EF’s National History Advisor, Dave Robinson, is back with his monthly update of all things Vimy. Get to know more as we explore a new monthly theme and meet more group leaders!
Welcome to our last issue of – “Postcards From the Edge”. In just over 31 days, many of you will be on your way to Vimy 100! February has been great as I and other members of team V100 and our sales teams have been meeting with many of you at your Pre-departure meetings. And of course – March means even more! And of course the Vimy Team is also busy with on-going meetings with all our V100 partners as well, as preparations enter their final stages. We all look forward to seeing you at Vimy 100.
Vimy Ridge Remembered
As each of your groups are doing this month, exactly one hundred years ago, the four Canadian Divisions were making their final preparations for Vimy Ridge. In the past one hundred years, much has been written, analyzed and debated by militarists and historians, and will continue to be for the next hundred.
THE BATTLE OF VIMY RIDGE
It was at Vimy Ridge, a strategic 14-kilometre long escarpment that overlooks the Douai plain of France. German occupying troops controlled the ridge using a network of trenches that snaked along the crest and down into the valley, connecting with another network of natural caves. 150,000 French and British soldiers had died trying to take it back. Allied commanders believed the ridge to be impregnable. But the Canadians had a plan, the first battle strategy for this new nation’s commanders to conceive and execute on their own. Other Allied military “experts” of the time admitted that the Canadians’ plan could not be any worse than the British tactics at the Somme, which had cost 24,000 Canadian casualties. So the Canadian army, all four divisions, totalling 100,000 men, attacked.
The fight to take Vimy Ridge cost Canada dearly, but for many it would become the cornerstone of our nation’s image of its place in the world. In four days, 3,600 Canadian soldiers died, another 5,000 were wounded. But the ridge was taken, much of it in the first day. The valour of our troops, the originality of their plan, the success where larger, more established armies had failed, all contributed to a new nation’s pride.
Some Battle of Vimy Ridge points to remember:
- 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.
- 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. 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.
THE CANADIAN VIMY RIDGE MEMORIAL
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial bears the names of the 11,285 Canadian First World War servicemen with no known resting place in France. The following words are inscribed on the base of the monument: “To the valour of their countrymen in the Great War and in memory of their sixty thousand dead this monument is raised by the people of Canada.” The vimy Memorial is adorned with 20 allegorical figures. Among them is a group known as “The Chorus.” They represent the virtues of Peace, Justice, Hope, Charity, Faith, Honour, Truth and Knowledge. Reaching upward with a torch, Peace is the highest figure on the monument. Designed by Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Seymour Allward, the monument features two pylons that stand 30 metres high. With a maple leaf carved in one and a fleur-de-lis in the other, the pylons represent the sacrifices of people from Canada and France.
Some Vimy Memorial background 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.
- Architect Walter Seymour Allward 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.
- Work began in 2003 on the restoration of the Vimy memorial. Time and nature had not been kind. A budget of $20 million was set aside for its restoration.
- Queen Elizabeth II, escorted by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, rededicated the restored memorial on 9 April 2007 in a ceremony commemorating the 90th anniversary of the battle. Other senior Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and senior French representatives, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin among them, attended the event, along with thousands of Canadian students, veterans of the Second World War and of more recent conflicts, and descendants of those who fought at Vimy. The crowd attending the rededication ceremony was the largest crowd on the site since the 1936 dedication
- The present $20 banknote was replaced on November 7, 2012 by a polymer-based note featuring Queen Elizabeth II on the face and the Vimy Ridge memorial on the back.
Featured Vimy Regiments
Check out these links to learn about these three storied Canadian regiments that fought at the battle of Vimy Ridge: Ontario Regiment; The Black Watch; Essex & Kent Scottish. From these three sites you will be able to connect with the Regiments’ home web pages.
Featured Vimy Group Leader
Melissa M., London, ON
I am taking a group of awesome students from Banting Secondary School in London from all grades 9-12. I have travelled with EF Tours on the Vimy 95 Tour and I also had a blast on the EF teacher training tour to Barcelona. I am an avid backpacker so I have been to over 30 countries, lived in Japan and France, cycled across Canada and I am always planning my next adventure.
There are many reasons to go to Vimy for this commemoration, but as a History teacher and a proud Canadian, I want my students to experience the incredible sensation of being with thousands of others united together for the same cause: to honour the sacrifices made by our brave soldiers. To stand where they stood 100 years before us is a visceral once in a lifetime experience. I think it’s important for young people to visit Vimy to make History come alive. It is one thing to read about an event but it is something entirely different to stand in the place where it happened.
Make sure to follow us on our adventures here!
Featured Heroes of Vimy
This month, the Commander of the Canadian corps: Field Marshal Julian Hedworth George Byng, 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy. Here are two links that tell his story:
This month, we would like to feature the background and links to one of our V100 partners that we are most excited to be working with: Vimy Ridge. Foundation. EF Canada is a major partner with the Vimy Foundation as one of its major sponsors of the new Vimy Education Centre.
UPCOMING V100 EVENTS:
- March 20 2017; the Vimy Foundation Centennial Celebration dinner Arcadian Court, 401 Bay Street Toronto
- April 1 2017 100th Anniversary inner , by Vimy Branch 145, Royal Canadian Legion, London Convention Centre
- April 9: Dedication of new Vimy Ridge Education Centre, Vimy Ridge , france
- April 9 : Vimy Ridge 100th Anniversary National Ceremony, Vimy Ridge, France
If you have an upcoming V100 event please pass it along so that we can enter it in our calendar of events to share with everyone. And afterwards please send pictures and media coverage.
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