VIMY RIDGE 9-12 APRIL 1917
On the 9th of April, 1917 – 100 years ago – members of South-Central Ontario’s 4th Battalion, part of the 1st Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force, joined about 15,000 of their fellow Canadian soldiers over the top of their trenches and attacked German positions atop Vimy Ridge in northern France. By day’s end, the majority of the ridge was in Canadian hands, and by 12 April, it was all over. The ridge was ours – and it’s been ours ever since.
It was a defining moment. The French Army had failed to take it two years earlier, and while the British occupied trenches near it, they never tried to take it. It fell to the lot of the Canadian Corps to capture the strong position as part of the overall British Arras offensive, designed to take pressure off the French.
And take it they did – with 3600 dead and 7000 wounded. These were considered light casualties in the context of the First World War.
The material here are excerpts from the 4th Battalion, CEF, War Diary, for that period, including the War Diary, the Operations Orders and Appendices, and the Commanding Officer’s Report after the battle.
It was a defining moment in Canadian history. It was the first time the entire Canadian Corp fought together as one group, and they accomplished something that no one really considered possible… except the Canadians.
The French government recognized this incredible effort when they deeded the land to Canada forever, in 1922. The Canadian government recognized this in 1936 when the incredible Vimy monument was unveiled. The Canadian people, over the years, came to recognize it as they learned more of it and were able to appreciate the accomplishment from among all the horror of that terrible war.
Today there is a movement afoot to “de-mythologize” Vimy and make it more of a modern political phenomenon than a nation-defining moment. In truth, no one thought it as that at the time – it took years and the French appreciated it before we did. But it did establish Canada’s firm reputation, it brought us a first-time sense of real nationhood as something we did together, and was a genuine accomplishment in a war not noted for many such achievements. That it took years to understand it does not take away from the achievement militarily and as a nation.
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