BY TODD LEMIEUX
In the depths of trench warfare, the assault on Vimy Ridge began on Easter Monday at 05:30 AM April 9th, 1917. By April 12th, through Canadian tactical and strategic innovation, and a radical departure from warfare at the time, Vimy Ridge would be captured. The cost was tremendous, 3,598 Canadian dead and 7,004 wounded, an average casualty rate of 147 soldiers per hour of battle.
Both the British and French had previously tried to dislodge the Germans from Vimy with no success. A combination of Canadian pioneer spirit, meticulous planning, study of previous failures, crafty use of “creeping barrage” artillery, and “leapfrogging” of Canadian units to maintain a crushing forward momentum, ultimately took Vimy under 72 hours. The German Army had held Vimy and repelled attacks successfully for 3 years prior.
Vimy represents much more than just an isolated battle in terrible war. The Canadian Corps radical change from contemporary British warfare tactics of the day represents the first departure and a distinct move towards independent thinking and nationhood from the encompassing British Commonwealth. For Canadian soldiers on the ground, most of a rural background, the fastest and most efficient was the only way to get things done. They cared not for antiquated protocol, especially when their lives were hanging in the balance. It was this thinking that drove innovation and battlefield success.
The Vimy memorial, unveiled on July 26th, 1936, stands as a beacon to our nation’s determination and strength in the face of adversity. France has granted the land that it stands on, to Canada, for all time.
On April 9th, 2017, take a moment to stop and consider the lump rising in the throat of a young Canadian kid, as he stepped to move forward and walk behind the barrage and advance up that daunting ridge.
It is our Canada now, but they earned it for us, forged in fire, steel and blood.
“I became a Canadian on Vimy Ridge…
We became a nation there in the eyes of the world. It cut across French and English, rich and poor, urban and rural. Vimy Ridge confirmed that we were as good as, if not better than, any European power.”
– Reginald Roy, WW1 Veteran