Friday, April 06, 2007

Vimy Ridge

Part of the Battle of Arras.

Attacking together for the first time, the four Canadian divisions stormed the ridge at 5:30am on 9 April 1917. More than 15,000 Canadian infantry overran the Germans all along the front. Incredible bravery and discipline allowed the infantry to continue moving forward under heavy fire, even when their officers were killed. There were countless acts of sacrifice, as Canadians single-handedly charged machine-gun nests or forced the surrender of Germans in protective dugouts. Hill 145, the highest and most important feature of the Ridge, and where the Vimy monument now stands, was captured in a frontal bayonet charge against machine-gun positions. Three more days of costly battle delivered final victory. The Canadian operation was an important success, even if the larger British and French offensive, of which it had been a part, had failed. But it was victory at a heavy cost: 3,598 Canadians were killed and another 7,000 wounded.

This was victory?

Well, it is the 90th anniversary coming up. The last Canadian soldier who fought at Vimy died at a nursing home only a few years ago. All his life every night he woke up screaming. For the last ten years, he re-lived the experience every day as well...he never left the trenches for those last years.

Bloody Hell

When you scrape away the topsoil around the monument, you find the chalk and clay stained with thousands of streaks of rust, all side by side, and vertical into the earth, not even a fingers width between them. They are the rusted remnants of splinters from shells. Permanently staining the earth for miles up and down the Douai Ridge.

Makes me sick.

The picture is of Hitler touring the battle memorial site during world war two. He never touched war memorials, probably because he was wounded in the battle of Arras years before. He had a lot of respect for those men.

There will be a Vimy vigil downtown this weekend...all the lights, including street lights will be turned off, and the names of the fallen will be projected on the buildings around the war memorial. I will be there, and likely I will weep, as I usually do in such situations. In about four weeks, I will be at Hill 45 myself on Vimy Ridge. All the people will be gone, and maybe the grass will be recovering by then. Perhaps we will find the battles that Brenda's grandfather took part in....he was wounded before the "big push".

May they rest in peace.


Jennifer said...

Good post. I would weep, too.

Ovonia Red said...

Wow... the last soldier... I imagine he was just a kid when he was at Vimy Ridge. The experience turned him into an adult and then he was never really able to escape from it--a person would have to be completely heartless to NOT cry...


Frustrated Writer said...

Battlefields intrigue me too. When you realize how quickly and terribly people die during some of those campaigns it is numbing. When you toss in the amount of lives ruined from the horrors they experienced it becomes even more sad. Good post.