Direct from Vimy, France – May 24

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May 24, 2000

Minister Baker pauses for silent reflection at Pozières Cemetery

The 6:45 wake-up call, this morning, comes far too early for most of the delegation members, many of whom didn't get to bed before one o'clock Arras time. By 8:15 we are in the coaches and on our way to the British Commonwealth War Graves cemetery, just outside of Pozières a quaint village about 25 minutes from our hotel. The skies, heavy and low with the promise of rain, seem befitting of the somber occasion ahead of us.

As we speed along the lush countryside, wet with a recent downpour, the neatly planted rows of corn and sugar beets accentuate the gentle roll of the landscape. A terrain that hides so much of the past.

The land gave up a couple of its secrets earlier this year. The Brockley family of Sussex, England, who were out for a hike, happened upon the remains of Private David John Carlson. He had enlisted in the 8th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary, two days after his 18th birthday. He had been presumed dead since he went missing, on September 8, 1916, during and attack on Courcelette, during the Battle of the Somme. The other soldier, discovered separately, was an Australian. He remains known only unto God. As we bear witness this morning, they are laid to their final rest.

Representatives of Veterans' Organizations stand by as insignia are placed on the coffins

Linda Marfleet and Darlene Petersen have travelled to France from Edmonton, Alberta, to be present for their Great Uncle's burial. The trip has been exhausting, but they are glad to be here on behalf of their family. They have brought along with them a silk floral arrangement that they put together with the help of their aunt. There is some comfort in knowing that it will adorn the graveside, long after they have returned home.

Presided over by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Maurice Baril, the military funeral is conducted with great dignity and respect. It is led by Canadian Armed Forces Chaplain General Farwell, and Russell Avery, the Anglican Chaplain of Lille, in France.

Headstone marking the former grave of Canada's Unknown Soldier at Cabaret Rouge Cemetery, in the vicinity of Vimy Ridge

From the cemetery at Pozières, we proceed to the Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont-Hamel. This is a national Canadian historic site that has been preserved in tribute to the men of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment, that was virtually annihilated on July 1, 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. They had gone into action with 801 men. Every officer who went into battle was either killed or wounded. When the roll call was taken the next day, only 68 answered the call. Today, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Honourable George Baker, officially turns the first sod to mark the beginning of construction of an interpretive centre that will open in July of 2001.

At the end of the day, we congregate at the Cabaret Rouge Cemetery, very near to Vimy Ridge. Here we pay our respects at the former gravesite of the unknown soldier, who tomorrow will be repatriated to Canada after a ceremony to hand over the remains takes place at the Vimy War Memorial. Minister Baker scoops up some soil from around the newly placed headstone that indicates the removal of the soldier. It will be brought back to Canada and interred with the remains, along with soil collected from all ten provinces and three territories.

The rain has begun in earnest.

Ottawa, Canada

Vimy, France

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