At 5:30 a.m. on April 9, 1917, nearly 100,000 Canadian soldiers stormed from their trenches, dugouts and tunnels, racing up the hilly Vimy Ridge to conquer a German enemy position. A position thought to be unattainable not only by the Germans, but also by Canadian allies.
Earlier in the First World War, in the fall of 1916, the German Military captured Vimy Ridge and heavily fortified it. Behind the Vimy Ridge lines, lay complex tunnel and trench pathways, which were manned by highly trained German machine gunners and artillerymen. Previous to the arrival of the Canadian soldiers, the allied forces had sustained hundreds of thousands of casualties from their attempts to take back Vimy.
The seven-kilometer Vimy Ridge, is located in northern France and is approximately 175 kilometers north of Paris. It was important for the allies to reclaim Vimy Ridge from the Germans because the ridge was a key position for the German line in Northern France and taking it back would destabilize the German stronghold on the entire region.
Throughout the week prior to the battle, the Canadian and British artillery methodically pounded the enemy position, to not only weaken the German lines, but also to not give any hints on when the planned battle would take place. Canadians dug trenches and tunnels and stocked up on artillery rounds. They also laid large explosives, which would later be detonated when the attack would take place. The Canadian troops conducted this arduous task in absolutely miserable conditions. They suffered in the cold wind, snow, and sloppy mud to achieve their collective goal, to reclaim Vimy. The soldiers knew that taking back Vimy would let them come home, victoriously.
The Canadian ground troops were well supported with over a thousand artillery guns providing supportive fire. But it is also important to note that in order to attain victory at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, approximately 3,500 Canadians paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives for their great nation, and nearly seven thousand were wounded in the battle. This battle was successful not only because of the brave and determined Canadian soldiers, but also due to the aid provided by British artillery and the 51st Highland Division, a British Territorial Force division.
The annual Vimy Week, organized by the Vimy Foundation, will be held on April 7-11, 2014. In 2006, the Vimy Foundation was stood-up, with the mandate to preserve and promote the legacy of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. During Vimy Week there will be an event called Vimy: Canada’s Coming of Age. It is a weeklong interactive initiative at Encounters with Canada, which is taking place in Ottawa. At this event, students will come from all over Canada to learn about Canada’s role in the First World War and the legacy that came from the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The Students will visit the Canadian War Museum and partake in a Vimy Ridge commemorative ceremony. From this group of students, two outstanding youth participating in the Coming of Age event will be selected to receive the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize.
The Beaverbrook Vimy Prize brings together students from all across Canada, the United Kingdom, and France to learn about their linked past in history, particularly the First World War. The Beaverbrook Vimy Prize is a competition based on essays and interviews. Students range from 15-17 years of age and must have at least a 70% average in their school studies, with proven leadership skills. The selected students meet in Europe and get to participate in education-based seminars, and museum events. They will also be given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the majestic Vimy War Memorial. Applications are available through the Vimy Foundation website
In addition to the Coming of Age event in Ottawa this year, an event called the Vimy Pilgrimage Award, is taking place from April 5th to the 12th 2014, to visit Vimy Ridge. Students will be selected based on their exceptional community service, positive contributions, notable deeds, bravery and leadership. The program consists of classroom education and daily field trips to momentous First World War sites and memorials.
Did you know that nearly all Canadians carry Vimy in their wallets? Another fun and exciting event that the Vimy Foundation is spearheading is The Vimy 20 Facebook Initiative. For this, Canadians are being asked to take a photo of themselves holding the new $20 bill, which features the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. Once the 1,917th submission is entered in the contest, a random winner will be chosen to join the Vimy Foundation in Vimy, France, for the 100th anniversary in 2017.
By Liala Halawa
**This article was originally posted in our Spring 2014 issue**
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