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Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-13 April 1917

Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-13 April 1917


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Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-13 April 1917

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was one of the best planned battles of the entire First World War. It was part of the wider Second Battle of Arras, itself part of the overall Allied spring plan for 1917. It was famous for the success of the Canadian Corps, fighting together for the first time.

Vimy Ridge was a key position on the Western Front. The ridge overlooked the Douai plain, with its coalfields, which had been in German hands since 1914. A French attempt to capture Vimy Ridge in 1915 (Battle of Artois, 1915) had failed at huge cost. Since then the ridge had been defended by the Army Group commanded by Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria. In 1917 the area was defended by General von Falkenhausen’s Sixth Army Group, still under the overall command of Crown Prince Rupprecht. Vimy Ridge itself was held by the four divisions of Gruppe Vimy, commanded by General of Infantry Karl von Fasbender, although the Canadian attack would mainly fall on one division, the 79th Reserve Infantry.

The Canadian Corps of 1917 contained four Canadian Divisions and one British Division. Of the 170,000 men detailed for the attack on Vimy Ridge, 97,000 were from Canada. The British contingent included the tunnellers who played an important part in the attack and the heavy gunners donated by the First Army. The Corps was commanded by Lieutenant-General the Honourable Sir Julian Byng, an unusually approachable British General for the period, with a great eye for detail and an understanding of the importance of planning.

The German commanders on Vimy Ridge were sure that their defences were strong enough to stop or slow down any initial attack while their reserves moved up. The main reserves were some fifteen miles behind the lines during the main assault.

The German position on Vimy Ridge was not as strong as on other parts of the line. The problem was Vimy Ridge itself. By 1917 German defensive lines were very sophisticated. Ideally, there would be a lightly defended front line, then a zone of strong points, followed by a second line, with the reserves just beyond Allied artillery range. The problem at Vimy Ridge was that the eastern side of the ridge was too steep and the top of the ridge too narrow. The main German defensive line thus had to be concentrated in a narrower band than normal. The Germans did have their II Stellung (regimental reserve line) close to the base of the ridge, but it would prove to be dangerously exposed to attack from the top of the ridge.

Byng’s preparations for the attack on Vimy Ridge were amongst the most impressive of the entire war. His answer to the problem of how to get his troops into the forward trenches without exposing them to German artillery fire was to dig twelve tunnel systems that reached up to, and sometimes beyond, the British front line. The attacking troops would enter the tunnels on the day before the attack, and emerge close to the German front lines. The subways also contained forward head quarters, field hospitals and supplies.

The attack was to be supported by a massive artillery bombardment. Byng was given all of the First Armies heavy artillery, giving the Canadian Corps close to 1,000 guns. The bombardment began on 20 March and lasted for 20 days. The pace of the bombardment varied during those twenty days, to prevent the Germans working out when the main attack was due. On 3 April the intensity of the bombardment was increased. The last week before the attack was known to the Germans as the “week of suffering”.

Finally, Byng made sure his men were well trained for the assault to come. A scale model of the battlefield was built, and as many men as possible visited it. Many more men than normal were given maps of the battlefield. Many earlier attacks had collapsed into chaos when the few men who know the plans or had maps were killed. Byng also staged rehearsals of the attack.

On 4.00 a.m. on Monday 9 April the subway entrances were opened. The first wave of the assault went in at 5.30. At the same time the heavy artillery hit 67 of the 69 German artillery positions in the Vimy sector.

Along most of the ridge most of the Germans were trapped in their bunkers. Too many men were in the forward trenches, with the result that half of the Germans on the ridge were killed or captured on the first day. Not every unit did so well – the 87th Battalion (Canadian Grenadier Guards) suffered 50% casualties early in the day in a sector where the German front lines had not been so badly damaged.

By the end of the first day, much of Vimy Ridge was in Canadian hands, but the chance, if there was any, for a breakthrough onto the plains to the east was slipping away. So was any chance that the Germans might recapture the ridge. At the end of the day Crown Prince Rupprecht decided to pull back to the III Stellung (the Oppy-Mericourt Line), four miles further east. Von Falkenhausen had wanted to make a stand on the II Stellung, but that was too close to the eastern foot of the ridge, and thus vulnerable to artillery fire directed from the ridge. On 10 April as the distant reserve finally reached the battlefield, it was put into the third line.

One battle still remained. At the end of 9 April the Germans still held a hill known as “the Pimple” at the northern end of the ridge. An assault was planned for 12 April. German resistance on the Pimple was more determined than it had been on the ridge, but by the end of the day the hill was in Canadian hands. On 13 April the Germans completed their withdrawal to their third line.

The triumph on Vimy Ridge cost the Canadian Corps 3,598 dead while around 2,400 Germans were also killed. The fighting on Vimy Ridge was the most successful part of the battle of Arras, itself one of the more successful allied attacks of the war. However, the French assault on the Aisne was much less successful. The failure of the Nivelle offensive would result in a temporary collapse in discipline in the French army, the famous mutinies of 1917.

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Air power and the battle for Vimy Ridge

In this undated photo, a British B.E. 2 flies low over the trenches in France. PHOTO: PMR74-661, DND Archives
April 9, 2016, is the 99th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

"Three more pilots lost today. All good men. Oh how I hate the Huns.
They had done in so many of my best friends. I'll make them pay, I swear." (1)

- William Avery "Billy" Bishop, April 7, 1917

Every year, on April 9th, Canadians commemorate the victory of the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge in France. The engagement, part of the larger Battle of Arras (April 9 to May 16, 1917), took place from April 9 to 12, and resulted in the decisive defeat of the German defenders. The first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Corps had fought together, Vimy Ridge has become a potent symbol of Canadian nationalism, albeit at the cost of over 10,000 casualties (3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded).

The savagery of the fighting and the bravery of the combatants on the ground were matched by the war in the air. For the men of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) – and there were many Canadians among them – this was the start of “Bloody April”.

As was (and is) often the case, the air battle began long before the first soldier went over the top. The most potent weapon during the First World War was artillery and it came to rely heavily upon aerial observation and photographs. In the months leading up to the attack on Vimy Ridge, corps squadrons – those air units tasked to provide direct reconnaissance support to a specific army or corps (the Canadian Corps was part of the British First Army) – were in the air whenever the weather permitted, photographing and re-photographing German positions.

Locating enemy artillery batteries was of primary importance so they could be neutralized on the day of the attack. At Vimy Ridge, the bulk of the work fell to the RFC’s 16 Squadron, flying B.E.2s, a two-seater biplane. It is estimated that by early March aerial photographs had been taken of all of the German defensive positions and that 180 of 212 hostile batteries had been located and their coordinates plotted on Allied maps.(2) During the actual battle, corps aircraft would fly in support of the “shoots” meant to destroy or neutralize hostile batteries by providing near-real time corrections and photographing the results (what we now call battle damage assessment).

Needless to say, the Germans strove strenuously to deny the Allies the use of this aerial “high-ground” in much the same way as the RFC and RNAS attempted to “blind” the German Air Service. Scout or fighter aircraft flew both offensive and defensive patrols. Offensive patrols were designed to either destroy or discourage the enemy’s reconnaissance aircraft (and balloons) from doing their job, while defensive patrols were to protect friendly corps machines. The information being brought back was so important for the preparation of the upcoming offensive that each RFC reconnaissance aircraft was often assigned two scouts to act as close escorts. They flew in conjunction with defensive patrols of four to seven aircraft seeking to intercept the Germans before they could molest the corps aircraft.

If a target to be photographed was deemed important enough, the RFC would do whatever it took to get the image – one mission over the span of two days in late March 1917 resulted in the loss of aircraft and 14 airmen killed or missing the required information was never obtained.(3)

During the lead-up to Vimy Ridge, the RFC was going through a period of massive expansion that led to a shortage of squadrons at the front. To help alleviate this deficiency, four RNAS squadrons, Numbers 1, 8 and 10, operating Sopwith triplanes, and No. 3, equipped with Sopwith Pups, were temporarily placed at the disposal of the RFC. All of these squadrons, especially No. 3, which was commanded by Canadian Redford Henry “Red” Mulock of Winnipeg, Manitoba, acquitted themselves well.

RFC aircraft were, for the most part, outclassed by German fighting machines. Where there was relative technical parity, squadrons equipped with either the Nieuport 17 or Sopwith Pup were capable of meeting the Germans on somewhat equal terms. The outcome of a fight often rested with the skill of the aircrew and survival was dictated by where the fight took place and the prevailing wind.

The continued growth, combined with losses at the front, meant many aircrew operating in the skies above the Canadian Corps had minimal training and were often unfamiliar with the aircraft they were flying. As well, the need to support the troops on the ground meant that they often found themselves over enemy territory so that if their machine was damaged in combat, or suffered from not infrequent mechanical difficulty, they ran the risk of not making it back to friendly lines and becoming prisoners of war.

To a great extent this unfortunate outcome was worsened by the prevailing winds that blew from west to east, making it that much more difficult for a flier in trouble to make it to friendly lines. But although were many inexperienced pilots within the German Air Service, there were also experienced “killers” such as Manfred von Richthofen – the “Red Baron” – who took a deadly toll of the Allied airmen during the Battle of Arras.

The expansion of the RFC, and to a lesser extent the RNAS, increased the demand for personnel. Although there were a number of Canadians serving in both flying services, most had come via direct recruitment in North America or through voluntary secondment from the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In an effort to tap into a perceived pool of eager young Canadians, the RFC established a large training organization in Canada in January 1917. In the months following the Battle of Arras, through the RFC Canada, thousands of Canadians would take to the skies over Europe via the RFCA Canada. But during “Bloody April”, the Allies had to rely on available airmen, regardless of their level of training and experience.

With this in mind it should come as no surprise that in the four days between the start of the RFC’s air campaign on April 4, and the Canadian Corps’ assault on Vimy Ridge on the 9th, that

…seventy-five British aeroplanes fell in action with a loss in personnel of 105 (nineteen killed, thirteen wounded, and seventy-three missing). In addition, there was an abnormally high number of flying accidents in which, in the same period, fifty-six aeroplanes were wrecked and struck off the strength of the squadrons.(4)

Casualties resulting from accidents were not reported as “combat” losses. To put this into a modern context, a Canadian fighter squadron has approximately 12 aircraft on strength which means that in a four-day period the equivalent of almost 11 modern squadrons were lost.

And then the ground battle began…

The officers and men of the Canadian Corps had prepared diligently for the attack. Maps indicating objectives and potential enemy strongpoints had been updated to the very last minute, using the latest aerial photographs obtained at such a high price. Royal Canadian Artillery gunners had practiced with RFC observers to work out procedures and wireless (radio) protocols to engage German batteries and silence them quickly and effectively.

Assaulting bodies of infantry, in addition to their already substantial burden of equipment, carried extra flares and signal panels with which to highlight their positions to friendly aircraft above. This was extremely important. Contact flights, where aircraft were sent to locate the positions of friendly troops, were vital both to provide an accurate picture of what was happening to higher headquarters and to prevent occurrences of “friendly fire”.

But then the “gods of chance” intervened. Although there had been perfect flying weather on April 8, by the time the whistles blew to signal the attack early the following morning, low clouds and a mix of rain and snow showers had restricted aerial activity - on both sides.

Except for brief periods, the lousy weather continued for almost the entire period of the assault on Vimy Ridge. While this made it difficult for 16 Squadron to carry out counter-battery work, it made the need for contact patrols even more important. Flying low over weather-obscured bodies of troops was always dangerous in the height of battle soldiers on the ground often assumed that low-flying aircraft were hostile and therefore to be shot at. But when aircrew deliberately called attention to themselves with blaring klaxons, they were often met with a fusillade of ground fire rather than a positional flare from friendly troops. The divisional and battalion diaries of the Canadian Corps contain numerous entries noting the presence of, and reports from, these contact flights.

And while the air war may have been relatively quiet at Vimy Ridge, it continued unabated over the Arras battlefield. During this period, Lieutenant Billy Bishop became an Ace while flying a Nieuport 17 with 60 Squadron, RFC (he claimed his fifth victory on April 8, 1917). By the end of the month he would claim total of 17 enemy aircraft destroyed or forced down.

Other Canadian airmen were equally effective, including Lloyd Samuel Breadner of Carleton Place, Ontario, who would become Chief of the Air Staff of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Joseph Fall of Cobble Hill, British Columbia, with No. 3 (Naval) Squadron of the RNAS. Both scored triple victories during an engagement on April 11, 1918.

Others paid the ultimate price during ferocious air battles. In Bishop’s squadron alone, Canadians C.S. Hall (address unknown) and J.A. Milot of Joliette, Quebec, were killed on the April 7 and 8 respectively. The trials of 60 Squadron continued as it lost 10 of its complement of 18 aircraft from April 14 to 16 (J. Elliott from Winnipeg, Manitoba, was wounded during this period). By the end of “Bloody April”, the British had lost 285 aircraft and 211 aircrew were killed or missing, with another 108 taken prisoner. The number of Canadian aircrew casualties during this period has never been tabulated. The Germans lost 66 aircraft due to combat or flying accident. Richthofen and his squadron accounted for more than a third (89) of British losses. (5)

From a Canadian air power perspective, the battle for Vimy Ridge could be characterized as the first Canadian “joint” engagement. Encompassing a much larger area than the Vimy Ridge battlefield, the air campaign began long before the initial assault on April 9. Although primarily a land battle, the contributions of the RFC and RNAS were crucial – if not for the ultimate victory than at the very least for reducing the number of casualties to the Canadian Corps.

Aerial reconnaissance enabled advance planning and rehearsal prior to the attack on April 9 and, although limited by weather, made important contributions to the conduct of the engagement – primarily in the realm of command and control. At the same time offensive aerial patrols kept the Germans from enjoying the same advantages. Vimy Ridge is a prime example of the effectiveness of joint operations when air and land power cooperate to achieve a common goal.

As we commemorate Vimy Ridge, it behooves the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces to remember that lesson as well.

1 Quoted in William Arthur Bishop, Billy Bishop: The Courage of the Early Morning (Markham, Ontario: Thomas Allan Publishers, 2011), 76


Canadian Forces Storm The German Defenses At Vimy Ridge

Today on April 9, 1917, Canadian expeditionary forces stormed through the heavily fortified German defenses at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

The four-day Battle of Vimy Ridge took place in northeastern France during World War I. It would prove to be a defining moment in Canadian history. As part of the broader Nivelle Offensive, the Allies' objective was to retake control of the high ground running along the Vimy Ridge escarpment. The Germans defended the seven-kilometer ridge with three infantry divisions totaling between 30,000 and 45,000 men. Germany had captured Vimy Ridge at the beginning of the war and spent years fortifying their position. By 1917, they had installed more than 80 defensive artillery batteries.

The British and French command became increasingly fixated on taking it back. Both armies spent months trying to break through the defensives, but every assault was repulsed. The entire area surrounding the ridge had become an open graveyard with 100,000 French corpses laying in the field. By early April, the Canadian Corps was called in to reinforce and support the effort. Field Marshal Julian Byng took command of the army and began detailed preparations — Byng would later become the Governor-General of Canada. Other notable leaders included Major Alan Brooke, the 33-year old mastermind behind the rolling barrage, and Sir Arthur Currie, who eventually became the commander of the Canadian Corps.

British and Canadian artillery spent weeks bombarding the German defenses. Finally, at 5:30 am on April 9, the first wave of Canadian soldiers began to advance. Most of their scheduled objectives were executed according to plan. By the mid-afternoon, they had captured most of the ridge with the support of creeping barrages. The village of Thelus fell on the second day, followed by the remainder of the crest. On April 12, the last pockets of resistance from the German 6th army retreated from the region. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was the largest territorial advance of any Allied force to that point in the war.

The Canadian success on the battlefield has been attributed to a combination of tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery, and extensive training. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a significant nation-building event for the young country of Canada. Many historians describe the battle as the moment when Canada finally emerged from Britain's shadow. It remains the country's most celebrated military victory, marking the first time all four Canadian divisions fought together in unison.

From coast to coast, over 170,000 Canadian troops came together and prevailed against the heavily defended enemy position. 3,598 men lost their lives during the four-day battle with another 7,000 suffering from significant wounds. The Battle of Vimy Ridge showcased Canada as capable of operating independently and contributing to the war effort in a meaningful way. In 1936, the Canadian National Vimy Ridge Memorial was unveiled in France, becoming the centerpiece of a 250-acre battlefield park.


Primary Documents - Philip Gibbs on the Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 1917

Reproduced below is the text of British war journalist Philip Gibbs' report detailing the Canadians' success in seizing the heights forming the German stronghold of Vimy Ridge on 9 April 1917. As a consequence of the hard fighting experienced during the battle - and partly in public recognition of the Allied success - some four Victoria Crosses were awarded following the battle.

Click here to read the official reaction of the Canadian War Records Office to the Canadians' success.

British War Reporter Philip Gibbs on the Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-10 April 1917

Today, at dawn, our armies began a great battle, which, if Fate has any kindness for the world, may be the beginning of the last great battles of the war.

Our troops attacked on a wide front between Lens and St. Quentin, including the Vimy Ridge, that great, grim hill which dominates the plain of Douai and the coalfields of Lens and the German positions around Arras.

In spite of bad fortune in weather at the beginning of the day, so bad that there was no visibility for the airmen, and our men had to struggle forward in a heavy rainstorm, the first attacks have been successful, and the enemy has lost much ground, falling back in retreat to strong rearguard lines, where he is now fighting desperately.

The line of our attack covers a front of some 12 miles southwards from Givenchy-en-Gohelle, and is a sledge-hammer blow, threatening to break the northern end of the Hindenburg line, already menaced round St. Quentin.

As soon as the enemy was forced to retreat from the country east of Bapaume and Peronne, in order to escape a decisive blow on that line, he hurried up divisions and guns northwards to counter our attack there, while he prepared a new line of defence, known as the Wotan line, as the southern part of the Hindenburg line, which joins it, is known as the Siegfried position, after two great heroes of old German mythology.

He hoped to escape there before our new attack was ready, but we have been too quick for him, and his own plans were frustrated.

So today began another titanic conflict which the world will hold its breath to watch because of all that hangs upon it. I have seen the fury of this beginning, and all the sky on fire with it, the most tragic and frightful sight that men have ever seen, with an infernal splendour beyond words to tell. The bombardment which went before the infantry assault lasted for several days, and reached a great height yesterday, when, coming from the south, I saw it for the first time.

Those of us who knew what would happen today, the beginning of another series of battles greater, perhaps, than the struggle of the Somme, found ourselves yesterday filled with a tense, restless emotion, and some of us smiled with a kind of tragic irony because it was Easter Sunday.

In the little villages behind the battle lines the bells of the French churches were ringing gladly because the Lord had risen, and on the altar steps the priests were reciting the splendid old words of faith. "Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum. Alleluia" ("I have arisen and I am with thee always. Alleluia").

The earth was glad yesterday. For the first time this year the sun had a touch of warmth in it, though patches of snow still stayed white under the shelter of the banks, and the sky was blue and the light glinted on wet tree-trunks and in the furrows of the new-ploughed earth. As I went up the road to the battle lines I passed a battalion of our men, the men who are fighting today, standing in hollow square with bowed heads while the chaplain conducted the Easter service.

Easter Sunday, but no truce of God. I went to a field outside Arras and looked into the ruins of the cathedral city. The cathedral itself stood clear in the sunlight, with a deep black shadow where its roof and aisles had been. Beyond was a ragged pinnacle of stone, once the glorious Town Hall, and the French barracks and all the broken streets going out to the Cambrai road. It was hell in Arras, though Easter Sunday.

The bombardment was now in full blast. It was a beautiful and devilish thing, and the beauty of it, and not the evil of it, put a spell upon one's senses. All our batteries, too many to count, were firing, and thousands of gun flashes were winking and blinking from hollows and hiding-places, and all their shells were rushing through the sky as though flocks of great birds were in flight, and all were bursting over the German positions with long flames which rent the darkness and waved sword-blades of quivering light along the ridges.

The earth opened, and great pools of red fire gushed out. Star shells burst magnificently, pouring down golden rain. Mines exploded east and west of Arras and in the wide sweep from Vimy Ridge to Blangy southwards, and voluminous clouds, all bright with a glory of infernal fire, rolled up to the sky.

The wind blew strongly across, beating back the noise of the guns, but the air was all filled with the deep roar and slamming knocks of the single heavies and the drum fire of the field guns.

The hour for attack was 5.30. Officers were looking at their wrist watches as on a day in July last year. The earth lightened. A few minutes before 5.30 the guns almost ceased fire, so that there was a strange and solemn hush. We waited, and pulses beat faster than the second hands.

"They're away," said a voice by my side. The bombardment broke out again with new and enormous effects of fire and sound. The enemy was shelling Arras heavily, and black shrapnel and high explosive came over from his lines, but our gunfire was twenty times as great. Around the whole sweep of his lines green lights rose. They were signals of distress, and his men were calling for help.

It was dawn now, but clouded and storm-swept. A few airmen came out with the wind tearing at their wings, but could see nothing in the mist and driving rain. I went down to the outer ramparts of Arras. The suburb of Blangy seemed already in our hands. On the higher ground beyond our men were fighting forward. I saw two waves of infantry advancing against the enemy's trenches, preceded by our barrage of field guns.

They went in a slow, leisurely way, not hurried, though the enemy's shrapnel was searching for them. "Grand fellows," said an officer lying next to me on the wet slope. "Oh, topping!"

Fifteen minutes afterwards groups of men came back. They were British wounded and German prisoners. I met the first of these walking wounded afterwards. They were met on the roadside by medical officers, who patched them up there and then before they were taken to the field hospitals in ambulances.

From these men, hit by shrapnel and machine-gun bullets, I heard the first news of progress. They were bloody and exhausted, but claimed success. "We did fine," said one of them. "We were through the fourth lines before I was knocked out."

"Not many Germans in the first trenches," said another, "and no real trenches either after shelling. We had knocked their dug-outs out, and their dead were lying thick, and the living ones put their hands up." All the men agreed that their own casualties were not high, and mostly wounded.

By three in the afternoon yesterday the Canadians had gained the whole of the ridge except a high strong post on the left, Hill 145, which was captured during the night. Our gunfire had helped them by breaking down all the wire, even round Heroes' Wood and Count's Wood, where it was very thick and strong. Thelus was wiped utterly off the map.

This morning Canadian patrols pushed in a snowstorm through the Farbus Wood, and established outposts on the railway embankment. Some of the bravest work was done by the forward observing officers, who climbed to the top of Vimy Ridge as soon as it was captured, and through a sea of heavy barrage reported back to the artillery all the movements seen by them on the country below.

In spite of the wild day, our flying men were riding the storm and signalling to the gunners who were rushing up their field guns. "Our 60-pounders," said a Canadian officer, "had the day of their lives." They found many targets. There were trains moving in Vimy village, and they hit them. There were troops massing on the sloping ground, and they were shattered. T here were guns and limbers on the move, and men and horses were killed.

Beyond all the prisoners taken yesterday by the English, Scottish and Canadian troops, the enemy losses were frightful, and the scenes behind his lines must have been and still be hideous in slaughter and terror.

The Battle of Arras is the greatest victory we have yet gained in this war and a staggering blow to the enemy. He has lost already nearly 10,000 prisoners and more than half a hundred guns, and in dead and wounded his losses are great.

He is in retreat south of the Vimy Ridge to defensive lines further back, and as he goes our guns are smashing him along the roads. It is a black day for the German armies and for the German women who do not know yet what it means to them.

During last night the Canadians gained the last point, called Hill 145, on the Vimy Ridge, where the Germans held out in a pocket with machine guns, and this morning the whole of that high ridge, which dominates the plains to Douai, is in our hands, so that there is removed from our path the great barrier for which the French and ourselves have fought through bloody years.

Yesterday, before daylight and afterwards, I saw this ridge of Vimy all on fire with the light of great gunfire. The enemy was there in strength, and his guns were answering ours with a heavy barrage of high explosives.

This morning the scene was changed as by a miracle. Snow was falling, blown gustily across the battlefields and powdering the capes and helmets of our men as they rode or marched forward to the front. But presently sunlight broke through the storm-clouds and flooded all the countryside by Neuville-St. Vaast and Thelus and La Folie Farm up to the crest of the ridge where the Canadians had just fought their way with such high valour.

Our batteries were firing from many hiding-places, revealed by the short, sharp flashes of light, but few answering shells came back, and the ridge itself, patched with snowdrifts, was as quiet as any hill of peace.

It was astounding to think that not a single German stayed up there out of all the thousands who had held it yesterday, unless some poor wounded devils still cower in the great tunnels which pierce the hillside.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923


Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-13 April 1917 - History

The Battle of Vimy Ridge began on Easter morning 1917. Amid sleet, mud and shellfire, the soldiers of the Canadian Corps fought their way up the ridge to take the high ground overlooking the Douai plain.

This stunning victory followed years of failed attempts to retake the ridge, and months of planning and preparation for the operation. The ridge had fallen into German hands during the initial advances of 1914. Since then, around 150,000 French and British soldiers had fallen trying to retake it. The Germans had been fortifying their positions on the ridge for years with deep bunkers, overlapping fields of machine gun fire and layers of barbed wire. When the Canadians attacked, they directly faced around 8,000 entrenched German defenders, not couting another 2,500 in reserve, and many more to the rear.

A preliminary bombardment began on March 20 and lasted for thirteen days. In the meantime, Andrew McNaughton and his counterbattery staff were hard at work finding and silencing the German guns. The Royal Flying Corps provided aerial reconnaissance, returning with photographs of enemy batteries. The objectives set for the four divisions were four lines, the Red, Black, Blue and Brown Lines.

The battle began at 5:30am on April 9, with the first wave of around 15,000 men advancing under the creeping barrage of almost 1000 heavy guns. Most objectives were taken on schedule, and by afternoon most of the ridge was captured, with the notable exception of The Pimple, a high point at the North end of the ridge, where defenders held out until April 12.

By April 12, the Canadians had taken all of their objectives, as well as 4,000 prisoners. The Canadians held Vimy Ridge. This victory came at a high cost as 3,598 Canadians lost their lives, and 7,000 were wounded during the four-day battle. April 9, 1917 is still the bloodiest day in Canadian military history.

A key technological development that greatly contributed to the Canadians’ success at Vimy was the widespread use of the new 106 fuse in shells. This fuse made shells explode on contact with barbed wire, which marked a huge improvement from the shells used during the Battle of the Somme, which would often leave barbed wire untouched but create huge craters.

The most important tactical innovation used in this battle was the rolling barrage. Early in the war, when soldiers attacked a position, the artillery would bombard that position and then stop so that the soldiers could run over and take it. However, this caused problems, as often the time between the bombardment and when the soldiers actually arrived on the position allowed the defenders time to get prepared for the attack, and inflict devastating casualties on the attackers. The rolling barrage meant that the soldiers advanced at the same time as the bombardment. At Vimy, the artillery moved forward 90 metres every three minutes. This meant that soldiers had three minutes to catch up with the barrage and silence any defenders left.

Another important factor contributing to victory was the scale of preparations. The troops had been practicing and training for this battle for months. From frequent night raids to gain information on the opposing German troops, as well as night combat experience, to practice in the mock-up battlefield behind the lines, the Canadians were supremely ready for the battle. Each unit was told its objectives, as well as those of the units around it, so that they could take over should their neighbours get bogged down. Junior officers and NCOs were told the plans so that they could take over if their superiors were hit. 40,000 maps of the battlefield were also distributed to the troops.

Key people in the battle included Sir Julian Byng, the beloved commander of the Canadian Corps. Well-liked by his troops, who called themselves “the Byng boys”, Byng was a British officer, who would later be promoted to General and become Lord Byng of Vimy. Major Alan Brooke was the 33-year old mastermind behind the rolling barrage, and Sir Arthur Currie, who would soon become commander of the Canadian Corps, was in charge of the 1 st Canadian Division during the battle.

The battle was a strategic victory, as Vimy Ridge was an important observation point over the whole of the Douai plain, a key industrial and railway region in Northern France. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was also the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Corps had fought together. This symbolically showed the strength of Canadians when they fought as one. It was also important that the Canadian Corps, this small colonial unit, had managed to do what both its former colonial powers could not do in retaking the ridge. кредит онлайн

Victory At Vimy Ridge

The Canadian Corps attacked Vimy Ridge 98 years ago. The German position had successfully resisted earlier Allied attacks, and it was heavily defended. But the Canadians took the ridge and in the process made the Corps’ great reputation.

By 1917, Canadians had been fighting for two years. The raw levies that held the Germans off at Ypres in April 1915 now were experienced soldiers. But the key to the success at Vimy came when Byng sent General Arthur Currie of the First Canadian Division to study the methods of the French. Currie learned they emphasized reconnaissance and used air photos extensively, distributing them widely. When they attacked, their objectives were geographical features, and the French rehearsed their tactics. Currie recommended the Canadians, like the French, follow suit. In the battle for Vimy Ridge, Currie’s ideas played the decisive role.

Every man at Vimy knew his task. Indiscreetly, Pte. Ronald MacKinnon of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry wrote to his father:

“We have a good bunch of boys to go over with and good artillery support so we are bound to get our objective alright. I understand we are going up against the Prussian Guards.”

When the assault troops went over the top at 5:30 a.m. on Easter Monday, they attacked in snow and sleet, the wind driving into the enemy lines. Their attack began with “the most wonderful artillery barrage ever known in the history of the world,” one officer wrote. Behind the barrage, the men moved forward over the badly broken ground, “now walking over the open in all directions,” wrote Padre F.G. Scott. “German prisoners were being hurried back in scores.”

Stunned by the Canadians’ success, the Germans retreated. The Corps, having sustained 10,602 casualties, dug in after a gain of 4,500 yards.

Byng received a promotion to command Britain’s Third Army. Replacing him was the 41-year-old Currie, the first Canadian to command Canada’s army in the field.

J.L. Granatstein OC, FRSC
Historian J.L. Granatstein is former director of the Canadian War Museum срочный займ без проверок

Significance of Vimy Ridge

“NATIONS ARE MADE BY DOING GREAT THINGS TOGETHER” – RENAN

Canada’s celebration of its victory at Vimy Ridge on 9 April 1917 owes much to a French historian and philosopher, Ernest Renan. “Nations,” he told his students, “are made by doing great things together.”

As dawn broke on that morning at Vimy, close to a hundred thousand Canadians poured from trenches, dugouts and tunnels, surged up a slope and conquered an enemy position considered impregnable by its German defenders and, frankly, by Canada’s allies. Only one of the four Canadian divisions failed to conquer all its objectives by noon on the 9th but by April 12, a cheeky telegram from a brigade commander “I am King of the Pimple” told Canadian commanders that the job was complete.

Canadians should remember that Vimy Ridge was not their triumph alone. British artillery and the elite 51st Highland Division helped make victory possible. A visit to the nearby French military cemetery, Notre Dame de Lorette, reminds us that ten times as many French soldiers died to bring the Allied line to the edge of the Ridge as well as providing visitors on a clear day with the best view of the Canadian objective.

It was a costly victory. Ten thousand Canadians lay dead or wounded on the 9th: the worst day’s losses for Canada in the war. A British military advisor, Major-General Willoughby Gwatkin, had warned Sir Robert Borden’s government that voluntary recruiting could only keep two divisions in the line. Vimy’s losses forced Canada into the deeply divisive policy of conscription: forcing young men to serve, a policy that divided Canadians more deeply than ever before. What choice did Sir Robert Borden’s government really have? With the congratulations of his fellow premiers ringing in his ears, could he even think of announcing that Canada’s fighting army would be cut in half? Canada’s fragile unity was another casualty of Vimy Ridge.

Vimy was followed by other Canadian victories, some of them even greater feats of arms. Sir Arthur Currie, Canadian Corps commander after Sir Julian Byng, the victor at Vimy, was promoted, boasted that he had won an even better victory at Lens when he persuaded his British commander-in-chief to let the Canadians capture Hill 70, forcing the Germans to counter-attack at enormous cost in German soldiers’ lives. Currie’s arguments for smarter tactics carried weight chiefly because of Canadian success at Vimy. The Vimy experience provided a pattern for future successes. The Canadians had rehearsed tirelessly before the battle. They dug trenches and tunnels and piled tons of ammunition for the heavy guns that pulverized German trenches and wiped out most of the German artillery hidden behind Vimy Ridge. The motto for Canadian success was “thorough”. Nothing that could help soldiers succeed would be ignored. Digging trenches and tunnels and lugging artillery shells through miles of wet, muddy trenches was brutally exhausting work. Soldiers grumbled and complained but they needed to win the war before they could go home. Exhaustion was a small part of the price.

The Vimy victory shaped a Canadian way of making war. Other nations might celebrate flamboyant valour or dogged sacrifice Canadians built on the conviction that only thorough preparation could spell success. At Hill 70, at Amiens, in crossing the Canal du Nord and even by capturing Passchendaele in October 1917, Canadians could take pride in their “ever-victorious” Canadian Corps. No one claimed that their general, Arthur Currie, was a charismatic commander. Few soldiers realized that he took his best ideas from men in the ranks of his Corps.

In August 1918, Borden and other premiers from the British Empire agreed that the war was destined to last two or three more terrible years. It ended on November 11. At Valenciennes on November 1, with Vimy-style tactics the Canadians collapsed the last German defensive line. Ten days later an Armistice was signed. Canadians had done a great thing and, with French and English, First Nations and recent immigrants, they had done it together. As Renan had foreseen, Canadians had shaped a nation. Back on Vimy Ridge, a grateful France gave them land to commemorate their success and their sacrifice. Let us remember the cost and the achievement.

Desmond Morton OC, CD, FRSC
Desmond Morton (1937-2019) was an original member of the Vimy Foundation Advisory Board займ

Victoria Cross

For most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy. The medal was instituted on February 5, 1856 with awards retroactive to 1854. The first award to a Canadian was in February 1857, to Lt. Alexander DUNN (Charge of the Light Brigade). There have been 1,351 Victoria Crosses and 3 Bars awarded worldwide, 94 to Canadians (Canadian-born or serving in the Canadian Army or with a close connection to Canada). In February 1993, Queen Elizabeth II granted approval for the creation of a Canadian Victoria Cross (VC). The Canadian VC maintains the resemblance of the original British VC, except for the insertion of the Latin inscription, “PRO VALORE”, replacing the original English inscription, “FOR VALOUR”. No Canadian has been awarded the Victoria Cross since the inception of the Canadian version in 1993. Consequently, the following describes the original British Victoria Cross, as has been awarded to all Canadians since the Crimean War.

Description: A cross pattee, 1.375 inches across, with a dark brown finish. Made from cannons captured from the Russians during the Crimean War.

Obverse: The obverse displays the Royal Crown surmounted by a lion guardant. Below the crown, a scroll bearing the inscription: FOR VALOUR.

Reverse: Raised edges with the date of the act engraved within a raised circle.

Mounting: A straight bar (ornamented with laurels), slotted for the ribbon, has a V-lug below. A small link joins the V-lug to a semi-circular lug on the top of the cross.

Ribbon: The crimson ribbon is 1.5 inches wide and a miniature cross is worn on the ribbon in undress. The ribbon was dark blue for naval recipients until 1918 with Able Seaman William HALL, RN, being the only Canadian VC winner to wear the blue ribbon.

Naming: The recipient’s rank, name and regiment are engraved on the reverse of the mounting bar. микрозайм

Victoria Cross Recipients

COURAGE AND VALOUR AT VIMY RIDGE: CANADIANS EARN THE VICTORIA CROSS, THE EMPIRE’S HIGHEST HONOUR

In the first of a new historical series on the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the Foundation looks at some of the soldiers present at the battle, and the heroism they showed in this landmark victory by Canadian forces.

It is truly difficult to comprehend the chaos of battle, especially one as intense as the Battle of Vimy Ridge. April 9, 1917 was not the first time that Allied soldiers had dared to cross no man’s land at Vimy, but each previous attempt had only resulted in significant losses, as the Germans repelled the onslaught. Their defences were considered almost impenetrable. The Allied troops thrown against them unfortunately suffered the fate of cannon fodder.

That swiftly changed beginning on April 9, when the four divisions of the Canadian Corps, fighting together for the first time, made the charge at Vimy. Their determination was palpable, and with a new strategy and newfound drive, they saw success by taking Vimy Ridge.

While each Canadian soldier undoubtedly showed his courage during the fierce battle, there were four examples of conspicuous bravery that merited the awarding of the coveted Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration within the British Empire. Of these, three were earned on the opening day of the battle:

Private William Milne of the 16th Battalion: On April 9 near Thelus, the 24-year-old Milne saw an enemy machine-gun firing upon fellow troops. Crawling on hands and knees he managed to reach the gun, kill the crew, and capture the gun. Milne later repeated this action against a second enemy machine-gun crew, but was killed shortly afterwards. Milne’s body was not recovered from the battlefield. He is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial, France.

Lance-Sergeant Ellis Sifton of the 18th Battalion: During the attack in enemy trenches Sgt. Sifton’s company was held up by machine gun fire. Having located the gun he charged it single-handed, killing all the crew. A small enemy party advanced down the trench, but he succeeded keeping these off till our men had gained the position. In carrying out this gallant act he was killed, but his conspicuous valour undoubtedly saved many lives and contributed largely to the success of the operation. Sifton is buried in the Lichfield Crater Cemetery near Neuville-Saint-Vaast, France.

Private John Pattison of the 50th Battalion: On April 10, when the advance of Canadian troops was held up by an enemy machine gun, Private Pattison, with utter disregard of his own safety, sprang forward and jumping from shell-hole to shell-hole, reached cover within thirty yards of the enemy gun. From this point, in the face of heavy fire he hurled bombs killing and wounding some of the crew, and then rushed forward overcoming and bayoneting the surviving five gunners. Pattison was killed on June 3, 1917 making an attack on a power station near Lens, France. He is buried in the La Chaudière Military Cemetery, France, approximately 3 kilometres south of Lens on the north-western outskirts of Vimy.

Captain Thain MacDowell of the 38th Battalion: On April 9, Captain MacDowell, with the assistance of two runners (company orderlies, Privates James T. Kobus and Arthur James Hay, both of whom were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for their part) reached the German position ahead of his company. After destroying one machine-gun nest he chased the crew from another. MacDowell then spotted one German going into a tunnel. At the base of the tunnel, MacDowell was able to bluff the Germans to think he was part of a much larger force, resulting in the surrendering of two German officers and 75 German soldiers. He sent the prisoners up out the tunnel in groups of 12 so that Kobus and Hay could take them back to the Canadian line. Although wounded in the hand, MacDowell continued for five days to hold the position gained, in spite of heavy shellfire, until eventually relieved by his battalion. He was the only Victoria Cross recipient to survive the battle. He died on March 29, 1960 and is buried in the Oakland Cemetery in Brockville, ON.

Learn about other Victoria Cross recipients of the First World War. деньги в долг


Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-13 April 1917 - History

As the largest dominion in the British Empire, Canada entered the war when Britain declared war on Germany and her allies on August 4, 1914. Over the course of the next four years, Canada raised more than 600,000 men and women for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). The CEF was a citizen army. A large majority volunteered their services, others were conscripted in 1917-1918, and of all those in the CEF, only a small number had any real military experience before joining the colours. The reputation of the CEF as a fearless and tenacious fighting force was earned in a number of significant battles, including 2nd Ypres (April 1915) the Somme (September-November 1916), Vimy Ridge (April 1917), Passchendaele (October-November 1917), Amiens (August 1918), and the last 100 days of the war (August-November 1918).

Vimy Ridge, April 9-12, 1917

The Vimy Memorial

WWI CEF Personnel Files, 1914-1918

Complete service records consisting of 20-30 page s are available for all those men and women who served in the CEF to the letter ?M.? The files are being digitized by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in alphabetical order and should be completed in 2018.

Soldiers of the First World War, 1914-1918

This collection includes the sign up/attestation papers for all men and women who volunteered to serve with the CEF as well as those who were drafted in 1917-1918. The document includes personal information, a physical description, the soldier?s service number and the unit he first joined. Officers, including nurses, do not have service numbers.

Military Honours and Awards Citation Cards, 1900-1961

This collection contains all First World War honours and awards for bravery and gallantry, including the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Military Cross, the Military Medal, foreign awards to Canadians, and more. In most cases, detailed citations are included.

War Graves Registers (Circumstances of Casualty), 1914-1948

Approximately 60,000 Canadians died in the First World War from all causes. The records in this database document, where possible, the circumstances that led to the casualty, including those who died on the Western Front (France and Belgium), in the United Kingdom, at sea and at home in Canada during the war and until the 1940s if death was attributable to war service. Cemetery information is included. Those who died with no known grave, about 20,000 in number, are commemorated on either the Vimy Memorial in France or the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

Commonwealth War Graves Registers, 1914-1919

These records document, if known, the death and burial location of soldiers who were killed in action or died of wounds during the war and any subsequent exhumation after the war when the cemeteries in France and Belgium were established. You may find their next of kin?s address many years after the event. Glenn Wright is a family historian and genealogist with a special interest in Canadian military history and research he is the author Canadians at War, 1914-1919: A Research Guide to World War One Service Records (Global Genealogy, 2010). To download the Battle of WWI Vimy Ridge research guide, visit this link.

Today in History: The Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 9, 1917

Today marks the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a key point in Canadian military history (and interestingly enough, April 9, 1917 was also an Easter Monday). Four Canadian divisions succeeded, at a cost of more than 3,000 dead, at pushing three dug-in German divisions off of the heights.

It’s easier to appreciate the accomplishment when it’s remembered that repeated French Army assaults (they threw about 20 divisions at the ridge at different times) had achieved little more than 150,000 dead, and British attempts had also failed. Careful planning, repeated rehearsals of the attack by the troops, technical innovations like a special artillery fuze that could cut barbed wire, and a systematic “preparation of the battlefield” by the Canadian artillery eventually carried the day. The Canadians softened up the Germans for more than a week with withering artillery fire, and their counter-battery fire eliminated a very significant proportion of the German guns before the assault began–and all this was done using less than half the available artillery at any given time, so as not to tip off the enemy to the Canadians’ true artillery strength. When the assault began, the bombardment was so massive that the guns could be faintly heard in London.

One of the more entertaining elements of the battle that I recall from my reading was when the Canadians realized that the Germans were using a particular church steeple near their positions as an artillery reference point. One dark night, the Canadians ripped down the steeple and rebuilt it several hundred yards away–not so far as to be a visible difference from the German lines, but just enough to throw the aim of their artillery observers permanently off.

It was an important accomplishment, though not so significant militarily: the overall Allied offensive of which Vimy Ridge was a part turned out to be yet another failure, with the Canadian victory a rare bright spot. Its cultural importance far outstripped its military significance, as it was the first time all four Canadian divisions fought together, and it was largely a Canadian accomplishment. For a young dominion that was still inclined to view itself as “British,” the victory went a long way toward forging a more independent Canadian identity. I’ve said in the past that I believe World War I was Canada’s “War of Independence,” because the performance of the Canadian Army in that conflict earned Canada its own seat at the table in the negotiations that followed the war. That said, to be fair, the Canadian Corps commander and many of the other senior officers were still British, and in fact a young major named Alan Brooke, who would later be the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (Britain’s highest military officer) in the Second World War, was one of the British officers involved in artillery coordination alongside the Canadians.

A really informative and entertaining read on the whole subject, that I heartily recommend, is Pierre Berton’s book Vimy.


Byng took over the command of the Canadian Corps in May 1916. On November 21, 1916, a conference held at the Headquarters of the First Army discussed how to attack Arras. By March 1917, Byng was given orders to attack Vimy Ridge. The four divisions were to fight together with an additional resources form the British 5th Division. Attack techniques had been learned from a previous lecture attended by 3 Canadian Corps officers and other British soldiers. The lecture as conducted by the French Army was on experiences from the Battle of Verdun. The French had successfully fought the Germans using counteroffensive techniques. The same tactics were to be applied in the Vimy ridge attack.

To capture the ridge, the Canadian soldiers had to thoroughly plan and rehearse the attack. The troops sharpened skills on the use of machine guns, grenades, and tunnel digging. Tunneling companies from Britain dug extensive underground tunnels in preparation for the battle as other Canadian soldiers were posted to the north of the ridge. Just before the battle, the British and Canadian artillery pounded the Germans on the Vimy ridge, tormenting the defenders by small-scale attack tactic. On the morning of April 9, 1917, the 4 Canadian Divisions attacked the ridge. The Engineers detonated the ridge destroying numerous German strongholds. Those with light guns moved forward fast as medium and heavy howitzers made shots against the defensive target. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Divisions advanced swiftly and successfully. The 4th division encountered some resistance but eventually overcame the Germans. The 10th Canadian Brigade with the support of significant artillery made the final blow at 6:00 PM on April 12 by capturing the entire Pimple.


Local History & Genealogy

"This is a Canadian family story" remarked one woman in attendance at last Sunday's moving ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 9 to 12, 1917. Hearing descendants tell stories of family members that participated in the battle was an emotional part of the day, and a reminder that thousands of Canadians have a personal connection to Vimy Ridge.

My personal connection with the Battle of Vimy Ridge is through my husband, whose grandfather, John William (Jack) Morris (1891-1959), was there in April 1917 with the 2 nd Canadian Division, 6 th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery.  

Jack Morris was born at Sheffield, England on July 14, 1891, and came to Canada in 1912. He had taught school here for four years and was married with a baby on the way when at age 24 he volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Winnipeg on April 15, 1916. As an English-speaking Presbyterian and a recent British immigrant who had lived in both Manitoba (Stoney Mountain) and Ontario (Kenora), Jack was in a demographic with a high rate of enlistment.  

Jack's attestation (enlistment) paper records many personal details.  His height (5 feet 5½ inches), weight (125 lbs.) and chest measurement (minimum 32 inches, with maximum expansion, 34 inches), although small by today’s standards, were well above the minimum physical qualifications.  

Jack was placed with the 190th Battalion on May 8, 1916, but in July he transferred to the recently-organized 76th Depot Battery CFA (Canadian Field Artillery). Although he had a lieutenant's certificate and had trained cadets in England, Jack was assigned the rank of gunner, the lowest in the artillery. 

Gunner Morris arrived in England in August 1916, and was sent to France in late October. He was taken on strength as a reinforcement to the 2nd Canadian Division, 6th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery on October 27, 1916, the same day that his first child, Helena Vaughn (my mother-in-law), was born back in Kenora. 

The Canadian artillery played a vital role in the outcome of the First World War. Canadian troops used artillery to defend against attack, prepare for assault, destroy trenches, and protect soldiers as they advanced toward enemy trenches. At the outset of the war, artillery was used as a mobile weapon but, as the war progressed and both sides became entrenched, it was increasingly used as a means of bombarding enemy trenches from fixed positions.

Jack was immediately thrown into battle at the Somme, October-November 1916, followed by participation at Arras and Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Artillery was the "key to victory" at Vimy Ridge, claims Canadian historian Tim Cook.  A devastating artillery barrage not only isolated enemy trenches, but provided a moving wall of high explosives and shrapnel to force the Germans to stay in their deep dugouts and away from their machine-guns. 

At his request, Jack was transferred on June 7, 1917 to the 2nd Division Signal Company, which was attached to the 6th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. In this capacity, Jack saw action at Hill 70, August 1917 and Passchendaele (3rd Battle of Ypres), October-November, 1917. 

In January 1918, after 15 months along the Western Front in France and Belgium, Jack fulfilled the one small dream that front-line soldiers allowed themselves: a “Blighty.” “This was the honourable wound,” historian Desmond Morton explains in When your numbers up, “that would release them from the squalor and terror of the trenches to a bed, sheets, regular meals, and the sight of a nursing sister.”

According to a biographical sketch published in Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba ( 1925) Jack was "wounded and gassed, 1918, Arras, invalided to England." However his war record indicates that his injury was a sprained ankle, which occurred when a horse fell on him. The incident was categorized as an “accident” rather than a “casualty,” and it had not been self inflicted.

Whatever the cause, Jack was sent back to England, where he spent the remainder of the war.  In January 1919, he returned to Canada aboard the Empress of Britain to be reunited with his wife, Helena Ritchie, and meet his㺜-month-old daughter for the first time.  He was officially demobilized in Winnipeg on February 18, 1919.

Jack Morris was one of the lucky ones - he survived the war with only minor injuries and lived for another 40 years.  The war's most lasting effects may have been his fondness for tobacco (my husband has strong memories of watching his grandfather roll his weekly supply of cigarettes) and his antithesis to Methodists, probably believing that they had not "done their bit" during the war.  

Jack retained a strong belief in serving your country, and made no objection when his only son, John Alexander Morris (1923-2013), enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy as a teenager during the Second World War.  (John rose to the rank of lieutenant and patrolled the North Atlantic in corvettes.) 

Jack never returned to Europe, but some of his descendants have visited the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France in his honour, most recently great-grandson Rob Myrvold, who was there on April 7, 2017, a few days before the centennial ceremony. 

First World War resources on Toronto Public Library's Digital Archive

Toronto Public Library's Special Collections Centre collects pictures, broadsides and printed ephemera, maps and manuscripts - letters, diaries and other unpublished documents - about the First World War.  Click the preceding links to view items that are available on our Digital Archive.  Some library materials specifically about Vimy were added recently to the Digital Archive for the 100th anniversary. 

Selected items from the Library's collections have been featured in exhibits about the war, notably Doing our bit Canadians and the Great War Four families one war and Leonard L. Youell's war diary. 

The following excerpt from Lieutenant Youell's diary records his observations on April 9, 1917, the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. He was mentioned in despatches and awarded his first Military Cross (MC) for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the battle.

Toronto Public Library provides several helpful online databases for its customers to learn more about their family's contribution to the First World War.  Ancestry Library Edition is a good place to start.  Also useful are Early Canadiana Online, Globe and Mail Newspaper Archive and Toronto Star Historical Newspaper Archive .

Personnel Records of the First World War digitized by Library and Archives Canada is an invaluable source. 

If you would like to share your family records about the experiences of Torontonians in the First World War, contact staff in Toronto Public Library's Special Collections Centre by phone (416-393-7156) or email ([email protected]).

Finally, we encourage you to record your family's connection to the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the comments section below.  

Comments

"This is a Canadian family story" remarked one woman in attendance at last Sunday's moving ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 9 to 12, 1917. Hearing descendants tell stories of family members that participated in the battle was an emotional part of the day, and a reminder that thousands of Canadians have a personal connection to Vimy Ridge.

My personal connection with the Battle of Vimy Ridge is through my husband, whose grandfather, John William (Jack) Morris (1891-1959), was there in April 1917 with the 2 nd Canadian Division, 6 th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery.  

Jack Morris was born at Sheffield, England on July 14, 1891, and came to Canada in 1912. He had taught school here for four years and was married with a baby on the way when at age 24 he volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Winnipeg on April 15, 1916. As an English-speaking Presbyterian and a recent British immigrant who had lived in both Manitoba (Stoney Mountain) and Ontario (Kenora), Jack was in a demographic with a high rate of enlistment.  

Jack's attestation (enlistment) paper records many personal details.  His height (5 feet 5½ inches), weight (125 lbs.) and chest measurement (minimum 32 inches, with maximum expansion, 34 inches), although small by today’s standards, were well above the minimum physical qualifications.  

Jack was placed with the 190th Battalion on May 8, 1916, but in July he transferred to the recently-organized 76th Depot Battery CFA (Canadian Field Artillery). Although he had a lieutenant's certificate and had trained cadets in England, Jack was assigned the rank of gunner, the lowest in the artillery. 

Gunner Morris arrived in England in August 1916, and was sent to France in late October. He was taken on strength as a reinforcement to the 2nd Canadian Division, 6th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery on October 27, 1916, the same day that his first child, Helena Vaughn (my mother-in-law), was born back in Kenora. 

The Canadian artillery played a vital role in the outcome of the First World War. Canadian troops used artillery to defend against attack, prepare for assault, destroy trenches, and protect soldiers as they advanced toward enemy trenches. At the outset of the war, artillery was used as a mobile weapon but, as the war progressed and both sides became entrenched, it was increasingly used as a means of bombarding enemy trenches from fixed positions.

Jack was immediately thrown into battle at the Somme, October-November 1916, followed by participation at Arras and Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Artillery was the "key to victory" at Vimy Ridge, claims Canadian historian Tim Cook.  A devastating artillery barrage not only isolated enemy trenches, but provided a moving wall of high explosives and shrapnel to force the Germans to stay in their deep dugouts and away from their machine-guns. 

At his request, Jack was transferred on June 7, 1917 to the 2nd Division Signal Company, which was attached to the 6th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. In this capacity, Jack saw action at Hill 70, August 1917 and Passchendaele (3rd Battle of Ypres), October-November, 1917. 

In January 1918, after 15 months along the Western Front in France and Belgium, Jack fulfilled the one small dream that front-line soldiers allowed themselves: a “Blighty.” “This was the honourable wound,” historian Desmond Morton explains in When your numbers up, “that would release them from the squalor and terror of the trenches to a bed, sheets, regular meals, and the sight of a nursing sister.”

According to a biographical sketch published in Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba ( 1925) Jack was "wounded and gassed, 1918, Arras, invalided to England." However his war record indicates that his injury was a sprained ankle, which occurred when a horse fell on him. The incident was categorized as an “accident” rather than a “casualty,” and it had not been self inflicted.

Whatever the cause, Jack was sent back to England, where he spent the remainder of the war.  In January 1919, he returned to Canada aboard the Empress of Britain to be reunited with his wife, Helena Ritchie, and meet his㺜-month-old daughter for the first time.  He was officially demobilized in Winnipeg on February 18, 1919.

Jack Morris was one of the lucky ones - he survived the war with only minor injuries and lived for another 40 years.  The war's most lasting effects may have been his fondness for tobacco (my husband has strong memories of watching his grandfather roll his weekly supply of cigarettes) and his antithesis to Methodists, probably believing that they had not "done their bit" during the war.  

Jack retained a strong belief in serving your country, and made no objection when his only son, John Alexander Morris (1923-2013), enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy as a teenager during the Second World War.  (John rose to the rank of lieutenant and patrolled the North Atlantic in corvettes.) 

Jack never returned to Europe, but some of his descendants have visited the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France in his honour, most recently great-grandson Rob Myrvold, who was there on April 7, 2017, a few days before the centennial ceremony. 

First World War resources on Toronto Public Library's Digital Archive

Toronto Public Library's Special Collections Centre collects pictures, broadsides and printed ephemera, maps and manuscripts - letters, diaries and other unpublished documents - about the First World War.  Click the preceding links to view items that are available on our Digital Archive.  Some library materials specifically about Vimy were added recently to the Digital Archive for the 100th anniversary. 

Selected items from the Library's collections have been featured in exhibits about the war, notably Doing our bit Canadians and the Great War Four families one war and Leonard L. Youell's war diary. 

The following excerpt from Lieutenant Youell's diary records his observations on April 9, 1917, the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. He was mentioned in despatches and awarded his first Military Cross (MC) for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the battle.

Toronto Public Library provides several helpful online databases for its customers to learn more about their family's contribution to the First World War.  Ancestry Library Edition is a good place to start.  Also useful are Early Canadiana Online, Globe and Mail Newspaper Archive and Toronto Star Historical Newspaper Archive .

Personnel Records of the First World War digitized by Library and Archives Canada is an invaluable source. 

If you would like to share your family records about the experiences of Torontonians in the First World War, contact staff in Toronto Public Library's Special Collections Centre by phone (416-393-7156) or email ([email protected]).

Finally, we encourage you to record your family's connection to the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the comments section below.  

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A defining moment for a young nation

With all four divisions in action, the Vimy Ridge saw men from every part of Canada going into battle at the same time. Canada was a young nation that had heavily relied on immigration.

At the beginning of the Great War, 70 per cent of the men who served in the Canadian Army were born in Britain and would have probably identified themselves as British first.

Vimy Ridge was the beginning of a budding Canadian consciousness.

Until then the Canadian Corps had been used in a piecemeal fashion, division after division, and the reputation of the Canadian soldier had steadily grown. At Vimy that reputation was confirmed.

Vimy Ridge was a dominant position that had had proved incredibly hard to capture. The French had suffered somewhere in the region of a quarter of a million casualties trying to take the position in 1915 while the British had never had a go at it – they’d held the line there simply because it wasn’t on their radar at that point.

The Canadian Corps stormed the ridge, utilising the experience the whole army had developed throughout the previous year and in five days it was captured. It was a great victory for the Canadians, but a victory, as with so many World War One battles, that came at a heavy price – more than 10,000 Canadian casualties.


5 thoughts on &ldquo Battle of Vimy Ridge – April 9 to 12, 1917 &rdquo

Please, when talking about this “defining moment” in Canadian history include the efforts of the 85th Battalion, Nova Scotia Highlanders who took Hill 145 (where the Vimy Memorial now stands) and basically saved the day for the entire Canadian Corps. Why is this Battalion from Nova Scotia always overlooked in accounts of this battle? It, quite frankly, would not have been a success without them.

Reblogged this on Doc Alexander and commented:
The Battle of Vimy Ridge began 96 years ago today at 5:30 a.m. To mark the occasion, Library and Archives Canada has posted a remarkable barrage map on its blog. While difficult to read, this map shows on paper the famed creeping barrage that helped our soldiers achieve the impossible: Take Vimy Ridge. Doc Alexander was not at Vimy. He was in England at the time, recovering from “disordered action of the heart,” better known as shell shock or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). My grandfather served first with a mortar unit and then as a stretcher bearer during the First World War. He enlisted in 1916 at the age of 19. He left no record of what he saw or experienced during the Great War but there is no doubt it was horrific. So on this anniversary, and this goes out to all of the men and women who served from 1914-1919, Lest We Forget.

I hope that on July 1 you will mark the Battle of Beaumont Hamel and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. More on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, including the files relating to the soldiers who served with the regiment during the First World War can be found online at http://www.therooms.ca/regiment.

Interesting blog, thanks for the information.

What is largely disregarded in discussing Canada’s achievement at Vimy, in northern France, is that the Canadian Corps was only one corps in the British First Army. Canadian soldiers had the British 24th Corps to their left, and the British 17th Corps to their right. The battle for The Ridge was Canada’s particular assignment in a much larger overall offensive by three British Armies. The Battle of Arras, fought against the Germans, lasted from 9 April to 16 May 1917, and involved British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and Newfoundland troops.

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