Vimy Ridge - The Birth of a Nation
It has been more than 100 years since Canada won the World War I battle of Vimy Ridge. Many historians mark that event as a turning point in Canada's history. It is the point where Canada's identity as a nation began to stand apart from the British Empire.
Vimy Ridge was held by the German army for approximately two and one-half years and withstood many unsuccessful attacks by the French, and later British armies. The Canadians relieved the British soldiers in October 1916 and attacked the ridge in April 1917. It was the first action in which all four divisions of the Canadian Corp fought together in a coordinated attack.
The main battle assault lasted four days and left 3,598 Canadian dead with an additional 7,004 wounded. Four members of the Canadian Corp received the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration awarded to British and Commonwealth forces for valour, for their actions during the battle. It is impossible to visit the site without feeling great admiration, respect and gratefulness for the sacrifices made. You feel extremely proud to be Canadian and yet saddened by a deeper appreciation of the tragic senselessness of the whole affair.
The site today is remarkably peaceful given its inauspicious past. The crown of the ridge is capped with the Canadian War Memorial. It is a truly beautiful structure.
The names of 11,285 Canadians killed during the war with no known grave are inscribed around the monument's base.
The monument features marble carved statues that are impressive in scale and quality of workmanship. Canada Bereft (below) is one of the most recognizable.
Preserved trenches lie at the base of the ridge. It is easy to get a sense of scale of the battlefield. The distance between the trenches and the crest of the ridge is about 1000 metres. There are also remnants of some of the many tunnels that were dug during the campaign.
Adjacent to the trenches lies a cemetery and forest that has overgrown the battlefield. The undulating ground beneath the trees retains the impression of bomb craters and unpreserved trenches that covered the landscape a century ago.