By : Dale Carruthers, The London Free Press
Photo Credit: Sheridan "Sherry" Atkinson points out officers he knew during his time in the RCR in Sicily, at the RCR museum in London, Ont. Atkinson was one of the first to donate to Maples for Vimy, a program to plant 500 maple trees at Vimy Ridge. (MIKE HENSEN The London Free Press)
Sheridan (Sherry) Atkinson was only 17 when Canada entered the Second World War.
An army reservist, Atkinson did what many other young men across the country did: he lied about his age.
“I was asked my age. I thought, ‘What the hell, if you’re going to lie about it, tell them a good one,’ so I said I was 21,” Atkinson said.
“In those days, they didn’t really care a lot.”
The 95-year-old Londoner is honouring his fellow veterans by donating $1,000 to supply the first tree for Maples for Vimy, a London initiative to plant 500 trees in France to honour Canada’s sacrifices made during the battle for Vimy Ridge.
The contribution has a special meaning for Atkinson, whose father, also named Sheridan, fought in the historic battle.
Fighting together for the first time, four Canadian divisions defeated German forces at Vimy Ridge in April 1917.
The bloody victory — 3,598 Canadian soldiers died and thousands others were injured — is recognized as a pivotal moment in Canada’s path to forging its identity as an independent nation.
n a sign of its gratitude, France granted Canada a 107-hectare parcel for the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Designed by Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Seymour Allward, the memorial took 11 years to build.
One maple tree will be planted at the Vimy Memorial, while the rest will take root in nearby French towns and villages where Canadian troops were stationed during the war, said Paul Gagnon, co-ordinator of the Vimy Ridge commemorative tree-planting program.
In the spring, Gagnon is traveling with a group of Scouts, Guides, cadets and First Nations youth to Vimy Ridge, where they’ll meet up with their French counterparts to plant the trees, marking the historic battle’s 100-year anniversary.
Gagnon praised Atkinson for supporting the tree-planting initiative.
“It is so significant that a veteran like Sheridan who saw action ... would look at a project like this and understand its significance and want to help out to ensure that we’re able to pull this off,” he said.
The trees, a mix of silver, red and regal petticoat maple trees, will “create living memorials of honour” and “leave a legacy” for Canadians, Gagnon said.