Ralph operates the TM100VIMY station in France
In early April, 2017, I (Ralph - VE7OM) had the opportunity to join with a number of other Amateurs to operate a special event Amateur radio station at Vimy Ridge, France. This was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle that ‘made’ Canada. This ridge, just north of Arras, was held by the Germans for many years during WW1 and resisted being taken by the Allies even after many concentrated attacks. As an adjunct to the Battle of Arras, the Canadians formed four divisions under Canadian command and took the ridge after three days of intense fighting. The magnificent cenotaph on hill 148 commemorates this great Canadian achievement.
Under the direction of Don Studney, VE7DS, and Keith Witney, VE7KW, a group was formed to operate this special event station. Originally hoping to operate as VE100VIMY as the ground on which the cenotaph stands was ceded to Canada, the French Government insisted on the group use the special event prefix for France (TM) instead.
Gathering in Arras, on March 31, the group was broken into four operating sections taking one eight hour shift per day, giving us 24 hours off between shifts. Operating like a DX-Pedition, the station was operational 24-7 on most Amateur bands, and most modes although particularly CW, SSB, and RTTY. Each operator took turns at the radio, operating their preferred mode, on the bands that were available.
During the nine days of operation, we were able to make about 8500 contacts around the world. The focus was to work as many Canadian stations as possible, and although I don’t have the detail at time of writing, I believe we worked every province and Territory. I personally worked many of them, with most being in VE3 east, although I did work a number of VE7 and VE6 stations.
I found that the bands aren’t the ‘same’ in Europe as they are here, in particular 30 and 40 meters. I found that I was able to work halfway around the world on these bands; the best for me was VK7 on 40SSB. The 30 meter vertical with two raised counterpoises worked spectacularly when the band was open. The spiderbeams we used, once we cleared a ‘glitch’ in one of them performed as advertised.
I had thought that I would have problems with using N1MM, not having much experience listening to a callsign and putting it right into the computer, but I found that I was able to do that quite well, after using a practice program called “Morse Runner” which simulates just what we experienced. I’m sure that I ‘missed’ some calls, but you have to do the best you can, and move on.
Although we were in hotel accommodation, and were driven to and from the radio site, it was somewhat ‘work’ making contacts and keeping the station active. Particularly hard were the long hours overnight when most of EU was asleep. That’s when we went on to the low bands and worked North America and DX on them. There always was a pressure on to make contacts, so when the bands were dark, we went away without that ‘up’ feeling after putting in our shift.
In addition to working on the TM100 station, I brought my KX1 with me and operated from a park near the hotel. I went on 40 meters on a couple of days and was able to work a number of stations in EU. You’d think that with the heavy operation on the ridge, I wouldn’t want to see a radio during my downtime, but that’s just wasn’t so.
On April 9th, the 100th Anniversary of the start of the battle, a large crowd gathered at the VIMY memorial for a special celebration. Attending were the Prime Minister and Governor General of Canada, HRH Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Prince Harry, and the President of France. They and about 35000 of my closest friends joined together to remember the sacrifice of the men who fought for that ground a century ago. This was a truly moving experience and one that I’m happy to have attended. I remembered my grandfather who was at Vimy so long ago, but survived, so many did not, and are remembered on the walls of the cenotaph as they have no known grave.
I think that, as a group, we showed quite well, and the special event station passed the message to the world that we don’t forget---we remember and celebrate the thing that was accomplished there. I am proud to have been part of a group of Amateurs who made it happen.