In April, celebrations were held across Canada and France to mark the 100th anniversary of World War One’s Battle of Vimy Ridge. In preparation for these celebrations, Air Canada Cargo handled a unique shipment on February 13: a wooden cross, carved on the site of the battle and inscribed with the names of 57 Canadians of the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders) who were killed in action on April 9-10, 1917.
The cross was returned to the Regiment by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1923. It was displayed in the Regiment’s Armoury in Toronto until that facility was demolished in 1963. Since then, the cross has been on display in the 48th Highlanders Museum in Toronto.
As part of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the cross is now on loan and displayed at the new Visitor Education Center at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, in France, which opened its doors in early April. Air Canada Cargo was entrusted with the movement of the cross across the Atlantic in February.
The cross’ journey was an emotional one that was fully documented by a crew from CBC London for a documentary on Vimy Ridge. The journey began in early February, when the cross was prepared for shipping in the presence of family members of three men from the 15th Battalion who were killed in action at Vimy, and whose names are on the cross. They shared stories, memorabilia and photographs, and took part in a small farewell ceremony in which they placed fifty-seven poppies (one for each name on the cross) around the cross before it was carefully sealed.
Over at Toronto Cargo, Ryan Stennett, Manager of Hub Operations, Greg Dubeau, Cargo Service Manager and Station Attendant John Collins were there on February 13 when the cross was delivered to be prepared for carriage on AC880 to CDG.
“Greg and I were present for the build of the cross and accompanied the media crew to the aircraft to observe the loading. One of our team members, John Collins, who handles our fallen soldiers, took part in building the pallet and driving the cross to the aircraft. Both John and I take great pride in handling anything related to the military, and in this case, the whole team was honored to be involved in transporting such an important piece of Canadian history. “
The cross was booked for transport under AC Secure, Air Canada Cargo’s shipping solution for high value items like artifacts and fine arts. This ensures the shipment has a high priority and that all necessary precautions are taken during handling and preparation for transport. Given the time of year, it was brought to the ramp in a temperature-controlled vehicle.
“The shipment was handled with the upmost pride and care,” says Ryan. “We explained some of our processes to the media crew and then took them to the ramp to watch the loading. The ramp crew was very helpful and cooperative. Overall it was a proud and honorable moment for all of us.”