The Okanagan regiment in the Battle of Vimy Ridge had few casualties, which may be why it was glossed over in the media, according to an Okanagan College history professor.
B.C. had the highest volunteer and enlistment rate of all the provinces, said Howard Hisdal, professor at Okanagan College. “The regiment from the Okanagan took the centre of the ridge and we took it on time, with no difficulties and little casualties,” he said, adding the units that caught the public’s imagination are ones that had the most problems.
Hisdal served for 18 years in the British Columbia Dragoons, which is a descendant of the second Canadian Mounted Rifles, which fought in France and Flanders until the end of the First World War. Initially, the regiment had between 600 to 800 soldiers from the Okanagan Valley and Victoria.
According to the Canadian War Museum, Canadian troops were ordered to seize Vimy Ridge in April, 1917.
“Situated in northern France, the heavily-fortified seven-kilometre ridge held a commanding view over the allied lines. The Canadians would be assaulting over an open graveyard since previous French attacks had failed with more than 100,000 casualties,” reads the museum’s website.
“It’s like the hobbits and the ring in Lord of the Rings, we’re the hobbits,” Hisdal laughed. “The reward we got for the success at Vimy was more difficult objectives as they came up.”
To commence the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge, the Okanagan Military Museum is hosting a lecture series on topics which include: Vimy Pilgrimages Then and Now, The Great Way as a World and Colonial War, Nov. 2 from 5 to 6 p.m.; An Okanagan Regiment Captures the Centre of Vimy Ridge, Nov. 9 from 5 to 6 p.m.; Vernon Enemy Alien Internment Camp, Nov. 16 from 5 to 6 p.m. and Hell on Earth: Canada’s Passchendaele Offensive, 1917, Nov. 23 from 5 to 6 p.m.
In his lecture, An Okanagan Regiment Captures the Centre of Vimy Ridge, Hisdal will speak about the success of Okanagan Valley soldiers during the battle, which is viewed as a defining moment in Canadian history.
“They went from being very naive to very good and actually becoming superior. The Canadians became the best killer of Germans on the western front,” said Hisdal, adding Canadian soldiers being portrayed as victims isn’t realistic.
“They became very good at what they did and very aggressive. Vimy Ridge was where we learned to successfully fight a battle and put it all through three lines of trenches to take the object. From then on, we didn’t lose a single battle we were in (during the First World War).”
Retelling this history is important, so we don’t lose our achievements, said Hisdal.
“We fought hard and we earned ourselves a place in the world. We discovered we weren’t inferior to any of the militaries… and then we forgot about that, we’re constantly releasing it. We’re not a people that make movies about ourselves.”
The lecture will have an outside component to show the public how Canadians took the ridge.
According to Keith Boehmer, of the Okanagan Military Museum, the museum has run several speaker series to honour the centennial of the First World War throughout the year.
Highlighting these events near Remembrance Day is important because it’s a time to draw the public to these themes that other times in the year they may gloss over, he said.
He recommends seeing the internment presentation, as it speaks to a broader audience. “Which speaks about our current immigrant process,” and how originally welcomed, immigrants are turned and ostracized, he said.