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Some quick facts about the First World War’s infamous Battle of Vimy Ridge

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Apr 7th, 2017

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War. Some facts about the battle:

The site: Vimy Ridge is a low escarpment in northern France, rising about 150 metres above the countryside. While an unremarkable height normally, it was a military strongpoint, dominating the surrounding lowlands.

The fortress: By 1917, the Germany army had turned the ridge into a fortress studded with concrete pillboxes, deep dugouts and bunkers, festooned with thickets of barbed wire and covered by hundreds of machine guns and artillery pieces. Earlier British and French attacks on the stronghold had failed to budge the defenders and cost about 190,000 casualties.

The Canadians: The Canadian Corps was made up of four divisions under the command of British Lt.-Gen. Sir Julian Byng, known to his colleagues as “Bungo.” They were assigned to take Vimy Ridge as part of a broader offensive. Byng abandoned the idea of a general rush against the enemy. Smaller groups of men were trained to move in short dashes, covered by light machine-guns and showers of grenades. They were taught to go around strongpoints to attack them from the rear or the sides. He also stressed artillery preparation and had engineers excavate tunnels through which soldiers could get close to the front line while being protected from artillery fire. He used a young McGill University engineer, Lt.-Col. Andy McNaughton, to improve methods of pinpointing enemy artillery by triangulating gun flashes and sounds.

The battle: A week before the scheduled attack, hundreds of Canadian and British artillery pieces began firing on the ridge. They pounded it with a million shells, killing men, smashing guns, caving in trenches and bunkers and cutting off supplies in what the defenders called “the week of suffering.” Early on Easter Monday, April 9, the Canadians emerged from their trenches and tunnels. With a stiff wind at their backs blowing snow and sleet into the faces of the Germans, they swept onto the crest and captured the whole ridge except for a rise at one end, known as The Pimple, which fell April 12. The attack was seen as a triumph and a Paris newspaper called it “Canada’s Easter gift to France.” About 40,000 men took part in the actual attack and one in four was killed or wounded (About 3,600 killed, 7,000 wounded).

The monument: In 1922, the French government ceded a tract of land around the ridge to Canada. Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Seymour Allward was commissioned to design and build the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. It took 11 years to finish. The two pylons which tower above the ridgeline and the 20 sculpted allegorical figures are made from almost 6,000 tonnes of limestone. The single largest figure, known as Canada Bereft, is a young women, head bowed, mourning her dead. She was shaped from a single, 30-tonne block. The monument bears the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and whose final resting place was then unknown.

The inscription: At the base of the memorial, in English and French is an inscription: “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 dedication: In July 1936, the memorial was dedicated by King Edward VIII before a crowd of more than 100,000 people, including 6,000 Canadian veterans.


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