Reprint of an article written by Kathleen Harris,
and photographs by Sean Kilpatrick
April 6, 2007, Sun Media
M aster Corporal Jill Cooper shows pictures of her grandfather, GNR Arthur Cooper (1894-1971) who fought at Vimy Ridge. She is pictured at the NRC in Ottawa on Thursday March 29, 2007. Cooper's father and uncle fought in WWII. (SUN/Sean Kilpatrick)
M aster Cpl. Jill Cooper uses state-of-the-art digital cameras and sophisticated technology to record Canada's modern military manoeuvres, but she wades through aged brittle letters, crackling film footage and black-and-white photographs to explore her ancestors' wartime service.
J oining the Canadian Forces six years ago, Cooper became her family's third generation to wear a uniform. She followed in the footsteps of her grandfather Arthur Cooper, a British-born Canadian who enlisted in 1915 and fought in the historic Battle of Vimy Ridge.
C ooper says, "It's going to be very meaningful for me to stand on the same ground my grandfather stood on 90 years ago," Cooper has travelled to France to photograph the commemorative ceremony marking the bloody but victorious battle that began Easter Monday, 1917.
S he is among thousands of soldiers, veterans, students and government officials making the pilgrimage to Vimy to mark the historic battle's 90th anniversary. Up to 30,000 people, including Queen Elizabeth II, will take part in the solemn ceremony honouring Canada's war dead.
J ust nine years old when her grandfather died in 1971, Cooper's childhood memories are of a "little old man." But through historical research, old pictures and scores of letters sent home to Canada during the First World War, she has stitched together the story of a strapping young soldier who served as a brave anti-aircraft gunner and took down enemy planes.
H er grandfather wrote, "We have been under all kinds of shellfire, but have not lost any men. So we are all kept busy." in one letter while on leave before the big barrage at Vimy.
J ill Cooper's father Joseph and her uncle Arthur, named after her grandfather, both served overseas in the Second World War. Odds are good she will also be deployed abroad one day.
ooper said, "When I see the old footage, the still photographs, I see the conditions were just dreadful." of the bleak trenches endured by soldiers in the early 1900s. "The conditions for us are much better. We go on six- or nine-month deployments, but during the world wars, they were there for the duration."
U ncle Arthur is now 88 but vividly recalls how his father was haunted for life by the memory of a close friend who died by his side at Vimy.
e said, "He couldn't understand how his friend was killed and yet he didn't even get touched," from his home in British Columbia. "He described where the Canadians were at Vimy, how it was flat and on a ridge. But it was like a massacre. They lost a lot of Canadians there, and he said it was terrible because the shelling was so heavy that even some who were buried were blown back out again. He said Vimy was really a slaughterhouse."
A After serving in Canada's Air Force during the Second World War, Cooper traded stories with his father about the evolution of warfare, from riding horseback to riding in armoured vehicles; from crawling in muddy trenches to fighting in open, mobile ground warfare.
T im Cook, a historian with the Canadian War Museum, describes the First World War as an "industrial war" where enormous armies fought with millions of men and guns. By today's measure, that scale is "unfathomable" in scope and in casualty count.
C anadian participation in war transitioned from the enormity and brutality of the world wars to the more subtle yet insidious Cold War that raised the nuclear spectre and the end of humankind.
C ook said, "There is a kind of progression of horror, a progression of what humans are willing to do to one another." "It has changed with the fall of the Soviet empire, but now we have different wars, different struggles. We're no longer expecting the massive industrial wars; we're expecting other types of conflict and struggles."
T oday's enemy is less defined and harder to pin down, and the equipment and communications systems aiding command and control are much more advanced. Yet the basic combat tactics to fight terrorism remains much the same as those employed in the earlier world wars.
C ook said, "It still comes down to, for the most part, boots on the ground. You're still talking about the infantry going in, digging out the enemy somehow, still fighting their way through enemy defences, still dealing with all of the human factors that make up war - fear, exhaustion, determination, heroism." "All of that stuff from the First World War, you see that today in Afghanistan. The enemy has changed, the terrain is different, the weapons are different, but it's still the human element that is going to deliver victory for you."
M ilitary historian and author Jack Granatstein agrees that despite the enormous change in scope, warfare in Afghanistan echoes the past.
H e said, "It is incomparably smaller in scale, but it seems to get down to infantry humping across the landscape." "They've got LAVs and tanks and helicopters and other things, but ultimately you send guys in to work through the vineyards and the holes in the ground and it's the poor bloody infantry that do it. So not all that much has changed."
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