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Vimy Ridge

A Canadian Reassessment

Geoffrey Hayes

Publication Year: 2007

On the morning of April 9, 1917, troops of the Canadian Corps under General Julian Byng attacked the formidable German defences of Vimy Ridge. Since then, generations of Canadians have shared a deep emotional attachment to the battle, inspired partly by the spectacular memorial on the battlefield. Although the event is considered central in Canadian military history, most people know very little about what happened during that memorable Easter in northern France.

Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment draws on the work of a new generation of scholars who explore the battle from three perspectives. The first assesses the Canadian Corps within the wider context of the Western Front in 1917. The second explores Canadian leadership, training, and preparations and details the story of each of the four Canadian divisions. The final section concentrates on the commemoration of Vimy Ridge, both for contemporaries and later generations of Canadians.

This long-overdue collection, based on original research, replaces mythology with new perspectives, new details, and a new understanding of the men who fought and died for the remarkable achievement that was the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Co-published with the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. vi-vii

Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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Foreword

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pp. xi-xii

The battle for Vimy Ridge in April 1917 marked the first occasion during the Great War when all four divisions of the Canadian Corps launched a simultaneous attack upon one front. This is only one of many assertions that have been made about the battle. It has also been said again...

Acknowledgements

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Introduction

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pp. 1-11

On the morning of Monday, 9 April 1917, troops of the Canadian Corps under General Sir Julian Byng attacked the formidable German defences along Vimy Ridge. The resulting victory was a remarkable achievement, though it came at a cost of 10,602 Canadian casualties, one of the...

Part I: The Strategic Background

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1. Vimy Ridge and the Battle of Arras: A British Perspective

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pp. 15-29

In early twenty-first century Britain, most of the battles of 1914-18 are forgotten by all but specialist military historians. Vimy Ridge is an exception. In part this reflects the fact that the name, like the Somme or Passchendaele, remains in the British folk memory. ...

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2. The End of the Beginning: The Canadian Corps in 1917

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pp. 31-49

If the First World War had ended with a negotiated peace in 1916 or the winter of 1917, the reputation of the Canadian Corps would have been mixed at best. Historians would have pondered the “what ifs?,” characterizing the Corps as an overly politicized formation that never fully...

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3. Vimy Ridge: The Battlefield before the Canadians, 1914-1916

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pp. 51-61

The battles fought in the Vimy sector of the Western Front by the French and Germans in 1914 and 1915, then by the British and Germans in 1916, contributed significantly to the Canadian Corps’ successful assault. Two long years of ferocious attacks and counterattacks, supported by...

Part II: The Battle for Vimy Ridge, 9-12 April 1917

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4. "Old Wine in New Bottles": A Comparison of British and Canadian Preparations for the Battle of Arras

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pp. 65-85

By 1917, every army commander understood that careful preparations were required if there was to be any hope of a successful offensive on the Western Front. Since the autumn of 1914, generals on both sides had been exasperated by tactical deadlock. With two undulating lines of...

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5. Julian Byng and Leadership in the Canadian Corps

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pp. 87-104

Twenty-nine years after the great Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge in April 1917, William Ironside, a British regular who had served as a senior divisional staff officer in the Canadian Corps, attributed its success to the fact that it was not in the Canadian nature to get bored and “so they were...

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6. The Gunners at Vimy: "We are Hammering Fritz to Pieces"

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pp. 105-124

The Great War has often been called the gunner’s war. “The artillery conquers and the infantry occupies,” was how one French general dismissed the infantry.1 Glib remarks like that are always too simplistic, but there was no doubt about the importance of artillery in shattering...

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7. The Sappers of Vimy: Specialized Support for the Assault of 9 April 1917

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pp. 125-138

William Withrow was not a stereotypical warrior and his death was not what one would have expected of a soldier on the Western Front. On 4 May 1917, less than a month after the capture of Vimy Ridge, he was watching a baseball game when he collapsed and died; an autopsy...

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8. The Canadian Army Medical Corps at Vimy Ridge [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 139-154

A total of 3,598 men of the Canadian Corps died during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, while another 7,004 were wounded.1 The Vimy battlefield thus posed one of the most daunting medical challenges in Canadian military history. This chapter argues that the very features that made the...

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9. The 1st Canadian Division: An Operational Mosaic

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pp. 155-169

In May 1935 the official Canadian Army historian, Colonel A.F. Duguid, delivered a paper on Canada’s operational record in the Great War to the Canadian Historical Association. Duguid explained to his audience that Vimy Ridge was important not because it was the “hardest fought” battle...

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10. The 2nd Canadian Division: A "Most Spectacular Battle"

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pp. 171-191

For the 2nd Canadian Division, as for the rest of the Canadian Corps, the battle for Vimy Ridge set the standard for offensive set-piece operations for the remainder of 1917, if not the rest of the war. Hard lessons in tactics, training and organization learned throughout 1916, especially...

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11. The 3rd Canadian Division: Forgotten Victory

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pp. 193-210

Several hundred metres south of the Grange tunnel in the Vimy Ridge memorial park stands a white stone cross. Marked on the roadway by a humble signpost and hidden by the years, it is a silent and nearly forgotten testament to the men of 3rd Canadian Division who fought nearby. ...

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12. The 4th Canadian Division: "Trenches Should Never be Saved"

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pp. 211-224

At 0530 hours on 9 April 1917, Canadian soldiers stormed out of their assembly trenches to assault Vimy Ridge. This was it. After months of difficult and meticulous calculation and preparation, the soldiers of the 4th Canadian Division surged forward to execute their well-rehearsed...

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13. The German Army at Vimy Ridge

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pp. 225-237

Assessing military effectiveness and conceptual change in an army often begins at its defeat. However, Canadian military historians have suggested that the victory at Vimy Ridge was the catalyst for adaptive tactical and operational maneuvre that one historian has called “not glamorous but effective.”2 ...

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14. In the Shadow of Vimy Ridge: The Canadian Corps in April and May 1917 [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 239-262

The 9th of April is marked officially in Canada as Vimy Ridge Day, a celebration of the achievements and sacrifices made by the Canadian Corps in 1917. This victory was an impressive accomplishment for a young nation, but it did not mark the defeat of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Imperial Germany. ...

Part III: Aftermath and Memory

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15. Battle Verse: Poetry and Nationalism after Vimy Ridge

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pp. 265-277

As dusk fell on 9 April, the battalions of the Canadian Corps were consolidating their gains along the Brown line. They had achieved almost all of the first day’s objectives—most of Vimy Ridge was firmly in their hands. The news from the battlefield reached Canada by wire...

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16. "After the Agony in Stony Places": The Meaning and Significance of the Vimy Monument

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pp. 279-290

One day in 1921, while seated in a Toronto park, the sculptor Walter Allward pulled out an old envelope and started to draw. On one side he sketched a pylon and on the other side a second. He then folded the envelope and joined the two pylons with a line across their bases. ...

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17. Safeguarding Sanctity: Canada and the Vimy Memorial during the Second World War [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 291-311

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the Vimy Memorial was barely three years old, but it had already emerged as a powerful site of national memory for Canadians. With its sheer size, powerfully emotive statuary and dominating location atop Vimy Ridge, the memorial also...

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18. Afterthoughts

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pp. 313-317

Let us return to the three questions we asked at the outset as we consider, ninety years on, the broader significance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Why were the Canadians fighting north of Arras in the spring of 1917? The simple answer is that the Canadian Corps was then part of the First British Army. ...

Appendix 1: Order of Battle – Vimy Ridge

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pp. 319-330

Appendix 2: Lest We Forget: The Men of Vimy Ridge

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pp. 331-334

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 335-337

Contributors

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pp. 338-340

Index

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pp. 341-353


E-ISBN-13: 9781554580958
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889205086

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Monument commémoratif du Canada à Vimy (Pas-de-Calais, France).
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Campaigns -- France.
  • Canada. Canadian Army -- History -- World War, 1914-1918.
  • Canada. -- Canadian Army. -- Canadian Corps -- History.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Canada.
  • Vimy Ridge, Battle of, France, 1917.
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