Prince Charles and his sons walked in the former killing fields of northern France to commemorate a brutal World War I battle that helped forge the soul of the Canadian nation.
Around 20,000 Canadians also attended a day of ceremonies led by French President François Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the British royals to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge.
“Hundreds of thousands of Canadians crossed the cold, grey Atlantic to take a stand against tyranny and oppression,” said Prince Charles, speaking to a huge crowd gathered in sunny fields beneath a giant monument to the Canadians who died in World War I.
“Today it is hard to believe possible the horrors that unfolded here on 9th April, 1917."
Exactly one century ago, Canadian troops captured the heavily fortified German positions along a four mile ridge - where past British and French attempts had failed.
“Under enemy fire, they advanced, fighting like lions,” said Mr Trudeau.
Crucial to the success of the offensive was a vast warren of tunnels dug by New Zealand forces which allowed the Canadians to take the German troops by surprise. But the victory came at enormous human cost - by April 12, 3,598 Canadians had been killed and a further 7,000 injured.
Vimy Ridge was part of a larger British-led offensive known as the Battle of Arras, which was a diversionary tactic to help a major French attack further south.
Vimy was not the most strategically significant of Canada’s World War One battles but was the first time that military units from across the country fought together for the first time. This was seen as a seminal moment in the country's s transformation from a British colonial outpost to a nation in its own right.
“Canada was born here,” said Mr Trudeau.
"Every school kid in Canada is taught about Vimy," said Paul Roberts, who along with his wife Kathy were accompanying a group of 40 students from Woodstock Collegiate Institute in Ontario.
The memorial in France is a revered national symbol for Canadians and is featured on the back of the country’s $20 note.
Some historians dismiss the significance given to Vimy as a convenient post-war mythological construction, but the thousands of Canadians at Sunday’s ceremonies were oblivious to such criticism. They gathered for a long day of events that included performances by a range of Canadian artists. Throughout the day the names of Canadian soldiers who died at Vimy were read out over loudspeakers, while Canadian and French youths took turns to lay 3,598 pairs of Canadian Armed Forces boots around the site - each pair to represent a fallen soldier.
Princes William and Harry, who have each served in the British armed forces, placed the final pair of boots on the huge Vimy Memorial structure as a squadron of World War One biplanes staged a fly-past overhead.
Sir Michael Fallon, the British defence secretary, who also attended the Vimy commemorations, told reporters that the "power of Allied force" is as relevant today as in 1917.
Mr Hollande, in an apparent reference to this month’s French presidential election in which far-right leader Marine Le Pen expected to reach the runoff, said those who fought at Vimy "tell us that nationalism only leads to war and that fundamentalism only leads to destruction".
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