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Canadian soldiers returned victorious from Vimy Ridge (Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada)

If you've been paying attention to the news in recent weeks, you're probably aware that Canadians are getting ready to commemorate the centenary of a battle that, according to many, unified the country by giving it a new sense of a national identity. It was a battle in which, for the first time, four Canadian army divisions (more than 100,000 men) fought side by side as a Canadian Corps, and came out victorious. I am, of course, referring to the Battle of Vimy Ridge. At the time of going to print, thousands of high school kids from across the country (some from our area) have started packing for a trip to Vimy Ridge, part of an effort to ensure that the sacrifices made by our soldiers a century ago are not forgotten by the new generations. So, just in case you haven't been watching the news, here's the Coles Notes version of the Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge began at 5:30 a.m. on Easter Monday, April 9, 1917. After months of intelligence gathering, planning, and rehearsing, a first wave of more than 15,000 Canadian soldiers attacked German defenses, forcing their way through mud, defensive obstacles and deadly machine gun fire. Even the weather was against them. But the extensive preparation and innovative tactics soon gave the Canadians the advantage. Advancing behind a precisely timed "creeping" artillery barrage, Canadian soldiers were able to capture German positions at the critical moment before the enemy could emerge from their bunkers to counter-attack.

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial (Source: Veterans Affairs Canada)

While Canadians suffered heavy casualties, they were successful in reaching and taking their heavily defended objectives on time. Hill 145, the main height on the ridge, was taken by April 10, and the other significant height nicknamed "the Pimple" followed two days later. At that point, the Battle of Vimy Ridge was all but over, leaving the Allies in control of the high ground overlooking enemy positions. Together, the Canadian and British Corps had captured more ground, prisoners and artillery pieces than any previous British offensive of the war. But there was a cost to the battlefield victory. By the end of the battle, Canadians had suffered 10,600 casualties, 3,600 of them killed.

In 1936 the Canadian National Vimy Memorial was unveiled – it took11 years to build - on the highest point of Vimy Ridge, on land granted to Canada for all time by a grateful France. The monument bears the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers listed as “missing, presumed dead” in France during the First World War.

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