The Sarnia Historical Society is offering a commemorative pin for sale to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. This Christmas, the Society’s Editor, Phil Egan, is urging Sarnians to “put a pin in every stocking” to mark the important anniversary.
Fought over four days, from April 9, 1917, Vimy Ridge bears a special significance for all Canadians. Known as the “Battle that Forged a Nation,” it marked Canada’s coming of age on the world stage. The country earned respect on that day, as Canadian soldiers, fighting together for the first time during the war, drove the German Sixth Army off the 7-kilometre ridge that was also known as the Shield of Arras.
Vimy Ridge dominated the landscape of Northern France. It had been captured by the Germans in October of 1914 and turned into what was believed to be an impregnable fortress – with machine gun nests, heavy batteries, barbed wire, trenches and tunnels, and landmines. Several costly and bloody attempts to retake Vimy Ridge during 1915 and 1916 all failed…until the generals sent in the Canadians.
The attack itself came on a day of absolute weather misery. It was Easter Monday. Snow and sleet and bitter cold seemed to ally with the enemy as 97,000 Canadians, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps fighting together for the first time, stormed Vimy Ridge. They advanced with hundreds of thousands of bullets flying among them and through mud that was almost thigh deep. They earned a victory that gave Canadian soldiers a reputation as the elite shock troops of the Allied forces. Canadians fighting together would not be defeated for the remainder of the war.
It was a costly victory…the bloodiest day in Canadian arms. As Sarnia military historians Tom Slater and Randy Evans describe in their brilliant War Remembrance Project, “it was worse than Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916; worse that Dieppe on August 19, 1942; worse than D-Day on June 6, 1944 – in fact, worse than all three combined.”
More than 7,000 men were wounded, and 3,600 would lose their lives, including four young men who called this city home: Frederick Johnson, David Kerr, Roy Lumley and David Montgomery. One eyewitness would later say: “Wounded men sprawled everywhere in the slime, in the shell holes, in the mine craters, some screaming to the skies, some lying silently, some begging for help, some struggling to keep from drowning in blood-filled craters.”
Today, we remember Vimy Ridge as the most bittersweet of events. The battle signifies both the glory of Canadian achievement and the tragedy of heroic sacrifice. It is pride married to grief. It reflects honour fraught with unspeakable sorrow.
The victory at Vimy Ridge was the pinnacle of Canadian military achievement. It was the first major Allied victory of the war on the Western Front, in which the Canadians captured more ground, more prisoners and more guns than any previous operation, all of which had been done against the heaviest of odds.
In 1922, France ceded forever to Canada part of Vimy Ridge and 100 surrounding hectares for the majestic monument that stands there today. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial sits atop Hill 145, the highest point on the ridge.
Unveiled in 1936, the strikingly beautiful Vimy Memorial features twin limestone pylons soaring 30 metres above the memorial’s platform. One tower bears the maple leaf, the other the fleur-de-lis, symbolizing Canada and France bound together in tragic sacrifice. At the base of the monument is the figure of a saddened young woman. She represents Canada Bereft – the young nation, mourning her dead.
In all, there are names of 28 young men from Sarnia inscribed on the Memorial’s ramparts – men who died for Canada fighting in France.
Like a child finally reaching manhood, Canada came of age with the Battle of Vimy Ridge. It is the reason why this battle is so significant in the pantheon of our celebrated past. It is why the memory of Vimy Ridge, and what Canada accomplished on that hallowed ground needs to be kept alive by all Canadians.
In 2006, the Vimy Foundation, a Canadian charity with directors across Canada, was founded to preserve and promote our country’s First World War legacy, symbolized by the Canadian storming of Vimy Ridge that helped bring this horrible war to an end.
Incorporating the twin towers of the memorial within an elongated maple leaf, the Vimy Pin also bears four colour bars, representing the four divisions of the Canadian Corps that fought together over those glorious four days.
The Vimy Foundation and the local historical society are asking Sarnians to mark this critical Canadian anniversary during our country’s 150th birthday year in 2017, and to wear the pin every April thereafter.
Known as “April’s Poppy,” the Vimy Pin is available for $6, or two for $10, at The Book Keeper at Northgate or at Poppies Gift Shop at Bluewater Health. This Christmas, let’s remember our Canadian war heroes by putting a pin in every stocking, and proudly wearing the Vimy Pin until April 9, 2017. It is our way of showing that these valiant men are not forgotten.
Recalling the words of the poem, at the going down of the sun, and in the morning, let us remember them.