9 April 2016

Today is the 99th anniversary of the Battle for Vimy Ridge

In the early morning hours of Easter Monday, 1917, the men of the Canadian Expeditionary Force huddled low in the trenches, waiting for zero hour. For the first time, the four divisions of the CEF had been brought together into a single unit, the Canadian Corps. For months they had trained for this day. The seconds ticked by slowly until, suddenly, with a thundering crash, their guns roared into life. The ground before them exploded high into the air, screening them from the view of the Germans. They rose from their trenches and began their advance, just as they had been training for months to do.. The attack on Vimy ridge had begun.

The Canadians were not the first to attack the ridge. The French and British had repeatedly tried to take the ridge from the Germans earlier in the war. Together they suffered 150,000 casualties in their failed attempts. Now the Canadians would try and take the Ridge.

The men of the Canadian Corps had come from across Canada. French and English, Native and White, Catholic and Protestant had volunteered. Men who would have had nothing to do with each other back home served side by side, fought together, relaxed together, and even died together. The old divisions were gone. They had no place in this brotherhood.

The attack on Vimy had been carefully planned down to the minute. The commanders of the British army had thought the Corps commanders were insane, but did not interfere with the plans. They never expected the attack to work in the first place. It is not commonly known, but Vimy was a diversion. The main attack was to be in the south, where a new French General had come up with a plan that was supposed to end the war in two weeks.

The Canadians marched forward on schedule. Into heavy fire they advanced, each unit taking their objectives, mopping up, holding position while another unit leapfrogged over them, and continued the advance. By the end of the day, nearly all objectives had been secured, and the Canadians had made the largest single day advance since the beginning of trench warfare. The diversion was a success. The rest of the offensive failed miserably.

The Canadians took great pride in their success. They had captured an objective no other army could take. For the rest of the war the Canadians became the preferred shock troops of the British Army. According to legend, the Germans even came up with a new word to describe the Canadians: Stormtroopers.

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