Skip to content

Kamloops MP returns from trip to Europe

Frank Caputo visited Juno Beach, Vimy Ridge, Passchendale and other battle locations

Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Frank Caputo said he felt pride and insignificance while touring Canadian war memorials in Europe this month on a trip commemorating the 105th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War.

Caputo was part of a group of parliamentarians from every political party who took part in the 10-day tour of France, Belgium and the Netherlands this month.

“It was a whirlwind,” the rookie MP said of the trip, which left him with an appreciation for Canadian workers oversees running numerous memorials that are operated by the Canadian government.

Caputo, the Conservative shadow Minister of Veterans Affairs, was part of a delegation that included Liberal Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay, North Island-Powell River NDP MP Rachel Blaney, Rivière-des-Mille-Îles Bloc Québécois MP Luc Desilets and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Conservative MP Alex Ruff, who served in the Canadian Forces.

Departing on April 6, Caputo said it was evident from the number of Canadian flags he saw on doors or in windows in the town of Arras, France, how much Canadian soldiers’ fight for their liberation is valued.

One of the first tours, on April 8, was of the Carrière Wellington network of quarry tunnels used as a staging area by soldiers during the Great War near Arras.

Caputo was taken aback by the site, noting an unexploded grenade and a makeshift mailbox carved in the chalk rock, made to hold letters to family back home for any survivors.

That same day marked the 15th anniversary of the deaths of six Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan when their armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb near Kandahar City. Those soldiers served under then-major Ruff, Caputo said, and the tour group held a wreath-laying event at the Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery near Arras.

“This was probably one of the most meaningful days,” Caputo said.

On April 9, the 105th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the group toured the site and participated in a ceremony at Canada’s Vimy Ridge Memorial.

Caputo said the Vimy Ridge Memorial is an imposing site and, when looking out from it, he realized how strategically important it was, given its panoramic view of the landscape.

He said the landscape reminded him of a golf course due to all the munition craters and noted there are still cordoned-off areas due to the risk of old, unexploded bombs.

Caputo said it was “unbelievable” to see trenches still intact after a century and how little space there was between Canadian and German tracts.

“You’re literally 20 metres away from your enemy,” Caputo said. “To walk in the Canadian trench and then the German trench within a minute-and-a-half, you realize how close these people were to life and death.”

The Battle of Vimy Ridge involved four Canadian divisions fighting for the first time and capturing the site in what has become one of Canada’s most important military victories, recognized as a symbol of the birth of Canadian pride and awareness as a country.

The victory came at a cost, with 3,598 dead and another 7,000 injured among Canadian soldiers. Caputo also visited Hill 70, where he laid a wreath at a memorial bench for Kamloops’ Rocky Mountain Rangers.

Following Vimy Ridge, Caputo and the group spent the next week visiting other memorials of the First World War, including the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial in Belgium, the Menin Gate Memorial to missing soldiers in Ypres, Belgium, and the St. Julien Memorial near Passchendaele on April 11.

“We literally went to two or three cemeteries per day,” Caputo said.

Caputo also visited the Second World War sites of Dieppe on April 12 and visited the Juno Beach Centre, where he met with the society that operates the museum, which is locked in legal battle over a proposed condominium development.

Caputo then spent a couple of days in transit to The Hague, Netherlands, where on April 15 he visited the lone Canadian Legion branch in that country.

He also took in the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games on April 16 before flying home to Kamloops on Easter Sunday.