Exactly one hundred years ago today at 5:30am on a Easter Monday the assault on Vimy Ridge in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France began as the Canadian Corps faced the the German Sixth Army. The battle, which took place from April 9 to 12, 1917, was part of the opening phase of the Britsh-led Battle of Arras, a diversionary attack for the French Nivelle Offensive.
The objective of the Canadian Corps was to take control of the German-held high ground along an escarpment at the northernmost end of the Arras Offensive. This would ensure that the southern ranks could advance without being fired on by Germans at their flank. Besides being an important victory for allied forces, it is also seen by many as Canada’s coming of age.
You can’t grow up in Canada without knowing at least something about Vimy Ridge. As a kid I spent many hours skating in the Vimy Arena, one of many community buildings, parks, etc. across the country named in commemoration of this historic event.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge marked the first time all four Canadian divisions, made up of troops drawn from all parts of the country, fought as a cohesive formation and as a result of their range of technical and tactical innovations, very powerful artillery preparation and meticulous planning, the Canadians demonstrated they were a valuable force on the Western Front and masters of offensive warfare. The victory did not come without great cost. More than ten thousand Canadians were injured and 3,598 gave their lives on the ridge.
After Vimy, the Canadian Corps went from one success to another, their record winning Canada a separate signature on the Versailles Peace Treaty, a significant moment in the young country’s history. While Vimy is not generally considered the greatest achievement of the Canadian Corps in strategic importance or results obtained, the image of national unity and achievement gave the battle importance for Canada. For many, Canada’s national identity and nationhood were born out of the battle at Vimy Ridge.
So today I take a minute to reflect on the sacrifices made by my fellow Canadians both then and now, sacrifices made to help bring peace to the world. Something I think we could all use a little more of in the world today.
Let us never forget.