BCD’s return to Vimy Ridge
For Canadians, Vimy Ridge has become a place of legend, the site of this country’s defining military victory of the First World War. In 1917, this northern French battlefield was a seemingly impregnable fortress, a killing field of tunnels and trenches constantly watched by Germans occupying the high ground. It was here that on Easter morning, 9 April 1917, the Canadian Corps advanced against one of the strongest German-held positions on the Western Front. In the days that followed these soldiers secured a victory that now stands as perhaps the most important Canadian memory of the First World War. Today, one hundred years later, Vimy Ridge has become the site of Canada’s national memorial to the First World War, a site of pilgrimage for thousands of Canadians over the years and, in particular, during this year’s centennial commemorations.
One hundred years later, there can be little doubt that national myth was born in this battle and that what took place on Vimy Ridge in 1917 has become steeped in legend, a way for Canadians to find meaning in a long and bitter war that was filled with loss. It was the first battle in which all four divisions of the Canadian Corps were brought together to win a victory that had eluded French and British allies in their previous attempts at storming the ridge. In April 1917, following rigorous planning and preparations, the Canadian Corps launched a meticulously planned assault that secured more ground, took more prisoners, and captured more German artillery pieces than any previous British offensive on the Western Front. After breaking through the German defences on the first day of the battle, by 14 April the Canadians had consolidated on a new forward trench line, having advanced some five miles deep across a four-mile front. One hundred thousand Canadians fought in this battle, securing a hard-won victory at a cost of over 10,000 casualties, 3,600 of them fatal. The assault on Vimy remains a classic example of a swift and sustained assault against a strongly entrenched enemy, and it demonstrates the powerful and efficient weapon that the Canadian Corps had become by the spring of 1917.
This year, as Canadians reflect on this battle’s significance to our national memory of the First World War, soldiers of the 39 Canadian Brigade Group, the “Army in British Columbia”, should feel a particular pride in the role that our regiments played in in the taking of Vimy Ridge.
Written by: Capt. Wood