A glorious day. We headed north to visit Vimy Ridge the location of the some of the fiercest trench warfare in World War I. It was here in from the 9 to 12 April 1917 that the the Canadian Corps of four divisions, against three divisions of the German Sixth Army took control of the German-held high ground along a 14 km escarpment at the northernmost end of the Arras Offensive – Vimy Ridge or Hill 145. It was a bloody battle as the Canadians had to overcome considerable resistance as the ridge was heavily fortified. The hard-fought victory was swift, but did not come without cost. Out of 10,602 casualties, 3598 Canadians gave their lives.
Historians attribute the success of the Canadian Corps in capturing the ridge to a mixture of technical and tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery support and extensive training, as well as the failure of the German Sixth Army to properly apply the new German defensive doctrine. The battle was also the first occasion when all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force participated in a battle together and it was made a symbol of Canadian national achievement and sacrifice. The Canadians also became the feared opposition in any future battles during the war.
Out of all the monuments we have seen on our various visits to WW1 sites the Canadian Monument at Vimy Ridge was magnificent not only as a memorial but also as a wonderful piece of architecture. This was not just mausoleum blocks of stone this was a sculpture with real meaning and its location was stunning.
The monument was designed by Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Seymour Allward and took 11 years to build. It is built from 6,000 tonnes of limestone brought to the site from an abandoned Roman Quarry on the Adriatic Sea (in present day Croatia). The figures were carved where they now stand from huge blocks of this stone. The most evocative is the sorrowing figure of a woman which represents Canada- a young nation mourning her dead. Carved on the walls are the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and whose final resting place was then unknown. In total 66,000 Canadian soldiers died in World War 1.
From the monument we went across to the museum and looked at the recreated tunnels. The museum itself was under reconstruction but there was a number of information boards about the Canadian involvement in WW1.
As we were close to Arras we decided to have a look around. On the way from Vimy Ridge we found a huge cemetery of German soldiers’ graves. Although during the war the soldiers had been buried where they fell after the war their bodies were reburied in one place. There was over 44,800 graves in this quiet oasis. We always seem to forget the losses on the other side, all were young men who again sacrificed their lives.
Arras was a bit of a nightmare to drive around but we found a parking spot and then walked into the centre. The Grand Place and the nearby Place des Hero’s had an impressive number of ornate baroque houses but the majority could have done with some extensive TLC. A typical shabby French town.
We headed back to base still talking about the magnificent Canadian monument. As always the Canadians had got it right.