With the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge in France coming up this weekend, families of those who fought in that battle are getting ready to honour their memories and contributions. It will be a proud day for one New Brunswick family in particular, who only recently discovered the role their loved one played in Canada’s most celebrated battle.
Edward Maillet was born and raised in the small town of Richibucto, N.B. His granddaughter, Emma MacPhee said he was a shy and quiet fisherman. But this past month, tucked away in her aunt’s basement she discovered her grandfather’s old journals where she read something that she never knew.
“We knew he was in the First World War, but we never knew he was at Vimy Ridge,” MacPhee said.
She said Maillet wrote in the journals after he came back home from the war. She has his words translated from French to English, where he describes what it was like being a machine gun operator on the front lines.
He wrote: “These days remain unforgettable for the few of us who had the good grace of coming out with all of our limbs and souls still together.”
For his 89-year-old daughter, Alice Landry, the words were difficult to read.
“It hurts me,” she said. “I never even knew he wrote about the war.”
But it also makes her proud, knowing that he played a part in bringing Canada together as a nation.
“He was a good solider. He had to be – he survived.”
His journals describe in detail what life was like in the trenches.
He wrote: “For those who had the misfortune of being ripped apart by shrapnel from shells, we had to use all of the love that would could muster in our souls to try to help them forget the bitterness of the sad fate that they suffered.”
“He never told us he was a machine gun operator” said his 82-year-old son, Henry Maillet. He discovered that information from Maillet’s discharge papers, which were found tucked away with his war medals in his sister Lucy’s basement.
“All men from around here used to come to our house to listen to him talk about Vimy Ridge,” said Lucy Maillet Daigle, now 88 years old.
Daigle said that back then, her father’s seven kids were too young to understand exactly what it meant to be a Vimy Ridge war veteran. She said they were just too young to realize how lucky they were that their dad had made it home alive.
“I am sure proud of him.”
Holding the medals once pinned so proudly over their father’s heart now close to their own, this weekend the family will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, marked as the birth of a nation.