During World War 1, on April 9, 1917, for the first time Canadian soldiers made history to storm Vimy Ridge. This offensive by Canadian troops against key German positions that commanded the surrounding countryside took place on Easter Monday. The ridge had been held by Germans since the beginning of the war in July, 1914, and British and French attempts to retake it had cost 200,000 casualties.
The four divisions of the Canadian Corps consisting 35000 troops stood and fought as a national unit instead of being parcelled out to support and reinforce British divisions: 3,600 were killed and 7,000 wounded, but the result was a clear victory. As British historian John Keegan writes in The First World War, “The success of the Canadians was sensational. In a single bound the awful bare, broken slopes of Vimy Ridge, on which the French had bled to death in thousands in 1915, was taken, the summit gained and, down the precipitous eastern reverse slope, the whole Douai plain, crammed with German artillery and reserve, laid open to the victor’s gaze.”
Vimy came exactly 50 years after Confederation. But until then, Canadians always fought as British. This time they went in as Canadians. “For the first time, Canadians from coast to coast stood shoulder to shoulder commanded by Canadian officers in every rank save the highest. “For the Canadian troops who fought at Vimy, it was one of those rare moments of truth – for the first time they recognized who they were. They went up the ridge regional and came down nationals.” Its effects on Canadian nationalism can be attested by the thousands of Canadians who fought the bitter battle and in those bleak days understood for the first time the concept of Canadian nationhood as opposed to British colonialism.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a horrific fight, yet proud moment that helped solidify our nation, identity and independence. We remember them today, and in honouring the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 2017, commemorative events will be held at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France and the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
To honour the sacrifices made by Canada, France granted Canada 107 hectares of land at Vimy to build and maintain a memorial. Designed by Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Seymour Allward, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial stands on Hill 145, overlooking the Canadian battlefield of 1917, at one of the points of the fiercest fighting. The twin towers represent the partnership between Canada and France. Twenty carved human figures adorn the monument, evoking themes of peace, mourning, care, and sacrifice. It took 11 years and $1.5 million to build and was unveiled on July 26, 1936 by King Edward VIII, in the presence of President Albert Lebrun of France and 50,000 or more Canadian and French Veterans and their families. In his address, the King noted, ‘It is a memorial to no man, but a memorial for a nation. That iconic site is today considered one of the most stirring of all First World War monuments, and certainly Canada’s most important war memorial.
The Government of Canada will lead a delegation to France to participate in the commemorative ceremony and other events including the opening of a new Visitor Education Centre. In Ottawa, an official delegation will participate in commemorative programming between April 6 and 9, 2017. Delegations include Veterans, stakeholders, special guests, caregivers and youth.
Canada Post unveiled the designs for its 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge stamps, a joint issue with France’s La Poste, March 22 at the French Embassy in Ottawa. The stamps are being issued April 8. The designs of the stamps and souvenir sheets in this issue feature the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.
The Vimy experience provided a pattern for future successes. The Canadians had rehearsed tirelessly before the battle. The motto for Canadian success was “thorough”.
The Vimy victory shaped a Canadian way of making war. Other nations might celebrate flamboyant valour or dogged sacrifice; Canadians built on the conviction that only thorough preparation could spell success.
The message of Vimy Ridge is one of bravery and sacrifice. The battle, which took place on April 9, 1917, is commonly highlighted as a turning point in Canadian history. The Vimy Foundation is working to spread the word to Canada’s youth — through initiatives like the Vimy Prize and the Vimy Pin — so that all Canadians understand the importance of Vimy to the nation’s identity.
IT WAS A COSTLY VICTORY
Though Vimy continues to have a power and a resonance, yet the history of this war is an endless, mind-boggling and profoundly disheartening series of massive assaults World War1 ignited revolutions, brought down 4 monarchies, and culminated in major political and territorial changes that cast shadows to this day. Ten million soldier and nearly 7 million civilians across the world died by bullet, fire, hunger or disease. Also, it was not just people who died. The old world order was also irreparably damaged.
Despite all this, many still believe that participating in this massacre brought about “the birth of our nation.” Indeed, what was born in April 1917 was simply a modern Canadian nationalism as an ideology.
It was not at all a ‘Great War.’ It had clearly a defined character of a bourgeois, imperialist and dynastic war. Indeed, it was capitalism’s drive for profit, exploitation, raw materials and markets – of course a great imperialist slaughter.1
Make sure we do not forget Legacies of this war.
[POST SCRIPT1: In the period up to 1914, Britain was the dominant global power with a vast empire covering 25% of the earth’s surface. Most of the countries it ruled had been colonised. The empire was a source of raw materials and markets. However, Britain’s economic growth was slowing. It was a declining power. France, the other major European power at the time, had an empire mainly centered in Africa and the Far East. Although substantial, its empire was only about one fifth the size of Britain’s, and its industrialisation lagged far behind.
Germany, only created in 1871, had colonies only about one third the size of those of France. While Britain was producing six million tons of steel, Germany produced twelve million. However, it was in desperate need of more colonies to supply it with raw materials and much larger markets – the logic of capitalist economic development. The problem was how to secure them.
This struggle for markets lay at the root of the great conflagration which was to erupt in 1914. The development of the productive forces – industry, science and technique – had outgrown the limitations imposed by the nation state. It drove the imperial powers to conquer and exploit new colonies in the hunt for raw materials and new markets. This had already brought Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal and Germany into conflict in the so-called ‘scramble for Africa’ during the 19th century. Eventually, this competitive struggle brought the main imperial powers into horrific conflict, as each tried to secure bigger markets or to defend those threatened by emerging powers.
If new markets cannot be found, capitalism is driven to a destruction of value in order to begin the productive process anew. The price was to be paid by the working classes of all countries in this power struggle.
The bloodbath that erupted between1914-18 has possibly evoked the most comment and analysis. According to one estimate, at least 25,000 books have been published on the subject. It was the first truly global conflict. However, they failed with weakened states, renewed European nationalism and the German feeling of humiliation contributing to the rise of fascism. And just after 21 years, the world witnessed another Great War from 1939 to 1945, thereby changing the name of this Great War into First World War in the history.
Even today, the First World War continues to influence the political landscape of Europe. If we want to understand today, we need to know and remember what happened yesterday. ]