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Wartime Heritage ASSOCIATION
Remembering Vimy Ridge
Vimy Ridge, 8 km north east of Arras was occupied by the German Army in October, 1914. The ridge rises gradually on its western side, and drops more quickly on the eastern side and provides a clear view for tens of kilometres in all directions. During the following years the area was heavily fortified by the German Army. The French Army had attempted, but failed, to dislodge the Germans in May, 1915 and again in September,1915. The French 1st Moroccan Division managed to briefly capture the height of the ridge but was unable to hold it because of a lack of reinforcements. The French suffered some 150,000 casualties in their attempts to gain control of Vimy Ridge and the surrounding territory. The British replaced the French in February, 1916. In May of that same year, the German Army attempted to push the British from their positions; however little changed during the attacks and counter attacks. The Canadians relieved the British stationed along the western slopes of Vimy Ridge in October, 1916. An artillery bombardment against the German lines began on March 20, 1917 in preparation for a Canadian advance upon the Ridge. On April 9, during a driving snowstorm, four Canadian divisions stormed the ridge at 5:30 am. More than 15,000 Canadian troops overran the Germans defences all along the front. Canadians single-handedly charged machine-gun positions or forced the surrender of Germans in the trenches. By mid-afternoon, the Canadians had taken most of their objectives. Only on the left side of the ridge, at Hill 145, the highest point and a plateau known as the Pimple, where the 4th Canadian Division faced the heaviest German defences, were the Canadians held up. It took three more days of fighting before the Canadians were able to gain control of the entire ridge, Hill 145 being eventually captured in a frontal bayonet charge against the machine-gun positions of the German Army.
Battle of Vimy Ridge: Naval guns in action Credit: Library and Archives Canada/PA-001212
Canadians occupying old German third line trenches, Battle of Vimy Ridge; - Credit: W. I. Castle / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-001101
The battlefield as viewed from Vimy Ridge.  May 1917 Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence - W.W.I./Library and Archives Canada/PA-001809
Canadian Cemetery near Vimy, 1917. Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada Battle of Vimy Ridge (with connection to Yarmouth Co., Nova Scotia, Canada) Killed in Action April 9, 1917 d'Entremont, William R. 112th Battalion/25th Battalion Kehoe, Donald Canadian Machine Gun Corps (6th Machine Gun Company) (killed in action) Stingel, Charles E. 3rd Battalion (killed in action) Welsh, J. Clarence 219th Battalion/42nd Battalion Wheaton, Jack Merritt 85th Battalion (killed in action) April 10, 1917 Giles, James Henry 13th Battalion (killed in action) April 11, 1917 Spates, Vernell 42nd Battalion (wounded April 9, 1917) Other Casualties from the larger Battle of Arras (Early April to May 16, 1916) in the Vimy Ridge area. April 4, 1917 Hersey, Frank 8th Canadian Siege Battery, Canadian Garrison Artillery (killed in action) Moses, George Melbourne 85th Battalion April 18, 1917 Williams, J. Lewis Canadian Machine Gun Corps (6th Machine Gun Company) (killed in action) April 28, 1917 Kinney, Frank F. 25th Battalion Goodwin, Robert L. 25th Battalion (killed in action) April 29, 1917 Goodwin, Merton H. 25th Battalion (killed in action) Murree, Gordon S. 25th Battalion ((killed in action) Hemeon, Carl 112th Battalion/25th Battalion (killed in action) Lewis, Eugene M. 64th Battalion/25th Battalion (killed in action) Long, T. Harold 112th Battalion/25th Battalion Muise, John Alfred (Listed in Official Records as Muese, Alfred Joseph) 25th Battalion Soldiers were often listed initially as “missing in action” and later as bodies were found and identified were listed as “killed in action”. Among the Wounded at Vimy Private George Charles Baker (w. April 27) Private Harry Blades (w. April 9) Charles Augustus Crosby (w. April 21) Major Harvey Edwin Crowell (w. April 11) Sergeant Herbert Lorraine Cunningham (w. April 13) Corporal Joseph Bunker Jeffery (w. April 12) Private James Cornelius Uhlman (w. April 9) Private John Wallace (w. April 10, 1917)
Stretcher bearers and German prisoners bringing in wounded at Vimy Ridge, during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. [between April 9-14 1917] Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA- 001021
Canadians searching captured German trenches for hiding Germans at Vimy Ridge, during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Credit: W.I. Castle / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-001129
Light railway siding during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Credit: W.I. Castle/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001049
Canadian soldiers returning from Vimy Ridge May 1917 Credit: W.I. Castle / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-001332
The Vimy Memorial Credit: Wartime Heritage private collection
Vimy Ridge marked the first time all four Canadian Infantry Divisions worked together as one formation. Sadly, Yarmouth’s own are represented in the casualties from April 9,1917, in all four of the four Divisions: Charles E Stingel 3rd Battalion - 1st Canadian Infantry Division William Rudolf d'Entremont 112th Battalion - 2nd Canadian Infantry Division Clarence J Welsh 42nd Battalion - 3rd Canadian Infantry Division Jack Merritt Wheaton 85th Battalion - 4th Canadian Infantry Division “As the guns spoke, over the bags they went — men of CB, sons of NS & NB, FCs (French-Canadians) & westerners — all Canucks.” Writings of Percy Willmot, Cape Bretoner, 25th Battalion
From the Yarmouth Light Newspaper Thursday, June 7, 1917  MAJOR DURKEE  His Battery the First to Gain  the Heights After a Battle  Lasting 510 Minutes  Just as optimistic as ever Major A. A. Durkee of Yarmouth, writes from a crater-hole on Vimy Ridge, and shows in a measure what terrific artillery can and did do. The letter is addressed to his brother George D. R. Durkee of Swampscott, Mass., and is as follows.  April 11, 1917  My Dear Brother, - I suppose since you are now among the Allies that most anything may be written, provided it doesn’t tell the Hun what we propose to do next.  There is no danger of my telling that because I don’t know, except in a general way, that we are going to give him the worst hiding he has ever had.  In place of “are going to give,” you may read “are giving” as we have begun already. Some months ago while at the Somme, we were still boring into him slowly, painfully, but severely.  It was evident to everyone who studied the progress of events and the geography of the line that the Hun would have to straighten out and go back a distance, and it was not at all difficult to tell where some of the changes in the line must take place.  It was certain to hinge on Vimy Ridge. The army commander, in looking over the situation, naturally concluded that the taking of Vimy Ridge would very greatly embarrass his enemy.  The next question was, who could take the Ridge? From Niuport, on the coast, to the Somme River, there are two particularly strong positions held by the Germans.  One is the Messines Ridge, between Armentieres and Ypres, and the one is (or was) the Vimy Ridge, between Arras and Lens. The latter is some ten miles in length and it is about two miles from the foot of the hill to the top.  The highest point of the hill is 147 metres, but the crest is fairly uniform.  Once the crest is reached the hill drops away very abruptly to a fairly level plain, extending for miles to the east and north. The Ridge was of vital importance to the Germans and they spared no effort to make it impregnable, and as it stretched away up before one it certainly looked a tough  proposition. The army commander disposed of the case very easily.  He ordered that “the Canadian corps will take Vimy Ridge.” We have done it and I am writing this from a very comfortable Hun dugout at the top of the Ridge. My observing officers are looking over miles of this country and shooting up moving targets as they scurry about. Preparation for the battle began in December and were finished on April 8.  The battle began at 5:30 a.m. and 510 minutes afterwards the battle was over.  Never since the war began has there been such a surprising and complete victory for British arms.  Looking at it from the standpoint of a soldier, it was a beautiful fight. Everything went exactly as planned.  Our casualties were not one quarter as great as we expected, and out most sanguine hopes were fully realized, while misgivings did not materialize. I cannot disclose the number of guns we employed further than to say that it ran into the thousands with calibre ranging from field guns to 15-inch.  Nor can I tell you the amount of ammunition we expended further than that it ran into the millions of rounds. It was an artillery battle and we won.  For nearly a month previous to the day of the attack we systematically pounded him night and day.  Shells meant nothing to us.  They might have cost a cent apiece and been made like tacks or pins for all the thought there was of economy.  We had to take that Ridge, and shells were cheaper than men, so the shells kept crowding into our gun position and we kept crowding them into the Hun. The crews worked in shifts, and when a gun showed signs of wear they gave us a new one and we carried on. When 5:30 a. m. April 9 came around this mass of fire wheeled into line in front of our men and we kept a solid wall of flame and lead and iron in front of them for every second of the attack. ‘Twas a bad day for the Boche.  We captured about 30 guns and 3500 prisoners. After one has strained his eyes for days and days trying to fathom the enemy’s country and find out his goings and comings, what is behind his crests and in his hollows, it is great to actually go over and roam around and see the things that you only suspected. After putting thousands of pounds into some strong point it is a satisfaction to go over and see what a mess you made of it. As a matter of fact there was a bigger mess than we expected. The special sections of his defences that we went after very hard were more messed up than anything I ever saw in the Somme; and there were moments when we wished we hadn’t been quite so thorough, as we had the very greatest difficulty in getting our guns forward.  Great shell craters 15 feet deep touched each other and there was no place to even start to make a trail.  Then the ground had been so tossed about that there was no bottom, and when we did finally get a very crooked and narrow path winding through this chaos the horses sank to their bellies and the guns persisted in going out of sight. However, after 12 hours of sweating and pulling and digging, my battery succeeded in advancing 3500 yards and got into action, covering our new front, and with ammunition enough to carry on. In the middle of our efforts to get ahead there came a blinding snow storm leaving several inches of snow on top of the mud, which didn’t help matters a bit.  However, we persisted and a 4:00 a. m. the next morning dropped down where we were, including a good many of the horses. We felt very pleased with ourselves as we beat every other battery by at least 1000 yards and no one else got up to us for 48 hours. So ended the battle of Vimy Ridge.  The enemy attempted to counter attack but we caught his battalions massing and cut them into ribbons with the 60 pounders and 6 inch. The spirit of our men is beyond telling.  They work and fight the whole day round and without urging or ordering.  They are simply splendid. Just one incident from a thousand in closing.  I took an officer and went forward to reconnoitre a position for the battery.  Near a place I chose there was a black hole going down into the ground that gave promise of being a home for the time being, so we took a flash lamp and began investigating.  After going down about 30 steps we came to a small room with a couple of beds, in one of which was a Hun, apparently past his troubles.  Going along a narrow passage we found more Huns both able to take notice.  About this time we began to finger our automatics, but they gave the password “Mercy” and everything passed off smoothly.  Going back to Hun No. 1 we gave him a poke and found he was “playing possum,” so we bundled him in with the others and rented his room, and that is where I live now. We kept our souvenirs for several days, fed them well and got quite friendly, but their room being more valuable than their company we sent them down to the cage. Well, here’s to the next show and the next and so on and finally victory and home. Your loving brother,  			THE MAJOR 3,598 Canadians were killed and another 7,000 wounded between April 9th and April 12th, 1917.  The Battle of Vimy Ridge would become a symbol of Canada's coming-of-age as a nation.   The Vimy Memorial completed in 1936 now stands on the site of the battle.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada
Photo: Wartime Heritage Association (2009)