The Battle of Vimy Ridge - Fast Facts
- The assault on Vimy Ridge, the northern part of the wider battle of Arras, began at 5:30 am on Easter Monday, April 9, 1917.
- It was the first occasion on which all four divisions of the Canadian Corps attacked as a composite formation.
- The Canadian achievement in capturing Vimy Ridge owed its success to a range of technical and tactical innovations, very powerful artillery preparation, sound and meticulous planning and thorough preparation.
- At Vimy, the Canadian Corps and the British XVII Corps on their immediate southern flank had captured more ground, more prisoners and more guns than any previous British Expeditionary Force offensive.
- Vimy Ridge was a particularly important tactical feature. Its capture by the Canadians was essential to the advances by the British Third Army to the south and of exceptional importance to checking the German attacks in the area in 1918.
- The Canadians had demonstrated they were one of the outstanding formations on the Western Front and masters of offensive warfare.
- Four Victoria Crosses (VC) were awarded for bravery. Of these, three were earned on the opening day of the battle:
- Private William Milne of the 16th Battalion.
- Lance-Sergeant Ellis Sifton of the 18th Battalion.
- Private John Pattison of the 50th Battalion (April 10).
- Captain Thain MacDowell of the 38th Battalion. MacDowell had also earned the Distinguished Service Order on the Somme. Of the four Vimy VCs, only Captain MacDowell survived the War.
- The Canadian success at Vimy demonstrated that no position was invulnerable to a meticulously planned and conducted assault. This success had a profound effect on Allied planning.
- Though the victory at Vimy came swiftly, it did not come without cost. There were 3,598 dead out of 10,602 Canadian casualties.
- After Vimy, the Canadian Corps went from one success to another, to be crowned by their achievements in the 1918 "advance to victory". This record won for Canada a separate signature on the Versailles Peace Treaty ending the War.
Canadian National Vimy Memorial - Fast Facts
- The Memorial on Vimy Ridge does more than mark the site of the great Canadian victory of the First World War. It stands as a tribute to all who served their country in battle and risked or gave their lives in that four-year struggle.
- In 1922, use of the land, for the battlefield park which contains the Canadian National Vimy Memorial was granted for all time by the French nation to the people of Canada.
- The Memorial was designed by Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Seymour Allward. He once told friends the form of the design came to him in a dream.
- The Canadian National Vimy Memorial stands on Hill 145, overlooking the Canadian battlefield of 1917, at one of the points of the fiercest fighting.
- It took eleven years and $1.5 million to build and was unveiled on July 26, 1936 by King Edward VIII, in the presence of President Albert Lebrun of France and 50,000 or more Canadian and French veterans and their families.
- Inscribed on the ramparts of the Memorial are the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were posted "missing, presumed dead" in France.
- The grounds are still honeycombed with wartime tunnels, closed off for public safety. A portion of the Grange Subway, originally 1,230 metres long, still exists to be viewed. Roughly 250 metres of this underground communication tunnel and some of its chambers and connecting dugouts have been preserved. Canadian interpretive guides provide tours of this subterranean feature.
- In recent times, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial has come to symbolize Canada's long commitment to peace in the world, as well as its stand against aggression, and for liberty and the rule of international law.
- On April 10, 1997, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial was designated as a Canadian National Historic Site by then Minister of Canadian Heritage, Sheila Copps.
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By Natalie Stechyson
The Battle of Vimy Ridge marked “the birth of a nation” for Canada, says Governor-General David Johnston.
Johnston and a Canadian delegation of politicians and 5,000 students gathered at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France Monday afternoon to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the surprising and striking victory for Canada’s military.
The brutal Easter Monday battle killed more than 3,500 Canadians and wounded scores more, according to Veterans Affairs Canada, but was a turning point for the Allies in the First World War and a key moment in Canada’s military identity.
“In many ways it was the birth of a nation. It was the first time Canadians fought together shoulder to shoulder,” Johnston told Postmedia News Monday from Vimy, France. “Not as a subordinate unit in the British army, but on our own.”
The Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge, the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Corps worked together as one formation, also gave Canadians a heavy hitter reputation for breaking through the centre of the seemingly impenetrable German defence.
The attack began at daybreak on April 9, 1917, with the four divisions sweeping the ridge in the face of snow and sleet. They were in command of the crest of the ridge by that afternoon, and the whole of the ridge within four days.
The battle changed the way the war was fought, Johnston said, including the use of technology, and in uniting the Air Force, the Artillery and the Infantry to work together with creeping barrages so that the soldiers followed immediately after the artillery and took the Germans by surprise.
And all soldiers, including the privates, were given the battle plan, Johnston said.
“They fully understood what they were to do. They learned one another’s jobs and they learned the jobs the next rank or two up so that when the officers were lost in battle, others could move up,” Johnston said.
The Governor General began his commemorative tour Sunday in France, with a ceremony at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial. The memorial — a bronzed caribou, the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment —commemorates all Newfoundlanders who fought in the First World War.
Later in the day he travelled to Ypres, Belgium, for a ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial, before travelling back to France.
Johnston had a chance to spend time at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial Sunday, walking through the trenches and admiring the white towers that rise high into the sky, clearly visible across the plains.
“I leave that statute with a great sense of how important it is that we learn the lesson of the war, which is to strive even more earnestly for peace,” Johnston said.
“It’s important for us to remember the lives lost here, and the reasons for which the lives were lost, and that is so our rule of law, our thin veneer of civilization can be strengthened and polished and, we hope, extended around the world.”
John Babcock, Canada’s last living First World War veteran, died in 2010.
Without a living memory of the war, remembering becomes even more important, Johnston said.
“We now depend upon the next generation of Canadians to relive it,” Johnston said.