The Battle of Vimy Ridge | Lest We Forget
In the pre-dawn of April 9, 1917, Canadian Forces began their assault on Vimy Ridge. It was Easter Sunday. More than 10 600 Canadian soldiers would be wounded there or would perish, a heavy price to pay for the taking of a position that was rumoured to be unassailable. Both French and English troops had tried before them and been defeated, leaving heavy losses on the battlefield.
Aware of the extreme difficulty of their task, the Canadians followed a rigorous training regimen in preparation for the assault. Military attack simulation exercises were carried out and meticulously timed, the chain of command was established for every battlefield scenario and specific tasks were assigned to soldiers, such as sapper and grenade-thrower. Meanwhile, tunnels were dug under enemy lines and targeted attacks were carried out on strategic positions in order to gain information and destabilize the enemy.
The week before the attack, Canadian troops relentlessly bombarded German positions, weakening and further destabilizing the enemy. At dawn on April 9th, Easter Sunday, their attack plan was deployed as assault waves followed a barrage of Allied shellfire in perfectly-timed formation, advancing relentlessly despite the deafening horror of artillery fire and the cries of wounded and dying comrades-in-arms all around. Many soldiers from both sides were buried where they lay, with makeshift markers.
Canadian forces ultimately succeeded where other Allied forces had failed, and all in the space of only 4 days. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a turning point for Canada’s identity as a distinct nation, no longer to be treated as simply an appendage of the British Empire. This exploit earned Canada a separate entry as signatory to the Treaty of Versailles, which put an end to the war.
The concerted effort that united the four Canadian divisions along with the legendary courage and perseverance of the Canadian army at Vimy contributed to establishing the new-found Canadian identity. As the historian Jonathan Vance writes in A Canadian Reassessment, « It was only a small step to connect Vimy with the birth of a nation… the Canadian Corps became a metaphor for the nation itself. »
Today, a magnificent monument overlooks what was once a bloody battlefield, the names of 11 285 soldiers “missing, presumed dead” inscribed on its walls. Any visitor to Vimy will remember forever the heroism of the Canadians who fought there to ensure the peace that we continue to enjoy today. To them, we are eternally grateful.