Monday, April 9, 2012

A Week of Anniversaries

Today is the 95th anniversary of the commencement of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Easter Monday, April 9, 1917. The four day battle, in which all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought together for the first time, has long been considered - rightly or wrongly - to be one of the moat important elements in the forging of a true Canadian identity in the early years of the 20th century. The battle itself may have had a relatively small impact on the outcome of The Great War, but the myth and mystique of the efforts of the men of the young country had a tremendous impact on the spirit of our nation.

Today I watched a very interesting documentary on the History Channel in Canada which was put together 5 years ago on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of Vimy. (You can also view this video on YouTube, with part 1 being available here.) Some of the artifacts they dug up from the fields of the battle zone were amazing, but the most fascinating part of the show to me was the journey into and through some of the myriad tunnels that were dug underneath the German positions. In particular I enjoyed the perfectly-preserved carvings that several of the Canadian soldiers made into the rock face of the tunnels, some of which had not been viewed in 90 years.

I hope that someday Sarah and I will have a chance to visit the beautiful memorial in France. I also very much would like to visit Normandy at some point...but that is an entirely different anniversary from a very different war.

There are a few other important anniversaries coming up this week as well. Likely the biggest of these is the 100th anniversary of Titanic's maiden (and only) voyage, which began on April 10, 1912. This whole week should be a veritable feast for "Titanic-philes" leading up to the big day, the 100th anniversary of the sinking early in the morning of April 15. From the re-release of the movie "Titanic" (in 3-D, no less!), to the four-part miniseries from the Downton Abbey people which wraps up this week, to the breathless reports from James Cameron of his deep-sea diving experiences a week or so ago...I think we are just scratching the surface of what to expect in the next few days. Or perhaps I should have called it the "tip of the iceberg". (Sorry. Too soon?) In any event, if you feel you have heard all you ever need to hear about the shocking destruction of the "unsinkable" liner, you would be well advised to take a vacation in Outer Space starting tomorrow and stay out of touch for at least a week. And speaking of Outer Space....

On Wednesday it will be the 42nd anniversary of the launch of Apollo 13 (at 13:13 local time, I mean really: what were they thinking?) on April 11, 1970. Two days later (on April 13 which, surprisingly, was not a Friday) the craft was crippled by an explosion in one of their oxygen tanks and, tragically, the entire 3-man crew of Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton was lost, putting an end to the manned space program in the United States forever.

Ha! Ha! Just seeing if you were paying attention. Of course the story of how the astronauts were brought safely back to earth is one of the most gripping of the late 20th century. It's just a shame that it took this near-tragedy to put NASA back on the front page. As a young lad I couldn't get enough of the space program but it seemed to me that once they successfully walked on the moon people just stopped caring. It was darned hard to follow the subsequent missions on the nightly news; that was quite frustrating for more than a few of us young "astro-nuts" in my area of the world.

And last, but certainly not least, Wednesday is my brother's 44th birthday - which continues to have an international impact in entirely different ways as he frequently travels to Korea in his business pursuits. Happy birthday, bro!

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