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Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Vimy Oaks: A Journey to Peace. Written by Linda Granfield and illustrated by Brian Deines. North Winds Press, Scholastic. 2017. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"Leslie mailed the acorns, tiny bundles of life, to his family in Canada. He could not have imagined then what would result one hundred years later from his pocketful of promise. Sadly, the capture of Vimy Ridge, a battle credited with bringing world respect and acknowledgement to Canada, did not mark the end of the war."

This is the story of Leslie Miller and the acorns he picked from the ground at the battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. He was only 25, and a child of Ontario. A teacher in Saskatchewan at the time of his enlistment, in 1915 he was sent to England to prepare for his part in WWI. His assignment to the Canadian Signal Corps was a dangerous one, being tasked to maintain a connection between headquarters and the battlefield.

His diary provided a place to record how he was feeling as he experienced the events of war. He also made note of the local flora, as any interested farm boy would likely do. After the fight at Vimy Ridge he picked acorns from the ground and sent them home to his family in Canada. Upon discharge, he eventually returned to the Ontario farm where he was raised. Marriage meant a gift of farm land. He named it Vimy Oaks. living there until his retirement. Leslie Miller died in 1979.

It took a family friend's visit to Vimy Ridge in 2004 to realize that oak trees no longer grew on the ridge where so many had fought and died. Could the oak trees from Mr. Miller's farm provide the seeds needed to green up the infamous ridge again? From that idea grew a project to have Vimy oak trees planted across Canada, and near the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.

Linda Granfield, as she always does, has penned an important story of but one of the soldiers who fought in the trenches during WWI. But, that is not all there is to Leslie Miller's story, nor that of many others. The story told here proves that. Getting to know him personally is important for all Canadians. The inclusion of many clearly captioned archival photos and entries from Leslie's journal are the reflections of a man who loved nature, and valued its blessings.

"When walking through this promenade [of trees], we found it so
calm while a strong wind was blowing outside, the light so strange-
ly softened and diffused, and the gentle rustling of the leaves so
soothing a sound that the place seemed a bit of fairyland."
                                                                                Leslie H. Miller            
Brian Deines's oil on canvas images add context and bring Mr. Miller, his farm, his time at war and his lasting legacy to life for readers. A very important story, well told.

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