A century after Canadian troops launched their assault on the now famous Vimy Ridge, historians and politicians still debate the strategic value of the operation in the context of the Great War, and its significance within Canada's history. But for the thousands of Canadian soldiers who laid their young lives on the battlefield that fateful day, April 9, 1917, the debate is academic. All that can be done now is ensure that their sacrifice is remembered and their memory honoured. With that in mind, today the Coldwater Legion lowered its flags to commemorate the battle of Vimy Ridge, and to honour a local soldier killed in action a century ago. Today, we remember Private Andrew Durnford of Coldwater.
Andrew William Durnford was born on April 2, 1897, the son of Janet (Chalmer) and William Durnford of Tay Township, just outside the village of Coldwater. He had four brothers and two sisters. Along with several friends, he enlisted in Coldwater with the 157th Overseas Battalion (The Simcoe Foresters), Canadian Expeditionary Force, on February 12, 1916. He was 18 years old and single. On his Attestation Form he is described as 5 feet 8 inches tall, with brown eyes and black hair. He identified his religion as Methodist, and his trade as labourer, with no previous military experience.
Private Andrew Durnford, regimental number 644007, sailed to England on the S.S. Cameronia, arriving on October 28, 1916. Within a month he joined his front line unit in France, the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion (Western Ontario Regiment), on November 29. The unit was part of the 1st Canadian Division under the command of General Arthur Currie. In the months that followed, Private Durnford trained and prepared for a battle that would take center stage in Canadian culture.
Private Durnford was killed in action on the very first day of the Canadian troops' assault on Vimy Ridge, April 9, 1917. That fateful morning his battalion advanced on the front line, on the right flank of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade, preceded by a creeping barrage of friendly artillery. At 12:35 p.m. on the 9th, a message from the unit's adjutant stated: "We have captured all our objectives and are consolidating BLUE. Our casualties are not very heavy. We have taken at least 50 prisoners and captured 2 machine guns." Sadly, Private Durnford would not celebrate his unit's success that night.
An official telegram would have reached his parents to deliver the tragic news. Four years later, they would have received the awards their son was entitled to: the 1914-1918 British War Medal; the Inter Allied Victory Medal; a Memorial Plaque (a bronze medallion often referred to as "Dead Man's Penny"); and an official scroll from King George V. His mother, Janet, would also have received a "Mother's Cross".
Private Andrew Durnford is buried at the Vimy Memorial, Pas de Calais, France, about 8 km northeast of Arras. He is commemorated on page 232 of the First World War Book of Remembrance. , located inside the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower in Ottawa.
We will remember him.