Canada Remembers Times - 2017 Edition - Page 1

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Victory at Vimy

Canadian soldiers advancing at Vimy Ridge.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-001086

Canada’s great victory at Vimy Ridge during the First World War was perhaps the most iconic battle in our country’s long and proud military history. After months of careful preparation and training, on April 9, 1917, all four Canadian divisions went into action together for the first time to take the heavily defended hill in northern France.

The first wave of more than 15,000 Canadian troops surged up Vimy Ridge in the face of heavy fire. The Allied artillery successfully employed a creeping barrage—an advancing line of carefully timed and precisely aimed shell fire which forced the Germans to take cover. The Canadians followed behind as closely as they dared and when the barrage lifted to the next line of targets, our soldiers overran and captured the enemy positions before the dazed German defenders could react.

It was hard fighting but most of the ridge was captured by noon that day, with the remainder being taken into Canadian hands by April 12. Our soldiers had won a remarkable victory but this success came at a great cost. Some 3,600 Canadians lost their lives and more than 7,000 were wounded. Many have said that the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which saw Canadians from coast to coast to coast come together to triumph, was a pivotal chapter in Canada’s development into a strong and independent country.

The spring of 2017 saw several major commemorative events held both in France and in communities across Canada to mark the 100th anniversary of this enduring point of Canadian pride. How did your school or community mark this milestone?

On the beaches of Dieppe

“Dieppe Raid” painting by war artist Charles Comfort.
Image: CWM 19710261-2183 © Canadian War Museum

Today the French port of Dieppe is a beautiful seaside resort town but in 1942 its cobblestone beaches saw a very different scene during the Second World War.

Almost 5,000 Canadian soldiers took part in the Dieppe Raid on August 19, 1942. These daring landings at Dieppe, Puys and Pourville on the shores of occupied France were undertaken for several reasons. The Allies wanted to test enemy defences, gather intelligence on German technology and secret military codes, as well as practise coastal landing techniques for future operations. They also were hoping to take some pressure off the Soviet allies who were locked in a massive struggle with the Germans on the Eastern Front.

Sadly, things did not go as planned and the strong German defences took a dreadful toll on the attacking Canadians. Some 916 of our servicemen were killed in the ill-fated raid and almost 2,000 more were taken prisoner. It was the bloodiest single day of the entire war for Canada.

Jack Poolton of Ontario was there…

“So I staggered up the beach and all I could see was dead men and pieces of bodies scattered everywhere and we landed right in front of… a belt-fed [German] machine gun that never stopped firing...”

Special ceremonies were held in Canada and overseas in August 2017 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. The people of France remember what our brave soldiers did to help their country regain its freedom, and so do we.

A brutal battlefield

A destroyed Allied tank on the muddy Passchendaele battlefield.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-002195

Canadian soldiers saw action in many tough struggles during the First World War but few were as harsh as the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as the Battle of Passchendaele. This Allied offensive was launched by British, Australian and New Zealander forces in Belgium at the end of July 1917. As the fighting dragged on, heavy rains soon turned the battlefield into a sea of deep muck. Canadians were moved to this front in the autumn and on October 26, our soldiers launched their first in a series of attacks to drive the Germans back.

It was a nightmare—the Canadians were forced to advance across a desolate landscape of mud in the face of heavy German machine gun and artillery fire. There was little cover from the hail of bullets and shrapnel as the men scrambled past countless shell holes that were filled with cold, filthy water and— all too often—the remains of fallen soldiers.

Slowly but surely, the Canadians were able to capture new ground. On November 6, the ruined village of Passchendaele itself was captured and by November 10 the remainder of Passchendaele Ridge was in Allied hands. The battle finally ground to a halt, with our soldiers having succeeded in the face of almost unimaginable hardships. This impressive victory had only come at a terrible cost, with almost 16,000 Canadian soldiers killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The fall of 2017 marks the centennial of this significant battle—how will you remember?

Fighting at Hill 70

Canadian troops in a captured German trench on Hill 70 in August 1917.
Photo: Imperial War Museum CO 1782

One of the most impressive Canadian victories during the First World War came at the Battle of Hill 70 in France during the summer of 1917. The Allied high command tasked our soldiers with capturing the coal mining town of Lens and Lieutenant-General Arthur Currie, recently appointed as commander of the Canadian Corps, came up with a clever plan.

On August 15, 1917—after extensive planning, training and diversionary actions elsewhere—the Canadians launched a surprise attack on the slopes of nearby Hill 70. Knowing that the Germans would not want to allow the strategically-important hill to remain in Allied hands, Currie had ordered the Canadians to immediately set up strong defences to cut down the inevitable enemy counterattacks. The plan worked as the shocked Germans would unleash a total of 21 assaults in the days that followed and suffered huge casualties in the face of 250 Canadian machine guns and punishing artillery fire.

It was then the Canadians’ turn to again go on the offensive as they turned their attention to Lens itself. On August 21 and 23, the Canadians clawed their way forward, capturing portions of the blasted town and suffering heavy casualties of their own before the battle finally ground to a halt on August 25. Despite not having achieved all of its objectives, the Battle of Hill 70 had been a remarkable success. The victory came at a high price, however, with some 9,200 of our soldiers being killed or wounded. A hundred years later, Canada still remembers the courage and sacrifice of those who fought there.

Did you know?

The town of Léger’s Corner in southeastern New Brunswick changed its name to Dieppe in 1946 to honour those who gave their lives in the ill-fated Dieppe Raid during the Second World War.

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