Soldiers' Great War cave art to be shown in London

Etchings by soldiers assembled underground before the Vimy Ridge offensive have been recreated.

It’s a homecoming of sorts.

The Souterrain Impressions Exhibition – a recreation of etchings made by Canadian soldiers during the First World War as they assembled underground before going over the top at Vimy Ridge, the site of the bloody battle that gave birth to modern Canada 101 years ago – will be shown in London at St. John House - writes

“It’s going to be coming back together,” said Zenon Andrusyszyn, the founder of Canadigm, the non-profit that mapped and recreated the images, originally scratched into the walls of underground caves by bored and anxious foot soldiers.

“It’ll be spread out throughout the entire building.”

Parts of the exhibit are coming from numerous locations – 13 cases from Vimy Ridge itself, seven cases from Washington and a couple others from Canada House in London, England – to be reassembled here, creating the full experience for Forest City residents.

They all put their lives on the line.

Randy Warden

The exhibit – kicking off April 9, the anniversary of the start of the action at Vimy Ridge in 1917 – is being hosted by St. John House to highlight the contributions of St. John Ambulance members who served as first responders on the battlefield, carrying stretchers, driving ambulances and as nurses.

“We were part of the mechanism to help get the wounded out of the fields,” said Randy Warden, executive director for St. John Ambulance in Southwestern Ontario. “What is lesser-known is the involvement of so many people who were behind the scenes.”

Warden says by the end of the Great War, 432 St. John Ambulance volunteers from Canada served overseas. He knows one of the them from London didn’t come back.

“I’m still doing research to find what became of him,” Warden said. “They all put their lives on the line.”

The exhibit includes a touch display so visitors can feel the surface of the images. There’s also an interactive display linking to the work of soldiers by name. Each case also Braille for the sight-impaired.

A musical performance will feature songwriter and performance artist Robert Friesen from Grimsby.

“Last year, he actually wrote a song for the Souterrain, which is the cave with all the carvings in it,” Warden explained. “It is touching. It’s very moving.”

Andrusyszyn says the exhibit was popular in France when it was shown near the actual battlefield during the Vimy Ridge centenary.

“From what I understand, speaking to the people at the monument, they had about 216,000 people come out,” he said.

And what’s next for the display?

“We’re trying to get it out west,” he said, with Vancouver being one possible destination.


What:The Souterrain Impressions Exhibition launch

When:Opening April 9 at 6 p.m. and running for several months

Where:St. John House, 741 King St.

Who:Canadigm’s Zenon Andrusyszyn will give a presentation; music by Robert Friesen

How much:Donations appreciated


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