Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Vimy Oaks. A Journey to Peace by Linda Granfield

The Vimy Oaks: A Journey to Peace tells the remarkable story of Leslie Miller, a Canadian soldier who brought a few acorns from the oak trees at Vimy Ridge back to Canada and how one hundred years later Vimy may once again have oak trees.

When World War I began in mid-1914, Leslie Miller was teaching school in Saskatchewan. He enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was sent over to England in 1915. Leslie who was well educated joined the army's Signal Corps. He was stationed at Shorncliffe Camp, a military base near Folkestone, England. As a member of the Signal Corps, it was Leslie's responsibility to send and receive communications between various units of the military. During his time in England, Miller trained other signallers. Eventually he sailed across the English Channel to France. During his time overseas Miller kept several diaries filled with observations about the people and the towns in France.

Lieutenant Leslie Miller
Miller was part of the Canadian troops who fought in the battle for Vimy Ridge in April, 1917. After the battle, while on Vimy Ridge, Leslie Miller gathered acorns from the destroyed oak trees and mailed them home to his family in Canada. Miller didn't return home until early 1919. Eventually he returned to the Miller farm and the acorns from Vimy Ridge grew into oak trees. Miller eventually married and he and his wife, Mary Isabel "Essie" Fraser called their farm Vimy Oaks.

As the years passed by, many new Canadians helped the Millers on their farm. One such person was Monty McDonald who helped harvest the produce, remove brush and helped with the apple harvest. Leslie and Essie eventually sold their farm and after their deaths and the Miller  farm was purchased by a church. The Vimy Oaks however, remained.  The grew tall and very large.

When Monty McDonald traveled to Europe and visited the Vimy Memorial in France, he noted that there were no oak trees. Vimy Ridge had large stands of oak trees prior to World War I but the battles had destroyed the forests and scarred the earth around the ridge. McDonald wondered if it would be possible to reforest Vimy Ridge with the oak trees descended from the Vimy Oaks on the Miller farm in Canada. They would serve as a living memorial to those who died there. The second half of Granfield's picture book explains how McDonald's idea was to become a reality.

Discussion

Linda Granfield has crafted an engaging non-fiction book that informs young readers about a little known piece of Canadian history. This year we remember the Battle of Vimy Ridge which began 100 years ago on April 9, 1917 and continued until the final hill was taken on April 12th. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was of supreme importance to Canada because it was the first time four Canadian divisions, fighting together as a unit, accomplished what no other military force was able to, and that was capture the ridge held by German soldiers. It was a carefully planned attack but it came at an enormous price - the deaths of thousands of Canadians with many more thousands wounded. Whether it is myth or not, Canadians have claimed that this battle signified the beginning of Canada as a nation in its own right.

Canadian Gunners at Vimy Painting by Richard Jack
Granfield tells only the basics of the Vimy Ridge story. Instead her focus is on how one Canadian soldier's decision to save a few acorns from Vimy, grew into a remarkable legacy. The story of Leslie Miller, a member of the Signal Corps is illustrated by the muted oil paintings of illustrator Brian Deines. The story is further enhanced by many interesting photographs of the Vimy Memorial, Canadian troops, the trenches of Vimy, Leslie Miller in uniform, Leslie and Essie later in life, and so forth.The second part of the story focuses on the efforts of Monty McDonald to see the Vimy Oaks from the Miller farm return in some form to France.

McDonald's original plan called for acorns to be gathered from the Vimy Oaks on the old Miller woodlot (all that remains of Leslie and Essie's farm today). However, when McDonald went to collect acorns two years ago, the trees produced only a handful of acorns. Not enough to start a crop of seedlings. He devised a second plan which involved having arborists scale the trees and take cuttings of the most recent growth from the top and graft them onto other trees to grow. Over one thousand trees were waiting in a nursery in West Flamborough to be planted at the Vimy memorial in France. However the French had to refuse the trees because they were concerned about the introduction of.... into France. Instead these Canadian saplings will be planted a World War I memorials across the country. This past year the Vimy Oaks in the Miller woodlot produced thousands of acorns which McDonald collected. Two hundred acorns were sent to a nursery in Paris where they have be nurtured. While they will not be ready for planting on the centenary, the will be ready for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I next year.


The Vimy oaks, when repatriated to Vimy Ridge, will help us to remember the sacrifice of so many young Canadians. In 1916, Leslie Miller wrote in his diary, "I am writing seated at the foot of a large oak..." One hundred years on, may people sit beneath the oak trees, not to write war diaries but to write and read in peace.

The Vimy Foundation's Vimy Oaks webpage has a brief write-up.

To learn about the Vimy Oaks Repatriation Project check out their website: this pdf outlines the plan. The Vimy Oaks Legacy website has much information on the entire project as well as a webpage on Lieutenant Leslie Miller

Macleans Magazine explores why Vimy Ridge became so important to Canada.

CBC has a video tour with Peter Mansbridge of Vimy.

Book Details:

The Vimy Oaks: A Journey to Peace by Linda Granfield
North Winds Press       2017
33 pp.

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