Remembering the Battle of Vimy Ridge

“In those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”...Brigadier-General A.E. Ross, 1936

Canadian Byng Boys returning after beating the Germans at Vimy Ridge, May 1917.

Canadian Byng Boys returning after beating the Germans at Vimy Ridge, May 1917.

On April 9, 2017, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, commemorative ceremonies will be held in both our nation’s capital and in France.

While not the most strategically important battle won by the Canadian Corps in the First World War, it’s certainly a defining one. In fact, if there’s a single moment in Canadian history in which our identity as an independent nation solidified, the victory at Vimy Ridge might well be it.

On that fateful day in 1917, Canadian troops succeeded in securing the German-occupied ridge for the Allies after several failed attempts by the French. However, what really marks the battle as a turning point in our nation’s history is that it was the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force jointly participated in a battle. Troops from all over the country fought together.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought on an Easter Monday in wind, snow and sleet, with the first assault troops advancing up the slope in side-by-side formation at 5:30 a.m. in the morning.

The success of the Canadian combatants can be attributed to a number of things, including meticulous planning, powerful artillery support and extensive training. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that acts of personal bravery were also paramount. According to war historian Tim Cook, there were “countless acts of sacrifice, as Canadians single-handedly charged machine-gun nests or forced the surrender of Germans in protective dugouts.”

There were over 10,000 casualties in the battle with 3,598 fatalities.

Several years after the war was won, France allotted 107 hectares of land atop the former battleground to Canada to be used as a park and war memorial. Unveiled in 1936, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial is engraved with the names of the 11,285 Canadians who were fatally wounded in France during World War I and who have no other known marked grave. This important beacon of Canadian achievement and unity also decorates the back of our 20-dollar bill.

 

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