From: CTV News
Thousands of Canadians are gathering at the site of the Battle of Vimy Ridge today, to mark 95 years since the fight in northern France that some say was a turning point in forging Canada’s identity as an independent nation.
Gov. Gen. David Johnston is being joined by 5,000 young Canadians Monday, for ceremonies at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, which overlooks the Douai Plain from the highest point of Vimy Ridge.
They are there to remember the four divisions of the Canadian Corps that launched their assault on this day in 1917, aiming to capture the ridge that French and British forces had already fought the two years prior to capture at a cost of some 100,000 lives.
By the fourth day of their fight, the Canadians had lost 3,600 men, but had seized control of the entire ridge.
“In many ways it was the birth of a nation,” Johnston said in an interview from Vimy, France, noting it was the first time Canadians had fought together as a group.
No one had expected the Canadians to snatch victory there, Johnston told CTV’s Canada AM, suggesting the key was their groundbreaking application of science and technology.
The so-called creeping barrage, for instance, saw artillery fire closely co-ordinated with infantry movements, while flash spotting and sound recording was used to target the German guns.
The Canadian forces had also been rigorously trained, Johnston added, noting the unique “democratization” of their ranks as another key factor.
“Every soldier, including the privates, had the battleplan in advance,” Johnston said, explaining that meant they were better able to adapt as the fight took its toll.
When the dust settled, Canada’s enviable and longstanding image as a nation of heavy-hitters had been set.
While reflecting on the military accomplishments of those terrible days, Johnston said he’s also been struck by a sense of awe and humility as the memorial events serve as reminders of the horrors of war.
Since 2010, when Canada’s last First World War veteran John Babcock died at the age of 109, this country has not had a living connection with “the war to end all wars.” That is why young people are important participants in commemorations such as today’s events on Vimy Ridge, Johnston said.
“It’s wonderful to see history relived through their eyes,” he said. “It is these young people who will carry on our understanding of it and will help us learn from our history so we don’t repeat the errors of the past.”
Johnston, a former law professor, university administrator and unrepentant history buff, is also touring various other battlefields during his French trip, including Beaumont Hamel where the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was all but destroyed in 1916, and Ypres, the medieval Belgian city that was a keystone of the Allied lines in the First World War.
Mitchell Cook, a student from Alberta who travelled to the Beaumont-Hamel memorial on Sunday, said he got “a really eerie sense of just what (the soldiers) had to go through.”
On the mistaken assumption an artillery barrage had wiped out the German resistance, the Newfoundlanders suffered a casualty rate of 86 per cent when they were ordered to advance that day — the highest of any regiment in the battle.
“It’s hard to understand,” Cook told CTV News.
Various Vimy Ridge commemoration ceremonies are being across Canada on Monday too, including an overnight vigil at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.