Niece honours local Vimy Ridge hero at Erin tribute

“My father and my uncles and my grandparents would want me to be here,” said Marion McConnell Goegan when talking about the Vimy Ridge Tribute in Erin on April 9.

“They would really want me to be here.”

Hillsburgh resident Harold McConnell,  died on April 9, 1917 during the Battle of Vimy Ridge and on Sunday McConnell Goegan was given the opportunity to honour the uncle she never met.

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 442 in Erin held a Vimy Ridge Tribute on the battle’s 100th anniversary to remember all Canadian soldiers who fought in what is widely regarded by many to be one of the greatest events in Canadian history.

A crowd gathered around the Erin cenotaph just before 2pm for the tribute.

“Vimy Ridge was a strategic position the Germans held since October of 1914,” said Doug Kirkwood, service officer at the Erin Legion.

“Attempts by the French and then the British had failed to dislodge them, with both armies suffering heavy losses. The ensuing 1917 battle was the first occasion when all four divisions of the Canadian expeditionary force participated in battle together.”

Kirkwood continued, “A great deal of preparedness, rehearsals, artillery barrage and the shear courage of the soldiers contributed to the success. However, the cost was high: 3,598 killed and a further 7,000 wounded.

“It has become a symbol of Canadian pride, achievement and sacrifice that’s sometimes described as the birth of a nation.”

The Erin tribute specifically honoured four soldiers named on the Erin cenotaph: McConnell  and three others whose names are etched on the Vimy Ridge memorial in France.

Arthur Berry, Reid MacLachlan and Fredrick Willis are three of the 11,285 soldiers who died in France during the First World War and have no known grave.

McConnell was killed in the battle of Vimy Ridge and is buried in the Thelus Military Cemetery in Pas de Calais, France.

Goegan, who laid a wreath at the base of the Erin cenotaph in remembrance of all four soldiers, said she wasn’t told much about her uncle while she was growing up.

“My father didn’t talk about it too much,” she told the Advertiser. “One of my cousins told me that my grandmother … was so devastated by [McConnell’s] death that she didn’t like to talk about it and she was quite a religious woman and she probably prayed a lot; that’s how she coped with the grief.”

Goegan did know her uncle was 20 when he went to war and just 22 when he died.

“It’s quite awesome really to think that he was in that battle,” she said. “My father did say at one point that … a lot of soldiers died at Vimy Ridge and it was a very important battle and he spoke of the terrible conditions that they lived under.

“I just think [my uncle] was so young and his life was snuffed out so brutally and he never had the chance to get married or have a family.”

Goegan’s cousin told her that the day the family received a telegram about her uncle’s death her grandmother had a dream.

“Uncle Harold spoke to her in a dream and said that he was leaving and he was saying goodbye to her and she woke up everybody in the house and told them that Uncle Harold had died,” Goegan said.