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Canada Remembers Times - 2012 Edition - Page 1

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Canadians Take Vimy Ridge

A tank advancing with infantry at Vimy Ridge.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-004388

In 1917, Canadians took part in a First World War battle that even today is a national point of pride. The scene was Vimy Ridge—a long, heavily defended hill along the Western Front in northern France near Arras. The British and French had tried unsuccessfully to capture it earlier in the war. On April 9, 1917, it was Canada's turn.

Early that morning, after months of planning and training, the first group of 20,000 Canadians attacked. Through the snow and sleet, Allied artillery laid down a “creeping barrage”—an advancing line of precise shell fire. Soldiers followed closely behind the explosions and overran the enemy before many of them could leave their underground bunkers. Most of the ridge was captured by noon that day, and the final part was taken by April 12. Canada had done it but victory came at a cost— approximately 11,000 of our men were killed or wounded.

It has been said that Canada “came of age” as a country that day. For the first time the four Canadian divisions, uniting more than 100,000 Canadians from coast to coast, served side by side and achieved one of the greatest victories in our country's history.

Mud and Death at Passchendaele

Canadian Pioneers laying duckboards over mud.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-002156

In the fall of 1917, Canadian troops in Belgium fought in the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as the Battle of Passchendaele.

The autumn rains came early that year to Flanders Fields. The fighting churned the flat terrain into a sea of muddy clay. Trenches filled with cold water and collapsed. Shell holes overflowed with muck. Men, equipment and horses that slipped off the duckboards (wooden walkways in trenches and on paths) were sucked into the swampy mess—often never to be seen again.

The Canadians took over from the battered British forces who had been fighting there since July. On October 26, the Canadians began to advance on the enemy through often waist-deep mud. They were pounded by German artillery and machine-gun fire. It was a nightmare of dirt and death. Finally, on November 10, 1917, Passchendaele was captured. Once again the Canadians had proved their valour, by succeeding where others had not.

What was the cost to capture those few kilometers of land and the ruined remnants of the town? There were almost 16,000 Canadian casualties.

Standing Up for Freedom in Libya

A CF-18 Hornet fighter takes off from an Italian
air base during the NATO air campaign.
Photo: DND IS2011-6002-055

Canadian Forces members have put their lives on the line in many places around the world over the years. In 2011, they found themselves facing a new challenge—helping to protect the people of Libya from the repressive regime that had ruled their country for decades.

After a popular uprising in this North African country was met with violence by Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the United Nations (UN) authorized an arms embargo and a no-fly zone to help protect its civilians. The Canadian Forces stepped up immediately, first to help evacuate Canadians and other foreigners who were trapped by the fighting, and then as part of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led air and sea campaign to enforce the UN resolutions.

Our air force patrolled the skies, refuelled NATO warplanes and bombed pro-Gadhafi forces that were threatening civilians. Our navy cruised the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast, protecting the NATO fleet, boarding vessels to search for smuggled weapons and helping to stop coastal raids on the city of Misrata. It was dangerous duty—HMCS Charlottetown came under enemy fire during the mission, the first time that has happened to a Canadian warship since the Korean War.

In the end, the Gadhafi regime was toppled and a new era has begun in Libya. At the mission's peak, approximately 650 Canadian Forces members served in the theatre of operations. Fortunately, no Canadian lives were lost.

National Peacekeepers' Day

Canadian Peacekeeping Monument.
Photo: DND IS2002-9012C

Canada is unique in many ways. An example of this can be found on Sussex Drive in Ottawa. Lots of countries have war monuments but Reconciliation—Canada's salute to peacekeepers—is the only national memorial in the world dedicated to peace support efforts. This awareness of the importance of preventing wars, not just fighting them, is also behind another original Canadian creation—National Peacekeepers' Day.

On August 9, Canadians stop to honour those who have served and made sacrifices in our country's peace support efforts over the years. This date was selected as it was on this day in 1974 that a Canadian Forces transport plane was shot down in the Middle East, killing nine Canadian peacekeepers—our country's largest single-day loss of life in a peace support operation.

The Dieppe Raid

Aftermath of the Dieppe Raid.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-014160

The year 1942 was a grim time during the Second World War. Germany occupied much of Western Europe and its armies were advancing in North Africa and the Soviet Union. The Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, pushed for the opening of another front to help relieve the pressure on his battered forces. The Allies did not yet have the resources to invade Europe, but they did decide to launch a major raid on Dieppe, France. There they would try out amphibious landing techniques, gather intelligence and hopefully force the Germans to divert troops away from the Eastern Front.

Almost 5,000 Canadians came ashore at Dieppe, Puys and Pourville in the early morning of August 19, 1942. The German defences were strong, however, and things quickly went wrong.

John Grogan of Ontario was there….

“We knew what we were supposed to do all right. We were to get to land and get over the beach as quickly as we could and get up over the sea wall. But on landing, I guess the first thing I recall is that . . . the beach was lined with people all lying there . . . I just couldn't understand what they were all lying there for. But they were dead . . . and the ones that I had waved good-bye to that morning . . . all of these people . . . all dead in such a short space of time.”

More than 900 Canadians were killed and almost 2,000 more were captured. The hard lessons learned at Dieppe helped save many lives when the Allies came ashore on D-Day two years later.

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