Friday April 9, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Battle of Vimy Ridge
On this Day:
In 1917, The Battle of Vimy Ridge took place in France.
This World War I skirmish in 1917 marked the first time that the Allies’ four Canadian divisions attacked together as the Canadian Corps. The corps launched their offensive at Vimy on Easter Sunday, and within three days had eradicated the German defenses. This swift victory was achieved through excellent artillery preparation and effective infantry tactics, and was boosted by the Canadian advantage in personnel that allowed them to endure a higher casualty count. Part of the larger Battle of Arras, the capture of Vimy Ridge helped establish the Canadian Corps as a premier fighting force.
For the first time in World War I, the four Canadian divisions attacked together as the Canadian Corps, at Vimy in northern France. Some historians have seen this as a pivotal moment in the development of a Canadian identity. Vimy Ridge had defied previous attacks by the Allies, but in early 1917 its capture formed part of a larger battle, supporting a British attack at Arras, which itself assisted a major French offensive.
On Easter Sunday, April 9, at 5:30 a.m., the Canadian Corps swept forward in a sleet storm and took nearly all its objectives on schedule that day. Over the next three days, the last German defenses on the left were captured. This swift victory was achieved primarily through an excellent artillery preparation and creeping barrage, but also good infantry training and execution, effective infantry tactics (“leaning on the barrage”), poor German defensive plans, the sleet as cover, and the use of underground caves and tunnels contributed to the success. The Canadian Corps also outnumbered the defenders by 35,000 to 10,000, and, with flank support, deployed 1,130 guns. This latter concentration was more than double the density used at the Battle of the Somme.
Canadian casualties amounted to around 10,500, whereas the German defenders lost almost all their strength, including 4,000 prisoners. The capture of Vimy Ridge pointed to the future, where similar careful set-piece attacks in 1917 and 1918 established the Canadian Corps as a premier fighting force.
(per: The Reader’s Companion to Military History. Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved – History.com).
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial is its largest and principal overseas war memorial. Located on the highest point of the Vimy Ridge, the memorial is dedicated to the commemoration of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War and those killed in France during the First World War with no known grave. France granted Canada perpetual use of a section of land at Vimy Ridge in 1922 for a battlefield park and memorial. A 100-hectare (250-acre) portion of the former battlefield is preserved as part of the memorial park that surrounds the monument. The grounds of the site are still honeycombed with wartime tunnels, trenches, craters and unexploded munitions and are largely closed for public safety. A section of preserved trenches and a portion of a tunnel have been made accessible to visitors.
The Vimy Ridge memorial was designed by Toronto architect and sculptor Walter Seymour Allward, who described it as a “sermon against the futility of war”. The memorial took eleven years and cost $1.5 million ($21.99 million in present terms) to build. The unveiling was conducted on 26 July 1936, by King Edward VIII accompanied by President Albert Lebrun of France and a crowd of over 50,000 people, including at least 6,200 Canadian veterans and their families (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
My Great-Grandfather survived Pepper spray and Mustard gas attacks at Vimy Ridge …
… And came home to us a seasoned Veteran.
Second, a Song:
Vimy Ridge Public School, established in 2009, is the only school in Ontario named after the three-day battle in northern France, which killed 3,600 Canadian soldiers and injured 7,000 more.
At a 100th anniversary commemoration of the battle held at the school, the United Voices student choir sang “On Vimy Ridge”, an original song written by Annie Walker, a second grade teacher at the school. The lyrics make specific references to the events of the war, a point Walker said helps students understand the gravity of Vimy Ridge’s significance.
“[The choir] was connecting to different lines in the song and especially to the part that says ‘when we stand together we are strong.’ And that was very moving to me,” Walker said.
Anne Walker, a teacher at Vimy Ridge Public School, wrote “On Vimy Ridge” to commemorate the battle in 1917. (Nicole Ireland/CBC News)
Veterans met with students after the ceremony in the school’s gymnasium to take in the televised memorials from Vimy Ridge and to share their stories.
94-year-old Eugene Victor Heesaker served in the Second World War and said it is vital that the sacrifices of past generations must never be forgotten.
“We, as Canadians, we took the place that nobody thought we could take,” he said. “It showed how good the Canadians were and we’re proud to be Canadian.”
A century on, parts of Vimy Ridge will now find a new home on the school grounds.
Leslie Miller was a 28-year-old infantry member when he fought at Vimy Ridge in 1917. The battlefield, once teeming with oak trees, had been destroyed from bombs and the terror of warfare.
Amidst the trenches, Miller found acorn seeds from the trees and sent them back to his hometown of Scarborough, where he eventually grew a number of oak trees on his farm.
The remaining acorns from trees Miller grew were collected by a volunteer group hoping to re-plant oak trees on Vimy Ridge’s soil. Several of the plants were sent to Vimy Ridge Public School to add history, with a lineage to the war.
“It’s an honour and it’s the kind of story that captures the children’s imagination too and allows them to connect,” Walker said.
The trees were set to be planted in May, 2017.
Here is Anne Walker performing “On Vimy Ridge” set to images of the battle from The Vimy Foundation, Canada at War and The Vimy Oaks Repatriation Project. I hope you enjoy this.
Thought for the Day:
“The battle of life is, in most cases, fought uphill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honor. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved.” – Samuel Smiles
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky