Monday, April 9, 2012

Vimy - 95th Anniversary

A recent commemorative pin showing the colours of the four Canadian Divisions as they were arrayed against the German positions at Vimy Ridge.
Today is the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. As the calendar would have it, this year's anniversary falls on a Easter Monday, just as it did on that vicious day in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, 1917. It is a battle that is often overlooked by the larger histories of the Great War as it was essentially a diversionary action supporting the larger (and very tragic) French Nivelle Offensive. So while it is true that Vimy was not nearly as large as the battles of the Somme, or as depressingly bloody as those in Passchendaele,  it has nonetheless become to many Canadians an important part of our national identity as it was the first time during the Great War in which all four Canadian divisions fought together under a Canadian commander for a common purpose. It was a distinctly Canadian effort
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Vimy Ridge is a battle that's remarkable for its meticulous planning and its technical and tactical innovation. One of the unique aspects of the Canadian assault was the extensive use of tunnelling and specialized explosive charges to allow elements of the first assault to cross No-Man-Land to engage the German fortifications before they could effectively react. The assaults also made excellent use of massed creeping barrages which were often coordinated with localized gas attacks. 

Canadian 2nd Division infantry advancing behind a tank at Vimy.
Nonetheless, by the end of the three days of battle it cost Canada a sobering 10,602 casualties - but it was a solid victory in a period marked with remorseless and depressing setbacks. The battle also established the Canadian Corps' reputation in being considered amongst the best shock troops of the Entente forces.

Canadian machinegun crews digging in on Vimy's plateau.
I will end by paraphrasing Jane Urquhart, author of The Stone Carvers, in her recent dedication to the soldiers of Vimy:

"Here at home we will think about the farm boys, labourers, office clerks, schoolboys, fishermen, loggers, grandsons of Underground Railroad survivors, and first nations hunters who, in that 1917 Easter morning, ran out of those tunnels into that living hell."

My hat is off to you, boys. 


14 comments:

  1. I have been to the Memorial and it is beautiful and very fitting. Nice wee write up mate.

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  2. Cheers guys, much appreciated.

    John, I thought you'd especially appreciate it being an expat.

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  3. I visited the Memorial, trenches and mine crater at Vimy Ridge a couple of years ago, it was a very sobering experience.

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  4. Splendid. I have visited the area and memorials. It is a very moving experience.

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  5. Thank you for this. I had forgotten that this was the anniversary of the battle. I am planning to visit the memorial ASAP (we went to France a few years ago, but weren't able to make it to Vimy or Juno), likely we'll be getting there for either the anniversary of D-Day, or if not Vimy for sure.

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  6. Just reading this gets me all misty eyed, and wanting to come back to Canada now.. been too long.. nice write up indeed..

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  7. Curt - well done for reminding us all of this.

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  8. Having visited Vimy and the area many times I always find it an evocative place. I have been ther ein the snow and hail too and to think of the conditions the guys fought in and won through is incredible. Great post Curt.

    If any of you have relatives buried out there then check out The War F=Graves Photographic project http://www.twgpp.org/

    I have been part of that since it started

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  9. Great post Curt. Nice dose of perspective.

    GB

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  10. A great post, Curt, and a great victory for your countrymen.

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