VIMY 1917

This exhibition sheds light on a little-known aspect of the First World War: the underground war fought by Canadian soldiers, hidden in the bowels of the earth to shield themselves from the deadly force of the artillery. Coming from a new country, and fighting–and for many, dying–thousands of kilometres from their homes, they, more than all the other soldiers, left their mark in France in the form of graffiti and sculptures etched on to the chalk walls of underground cavities in Artois and Picardy, where they stayed prior to going over the top or during rest periods behind the front.

After a synopsis of the stages of Canada’s involvement in the fighting and the losses it sustained, a description is provided of the troops’ living conditions between assaults, as well as their cantonment sites, hospitals, training camps in the villages along the ChausséeBrunehaut and the relationships formed with the civilian population.

The traces (inscriptions and graffiti) left behind by Canadian soldiers are then presented, by means of topography of the preserved remains, the techniques used and their content (names, badges, images of women, religious and patriotic symbols, caricatures, masonic themes and so on).

Two major Canadian sites are evoked specifically, in particular through the realisation of shot campaigns and 3D modelling: the undergrounds of Maison-Blanche in Neuville-Saint-Vaast (Pas-de-Calais) and those of Bouzincourt (Somme).

Conversely, the productions of other warring nationalities are also brought to light: American (Froidmont quarry in Braye-en-Laonnois), Australian (Naours caves), New Zealander (Wellington quarry in Arras), and of course, French and German (Chemin des Dames quarries).

The traces thus revealed are an occasion to follow in the footsteps of a large number of soldiers, from their homes in Canada, to the place of their death, on the French front, thanks to additional research carried out in the archives, as well as with their families.

The exhibition therefore highlights unknown and fragile testimonies, exposed to natural erosion and to vandalism, but also irreplaceable as they often constitute the only trace of the passage of ordinary men, who came to die in a foreign land during the First World War.

An exhibition proposed by the Pas-de-Calais Departmental Council at the Lens ’14-18 Museum.

Open every day except Monday from 10 am to 6 pm.

Free admission