Earlier today, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry marked the centenary of WWI’s Battle of Vimy Ridge in France with Francois Hollande, the President of the nation and Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau.
Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and Scottish Minister Nicola Sturgeon also joined the party to mark 100 years since the battle.
The event to remember one of the defining moments of WWI took place at the Canadian National Memorial, on the site of the battlefield, near Arras. It was another meeting with the French President for William – who visited Paris with The Duchess of Cambridge last month – and the Canadian Prime Minister, whom he met on the September tour for the Cambridges.
It was here the four-day Battle of Vimy Ridge took place, which resulting in the deaths of 3,598 Canadian forces under British command in April 1917. A total of 159,000 allies (British, Australian and Canadian) were killed, wounded or missing in the Battle of Arras, for which Vimy Ridge was fought.
The aim of the battle was to reclaim the ridge from the Germans, which had failed on previous British and French attempts. Canadian troops prepared carefully, learning from the mistakes of previous missions; they built miles of tunnels to protect soldiers from shelling and allow them to pop up quickly into their positions.
Sections of the former-battlefield are still cordoned off by electric fences due to unexploded shells and ordnances beneath the surface.
Charles, William and Harry walked in the footsteps of the men at the battle, as they were given tours of the preserved trenches before the commemorations began. They were also told more about the military plan for the battle and experiences of the men.
Prince Charles – whose 12th wedding anniversary is today – addressed the 25,000-strong crowds, including relatives of those who fought in the battle, and said the victory for the Allies came “at an unbearably high cost”.
“This was, and remains, the single bloodiest day in Canadian military history,” he said. “Yet Canadians displayed a strength of character and commitment to one another that is still evident today.
“They did not waver. This was Canada at its best. The Canadians at Vimy embodied the true north, strong and free.”
The Queen sent a message to the Canadian people event with her son: “On this day a century ago, thousands of Canadian soldiers stood far from home together with their allies in defence of peace and freedom.”
She said there would be “difficult memories of loss and of suffering, but also memories of many heroic acts of bravery and of sacrifice”.
“They fought courageously and with great ingenuity in winning the strategic high point of Vimy Ridge, though victory came at a heavy cost with more than 10,000 fallen and wounded.”
“I am pleased that my son The Prince of Wales, and my grandsons The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, are attending the commemorations today,”
“It is our duty to remember and honour those who served so valiantly and who gave so much here at Vimy Ridge and throughout the First World War,” her message said.
The Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry both lay a pair of commemorative military-style boots and ceramic poppies in a wooden block at the Canadian Memorial, after their father and the French and Canadian leaders had laid wreaths. The boots are the first of thousands that will be placed at the site by Canadian and French youths, representing the fallen soldiers.
All three of the Windsor men have served in the military, with Prince Harry having seen two tours of duty in Afghanistan.
Charles, William and Harry also briefly greeted and spoke with those who had attended the event, shaking hands and posing for photos.
This evening, the Royal trio are to attend a reception and meet young Canadians who attended the commemoration. Guests will include Invictus Games competitors, plus personnel from some of Prince Charles’ Canadian military affiliations.