Monday, 9 April 2012

The Birth of a Nation: The Battle for Vimy Ridge

Today marks the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.  It is this day in history that Canada’s identity as a nation was born.  The battle influenced the outcome of the Great War and placed Canadian troops among the world’s elite.  British and French attempts to take the ridge had failed. 

The victory came with a terrible price for the nation of just 11 Million people, 3,598 Canadians dies in the six day battle and another 7,000 were wounded.  Canadian troops, for the first time worked together, when four divisions, supported by 1000 artillery pieces attacked the ridge at 5:30  am along a 6.4 kilometre front near Arras, France.

The ridge had taken its toll during previous French attacks that failed, with more than 100,000 casualties.   On the third day of the battle Canadian troops took Hill 145, the vital high ground of the objective and the location of the Vimy  monument .  An additional three days of costly battle resulted in the ultimate victory. 

Vimy Ridge and the land surrounding it was ceded in perpetuity to Canada  in 1922 by the French government. 

Canadian author Pierre Burton wrote a riveting and very accessible study of the World War I victory that gave Canadians their first real taste of nationhood in his book Vimy, a must read for students of military history.

“As far as I could see, south, north and along the ridge, there were the Canadians and I experienced my first my first full sense of nationhood.”  Lietuenant Gregory Clark, Military Cross, November 13th 1967 – Weekend Magazine

“5:30 came and great light lit the place, a light made up of innumerable flickering tongues, which appeared from the void and extended as far to the south as the eye could see, a light which rippled and lit the clouds in that moment of silence before the crash and thunder of the battle smote the senses.   Then the ridge in front was wreathed in flame as the shells burst,, confining the Germans to their dugouts while our men advanced to the assault.”  Private Lewis Duncan to his aunt Sarrah April 17, 1917.

Yes there were 10,000 thunders of artillery pieces, enabling the Canadian Corps to advance on the ridge.   What had been an impossible feat for both the British and French, was accomplished by the Canadians.   The battle was the start of the end of the Great War, The war to end all wars.

We shall remember them. 

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