MOUNTAIN – War has been a constant for centuries, but in Canada we’re further removed from it than ever before.
Battles play out daily around the globe, but in an age perpetuated by the latest Internet sensations, they are often overlooked.
In the tiny hamlet of Mountain there stands a monument that is a testament to the sacrifice of those who came before us, and many of those who paid the ultimate price.
It was that very memorial that was the scene of a major celebration Sun., Aug. 27.
For this year marks the centennial of the Battle of Hill 70, and until not too long ago the solemn marker in Mountain was the lone symbol of remembrance for that military engagement in the world.
“One-hundred years ago, in a community far from this service, the scene of war ravaged the countrysides of France,” Township of North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan said. “Lives and families were shattered. Men and women saw scenes of war that would be etched in their minds forever. Painfully long days turned into painfully long weeks and then months. At times, hope for our future was grim.”
Hill 70 has been etched in history as the “forgotten battle” despite it being a major First World War offensive in August 1917. It came on the heels of Vimy Ridge in April and a lengthy entanglement at Passchendaele, which stretched from June to November.
It was mission accomplished for the Canadians, though thousands of soldiers would be left dead at the site in Lens, France, victims in a battle that turned into a nightmare of rain, mud, and misery.
It was never forgotten in Mountain, however. The community launched an effort in May 1922 to purchase 22 acres of farmland, turning it into parkland and a space for community use.
Also included was a single light to serve as a lasting memorial to those killed at Hill 70.
Why? It’s a question that has long been asked in local history. It could be that the memorial was placed to honour Priv. Harry Carson, born in Mountain and killed at Hill 70, or to perhaps pay tribute to all those members of the Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Highlanders who were involved.
Nevertheless, the tribute remained for decades.
The site was rehabilitated once in 2009, and then again in 2012 after a major initiative by the Mountain and District Lions Club, who had raised $70,000 to rededicate the monument.
“The site had fallen into disarray and had lost its significance as a fitting memorial to the soldiers killed or wounded in that battle,” club member Bob Weagant said. During Aug. 27’s service, First World War historians Dr. Bill Johnson and Serge Marc Durflinger recounted aspects of the battle and its significance despite its relevance having been lost.
Durflinger is also one of several authors featured in the recently released book Capturing Hill 70.
“We wanted to bring the story of Hill 70 to the rest of the country… to a broader audience in this country and beyond,” he said.
Before the ceremony’s close, wreathes were laid at the foot of the monument while both the “Last Post” and the “Rouse” were played.
“We must stay mindful of what has happened… Give us wisdom and gratitude for those brave boys,” Rev. Blair Paterson said in his address. “Keep in our mind that 100 years ago 17 and 18 year olds, and 30 year olds left life for the horror of war, and were scared beyond belief. We need now to have it light enough to keep off the darkness.”