On a tour of the trenches at Vimy Ridge in 2005 singer/songwriter/fiddler Lizzie Hoyt had a sudden revelation.
“I realized had I lived 100 years ago, every single young many in my life would have been there.” She and some friends had decided to take a day trip to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial “I know it sounds cliché, but my first visit to Vimy was really life changing.”
She was inspired after her return to Canada to learn more about the history of the First World War. A couple of years later, the first line of the song she would perform in the 2012 ceremonies commemorating the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge came to her.
“Early in the morning/ the cold snow falling down/ Easter of 1917.”
When her hauntingly beautiful voice rang out from the monument during the ceremony, a chill went down more than one spine—and it wasn’t due to the cold weather and relentless rain. The song, sung from the perspective of a young woman whose love was killed in the battle, touched a chord in everyone in the crowd of about 7,500—but the young people particularly.
She says the song was coaxed out slowly, over a period of years, “one line at a time; I waited for the rest of the song to come to me.” It appeared on her second album Home. The song won her a nomination in the 2010 John Lennon Songwriting Contest and the 2011 USA Songwriting Competition. She got permission to film at Vimy and produced a music video version blending archival footage with images of herself at the memorial.
The song is a popular fixture at her concerts. “I was surprised how much people responded to it. Almost every single time I perform I have someone come up to me from the audience afterwards that says ‘I really like the song about Vimy and my great-grandfather was there’ and they share some tidbit of a story with me.
But singing it during the commemoration was a great honour. “The fact that I could sing that song there and honour that history with other people celebrating—it was the highlight of my career.”
She’s working on her next album, which may include a song about a relative in Ireland, studying to be a doctor, when the First World War broke out. His girlfriend sent him a white feather, meant to shame him into enlisting. It worked; he died at the Somme.