Centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge is marked by world leaders

Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers during a commemorative ceremony at Vimy Memorial Park in France, during commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers during a commemorative ceremony at Vimy Memorial Park in France, during commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

The sacrifice of First World War Canadian soldiers who helped forge peace in Europe and a national identity for their country has been praised by world leaders at a ceremony.

The Prince of Wales described the efforts of Canadian troops who fought at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, launched 100 years ago to the day, as setting “an extraordinary example of selflessness for our future generations”.

The Prince of Wales, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry visit the tunnel and trenches at Vimy Memorial Park in France, during commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

The Prince of Wales, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry visit the tunnel and trenches at Vimy Memorial Park in France, during commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

While Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau said: “The burden, they bore. And, the country they made. Because this, too, is why we’re here. Why we remember.”

Charles told thousands of Canadians gathered along with France’s president Francois Hollande and other dignitaries that: “The long shadows of the thousands who fell here still touch us today.”

The battle is fundamental in the history of Canada as on a snow-swept French hillside four military divisions from the nation attacked together for the first time as the Canadian Corps, and their bravery in breaking German defences earned them global respect.

Gordon Lucy: Vimy Ridge was on a par with the Battle of the Somme for the nation of Canada

French President Francois Hollande, Governor General of Canada David Johnston and The Prince of Wales arrive at the commemorative ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Photo: Jack Taylor/PA Wire

French President Francois Hollande, Governor General of Canada David Johnston and The Prince of Wales arrive at the commemorative ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Photo: Jack Taylor/PA Wire

The battle, begun on April 9 1917, was part of a larger British-led offensive, featuring Australian troops and Scottish regiments, known as the Battle of Arras, which was a diversionary move to help a major French attack further south.

Delivering part of his address in French Charles added: “We honour those who served so gallantly, and who gave so much.

“Their loss inspires us to do all in our power to prevent such senseless loss from ever happening again.”

The event was staged in the shadow of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial built on Hill 145, the highest point of Vimy Ridge captured by Canadian and British troops after four days of fighting.

Prince Harry meets members of the public following a commemorative ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Prince Harry meets members of the public following a commemorative ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Among the guests was the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry who laid the final pair of thousands of boots left at the monument to symbolise the 3,598 Canadians killed in the major operation.

In his tribute to his countrymen who fought and died on Vimy Ridge Mr Trudeau told the thousands attending the ceremony in sunshine: “But this monument is also symbolic of Canada’s birth and our enduring commitment to peace. As I see the faces gathered here, veterans, soldiers, caregivers, so many young people, I can’t help but feel a torch is being passed.

“One hundred years later, we must say this, together. And we must believe it: Never again.”

In his speech Mr Hollande made a veiled criticism of far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen who has been promoting an anti-immigrant, nationalist agenda.

Governor General of Canada David Johnston (left) and French President Francois Hollande review the guard at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Photo: Jack Taylor/PA Wire

Governor General of Canada David Johnston (left) and French President Francois Hollande review the guard at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Photo: Jack Taylor/PA Wire

France votes in the first round of the presidential election in two weeks time with the controversial politician expected to reach the run-off.

The president said: “Those that fought at Vimy tell us that nationalism only leads to war and that fundamentalism only leads to destruction.”

And speaking about French-Canadian co-operation on the world stage he appeared to attack the recent chemical attack on Syrian civilians that has been widely attributed to the Assad regime.

He said: “It’s what we do when we condemn chemical massacres committed by a criminal regime.”

The Canadian-led victory at Vimy Ridge was not only due to the bravery of the men, with four Victoria Crosses being awarded, but detailed infantry training.

The troops practised in dummy Germany trenches and a pinpoint British artillery bombardment allowed the men to advance behind the raining shells.

The Duke of Cambridge lays boots and a poppies of remembrance  at Vimy Memorial Park in France, during commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

The Duke of Cambridge lays boots and a poppies of remembrance at Vimy Memorial Park in France, during commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

On a stage at the memorial the human side of the conflict was brought to life with actors playing the part of soldiers amid music and dance. The Last Post was played by a bugler using an instrument that had been sounded in the area.

Earlier the Queen sent a message to Canada saying that it was everyone’s duty to remember the sacrifices of their countrymen.

Gordon Lucy: Vimy Ridge was on a par with the Battle of the Somme for the nation of Canada