vimy Ridge, but was killed only months later.

Another soldier drew portraits of a girlfriend he left behind when he joined the war efforts.  

“It sort of gives you an insight into what these men were thinking when they were below, waiting to go into battle,” Andrusyszyn said.

Other soldiers carved elaborate images of their battalion badges into the wall in the weeks before the battle; including the Canadian Scottish and the 48th Highlanders, among others.

“They were proud of the battalions they were serving,” Andrusyszyn said. “Whether they had talent in carving or not didn’t matter.”

Others simply scratched their names and rank, documenting their time hidden inside the caves, and for many, a record of their sacrifice.

“Some wrote their names down, and a few weeks later, they were gone,” Andrusyszyn said.

The exhibit will remain open for viewing at the Canadian Transportation Museum & Heritage Village until this Sunday.


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