Top News

Remembering Vimy: the battle that helped make Canada a country

 ..
..

A wire fence cordons off ground cratered by explosives a century ago.

Rebuilt trenches and tunnels, elaborate to design and dig, prompt instant reflection on months of burrowing.

A massive monument — which includes two 30-metre columns as well as 20 human figures — towers above.

Part of the memorial: a sombre sculpture known as Mother Canada.

Mother Canada, part of Canadian National Memorial, looks down at the battlefield where approximately 3,600 Canadian soldiers died 95 years ago. — Photo by Steve Bartlett/The Telegram

She grieves for the thousands of lives lost in the fields below. You can contemplate her, and mourn with her, for hours.

This is Vimy Ridge, a First World War battlefield that is a landmark in France — and in Canadian history.

It was on this seven-kilometre stretch of hill 100 years ago Sunday that the Canadian Corps were part of an offensive that some argue helped build this country.

Vimy Ridge was a German stronghold; had been since early in the war. Thousands of Allied soldiers died in earlier attempts to recapture it.
Canadians started arriving there in late fall 1916.

Their numbers multiplied and formed a makeshift city of 100,000 over the winter, as preparations for an offensive continued.

The training and planning was extensive. The groundwork was literal.

“Digging trenches and tunnels and lugging artillery shells through miles of wet, muddy trenches was brutally exhausting work,” the Vimy Foundation website notes.

“Soldiers grumbled and complained but they needed to win the war before they could go home. Exhaustion was a small part of the price.”

Tunnels were bored beneath enemy lines and filled with crater-causing explosives.

Other tunnels saw train tracks laid, and systems for lighting and water. These tunnels were used to store arms and supplies.

To confuse the enemy about the size and time of their attack, the Allies showered the Germans with heavy fire — from different directions and in varied volumes — during the days leading up to the offensive.

Early on April 9 — Easter Monday that year — upwards of 20,000 Canadians began their offensive in snow, sleet and wind.

According to a Veteran Affairs synopsis: “The Canadians advanced behind a creeping barrage. This precise line of intense Allied artillery fire moved ahead at a set rate and was timed to the minute. The Canadian infantrymen followed the line of explosions closely. This allowed them to capture German positions in the critical moments after the barrage moved on to the next targets but before the enemy soldiers could emerge from the safety of their underground bunkers.”

There were significant early casualties and the battlefield soon filled with wounded men.

This editorial cartoon of April 10, 1917, was intended as a satire on the German high command, but it also offered a vivid — if unintentional — foreshadowing of the lengthy Canadian casualty lists to come in the aftermath of the attack on Vimy Ridge.

The Canadians pressed on and, by noon, captured most of the hill.


Over the next three days, they pressed up and captured the ridge’s peaks — Hill 145 and a point known as the Pimple.

The Germans’ retreat gave Canada the greatest military victory of its young history.

“In those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation,” Brig.-Gen. Alexander Ross is quoted as saying.

Vimy marked the first time troops from across Canada — from the Cape Breton Highlanders in Sydney to the Seaforth Highlanders in Vancouver — fought alongside each other.

A number of young men from Newfoundland, decades away from Confederation, also fought in Canadian uniform at Vimy.

Because of Canada’s vintage — at 50 a mere toddler compared to many Allied and enemy countries — Vimy was a source of public pride and can-do confidence.

The battle was thought to have helped Canada emerge from under the British shadow, and boosted the country’s image around the globe.

It, and other First World War battlefield successes, led to Canada having a signature on the war-ending pact, the Treaty of Versailles.

But victory at Vimy came with huge price and sacrifice — 3,598 Canadian soldiers died, most of them young men.

More than 7,000 were wounded.

Five years after the battle, a grateful France granted the Vimy Ridge battlefield to Canada.

The towering monument is a memorial to the battle, and the 60,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the First World War.

It took 11 years to build and was unveiled in 1936.

Besides the impressive sculptures, it includes the names of the 11,285 fallen troops with no known grave.


Standing under Mother Canada, you wonder what those men, and their enemies, experienced.

The labourious preparations.

The gripping fear and courage mustered.

The tears cried by soldiers on both sides, and cried figuratively by Mother Canada for the past 80 years.

Then there are the tears streaming down your cheeks as you grasp the horrors that took place on the grass below and the poignancy of the statue towering above.

This is a sacred place.

There’s debate about Vimy’s importance in terms of nation-building, and also what the battle ultimately meant to the Allied effort during the First World War.

Other Canadian offences — such as Passchendaele — played a bigger role in the war’s outcome, some argue.

Still, Vimy remains a site of Canadian sacrifice and an important battle to our identity.

It can’t be forgotten.

Take a moment to remember the fallen, the explosives they faced, the tunnels and trenches they dug, and our soldiers’ sacrifices.

On April 9, we are all Mother Canada.

Steve Bartlett is an editor with TC Media. Reach him at steve.bartlett@tc.tc.

More coverage from our TC sites:

•    14 Wing Greenwood pilot leads fly-by for Battle of Vimy Ridge centennial

Colonel (retired) Brian Handley, president/chief executive officer of the museum, shares words with the crowd.

•    Living Legends ‘paid the ultimate price’: Greenwood museum honours Second World War pilots, builders

•    Vimy Ridge remembered in clippings inside 100-year-old scrapbook in Clementsport

•    100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge marked in Yarmouth and in France

•    Ceremony honours 31 Islanders killed at Vimy Ridge

P.E.I.’s poet laureate Deirdre Kessler chats with fellow poet, Lobie Daughton, during a commemoration of the Battle of Vimy Ridge hosted by the Island Peace Committee Sunday night in Charlottetown. The event was meant to commemorate the lives lost during the battle while also celebrating resistance to war.

•    Islanders speak out against war during Vimy Ridge commemoration

Writer Wendy Rose shot an Instagram photo of herself next to Stanley Cornick's grave marker.

·      My pal Stanley: Chance meeting forges link between young writer and young soldier killed at Vimy Ridge 100 years ago

·      Island Peace Committee to honour lives lost at Vimy Ridge and opposition to war

·      P.E.I. Army Cadets to commemorate 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge battle

·      Vimy documentary to screen in Wolfville

·      Memorial student’s video remembers relative killed in WWI

·      VIMY 2017: Letters from Europe

·      Island RCMP officer attending 100th anniversary of Battle of Vimy Ridge

·      Island radio amateurs remember Canada's victory at Vimy Ridge

Bunk Trinacty shows off the souvenir photograph that First World War veteran William (Bill) Henry Graham collected April 9, 1917 at Vimy Ridge.

·      New photos emerge of Windsor veteran involved with Vimy Ridge battle

·      SIMON LLOYD: News of the battle comes home to P.E.I.

·      Presentation on the Battle of Vimy Ridge to be held in Sackville April 11

·      Kentville woman remembers great uncle who survived Battle of Vimy Ridge

·      Glace Bay man part of Vimy event in Ottawa

·      Thousands of students from across Canada to take pilgrimage to Vimy

·      Battle of Vimy Ridge to be remembered Sunday at New Waterford Legion

·      COLUMN: The war hero next door

Sydney piper John Grant plays the bagpipes at the New Waterford legion on Sunday as part of an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Grant entertained a gathering of Canadian veterans who heard the story about how a key component of his bagpipe set was played in northern France during the battle.

·      Cape Breton bagpipe has part used in Battle of Vimy Ridge

·      Sydney author part of special social at New Waterford Legion: 100th anniversary of Battle of Vimy Ridge to be marked

·      Amherst Legion to mark 100th anniversary of battle for Vimy Ridge

·      Wallace author remembers Vimy Ridge connection: Family’s military history part of Canadian story

·      Sons of Membertou heading to Vimy anniversary ceremonies in France next month

·      COLUMN: Remembering Vimy Ridge

·      Walking in Cape Breton soldier's footsteps: French delegation in Cape Breton to retrace the journey of a First World War soldier

·      TOSH students describe what it’s like to learn about veterans' history

·      Pictou County man to take part in Ottawa Vimy Ridge 100th Anniversary Ceremony

·      Leading a lofty mission: Pictou County pilot part of flypass at Vimy

·     Some quick facts about the First World War's infamous Battle of Vimy Ridge

·      Challenging the ‘fantasy’ of Vimy Ridge: Purple prose and bloody lies

·      A promise to a ghost fulfilled: Acadia archivist shares stories of war dead

·      Delegation from France will help mark Vimy anniversary in Cape Breton: CBRM’s District 8 will be twinned with Givenchy-en-Gohelle

·      Plans underway for Vimy Ridge celebration: Cape Bretoner played key role in First World War battle

·      Cape Breton cadets will help mark Battle of Vimy Ridge anniversary

Recent Stories