It's not much to look at on an army ordnance map -- a sort of whaleback feature in Nord-Pas-de-Calais that's less than five miles long and nowhere even 500 feet above sea level, overlooking a broad plain of small villages, roads, trees and fields.
       On April 8, 1917,  it was in German hands, and had been since October 1914. The fortifications had defied the British and French armies in 1915 and 1916, costing the Allies 200,000 casualties and denying them the high ground they so desperately needed on the Western Front near Arras.
       On April 9, 1917, that all changed.
       At 5:30 that morning, the men of the Canadian Corps left their trenches and tunnels and advanced into the teeth of a blizzard of snow, sleet and hot jagged metal; by evening, they had claimed a place in military annals, consolidated their reputation as elite shock troops ... and altered forever their country's future.
       The Corps had been used piecemeal in other engagements and acquitted itself admirably, perhaps most notably holding the line at Second Ypres in 1915, when the Germans first used poison gas.
       But this time was different. This time they went into battle together, 100,000 strong, shoulder to shoulder, from sea to sea to sea. And they would not, they could not, fail.
       The assault was supposed to be just part of the opening phase of the British-led Battle of Arras, a diversionary attack for the French Nivelle Offensive. But nobody told the Corps they were supposed to be a sideshow, and they wouldn't have listened if anyone had tried.
       The facts of that Easter Monday are well-documented elsewhere: the planning genius of Arthur Currie and Julian Byng; the devastating accuracy of Andy McNaughton's guns; the courage, tenacity and spirit of the men who set out to take an impregnable fortified position -- and took it. By nightfall, the fighting was all but over in the only successful offensive by any command under the British since the war began in 1914.
       The cost? In Western Front terms, virtually nothing: a paltry 3,600 dead Canadians, 7,000 others wounded.
       The British usually ignore the battle, concentrating on their own nearby completely abortive assault at the Scarpe instead. The French, more gallantly and more accurately, call it Canada's Easter Gift to France, and after the Great War, they donated 220 acres atop the ridge on which to erect a permanent monument to that day.
       That memorial stands there now, a symbol that rises above mere topography. Twin pillars soar nearly 100 feet into the sky, representing Canada and France and the bond that exists between our peoples. Carved into the base are the names of 11,285 Canadians killed in that country alone who have no known graves.
       And standing solitary is a brooding, hooded, haunting figure. Her eyes are downcast and her chin is resting on her left hand, while the right holds a limp bundle of laurel at her side. Below her is a tomb, draped in more laurel branches and bearing a helmet and a sword.
       Exquisitely carved from Dalmatian stone, she is known as Canada Bereft, forever silent, forever mourning the loss of those 3,600 sons killed capturing the heights, and the 65,000 others who died that small nations -- including their own -- might some day be free.
       No, it's really not very much to look at on an army ordnance map, this low swelling over the Douai Plain called Vimy Ridge. It's not very long, nor is it very high.
       But it was big enough to build a nation on.

Views: 269

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on April 9, 2017 at 9:18am

 The British usually ignore the battle...

It's interesting how the propagandizing of certain acts and deeds makes them "more noteworthy" in some people's minds.

That said, the constant need for "oneupmanship" regarding wars (and the downplay of the death of thousands) by both the British and Americans makes me want to vomit.

Comment by JMac1949 Today on April 9, 2017 at 9:47am

R&L with Australia and New Zealand it was Gallipoli.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on April 9, 2017 at 9:47am

The sheer numbers of that generation, lost, the ideas lost, to say nothing of the Second War's lost....

Comment by koshersalaami on April 9, 2017 at 10:14am


History I didn't know. 

Comment by Boanerges on April 9, 2017 at 10:30am

Hi, Amy -- I'm pleased you commented. I have to agree in the main with what you wrote. April 9, 1917, remains the single bloodiest day in Canadian military history, and it behooves all of us, in whatever country, to remember the cost of such conflicts.

The Anzacs were devastated there, JMac. Although it's interesting to note that, depleted as they were, along with the Canadian Corps they led the breakout from Amiens in 1918 that brought the war to a halt.

Jon, I agree, and it's a point that was made during the ceremony today on the Ridge. I trust the more than 25,000 Canadians -- a third of them students who paid their own way to get there --got the message.

Comment by old new lefty on April 9, 2017 at 11:18am

Canada has a reputation as a peaceful country, but it's well known that Canadians are some of the most fierce warriors.

Comment by Rodney Roe on April 9, 2017 at 12:05pm

Very well written account of a battle I knew nothing about.

Comment by Birdinhand on April 9, 2017 at 12:32pm

Every dead soldier was a child one day.

Is the tragedy of loss to be thought of as less if separated by a couple of decades?

Comment by Boanerges on April 9, 2017 at 1:48pm

That's true, ONL. My father, grandfather, uncles and great-uncles (two of them at Vimy) were all there in one or the other of the world wars. One, a cousin, never made it home. The Corps punched well above its weight.

Terry, I agree. I knew so many of them, interviewed them, lived among them. I'm grateful I never had to go to war, but I also understand the vile necessity.

Not too many people outside of Canada know about Vimy, Rodney, and I suppose that's understandable.

No, it's not less, Bird. The Tiny Perfect Redhead has seen the memorial, stood beside "The Lady", as she calls her, and run her fingers over all the names carved into the stone. There are a lot of them there, and thousands more on the Menin Gate in Ypres. In all, Canada lost more than 21,000 in 1917 alone. When one stops to think about it, all those lives cut short....

Comment by M. C. Sears on April 9, 2017 at 3:41pm

A defining moment but my god what a price we paid


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