CBC Digital Archives

Van Doos: 22nd Battalion decimated at Arras

CBC Digital Archives has put together a collection of radio and TV clips featuring all who have performed the viceregal role since 1952: Vincent Massey (1952-59), Georges Vanier (1959-67), Roland Michener (1967-64), Jules Léger (1974-79), Ed Schreyer (1979-84), Jeanne Sauvé (1984-90), Ray Hnatyshyn (1990-95), Roméo LeBlanc (1995-99), Adrienne Clarkson (1999 to 2005), Michaëlle Jean (2005-10) and David Johnston, our newest governor general.

With costly victories at Vimy Ridge, Passchedaele and Amiens, the men of the 22nd Battalion have gone from green recruits to veteran soldiers. But now they are asked to spearhead an assault eastward from Arras, through a maze of German trenches and fortifications. When Maj. Georges Vanier arrives, he finds his men scattered in shell holes under a murderous rain of bullets and shells.

Vanier rallies the men, but is wounded by a German bullet, then nearly killed by an exploding shell. In this CBC Radio clip, Vanier tells CBC Radio how he led the 22nd Battalion out of their trenches, "over the top," and into hell on earth.
• Georges Vanier was not scheduled to command during the Arras assault, but was called up when the 22nd's commander lost an eye. He became the unit's senior officer when all his superiors were wounded or killed.

• Vanier lead the remnants of the 22nd forward, placing himself at the centre of the attack. He was shot through the lung by a German bullet. As he was being carried off on a stretcher, a shell exploded beside him, killing the stretcher-bearer and shattering Vanier's leg. The leg was later amputated.
• By the end of the battle, only 40 men of the 22nd Battalion were left walking – 660 were dead or wounded.

• Vanier won the Military Cross in 1916. In 1919, he won the Distinguished Service Order and a bar to his Military Cross for his actions in 1918.

• In 1942, Vanier was promoted to the rank of major general.

• Like many of the soldiers of the 22nd Battalion, Georges Vanier was a very religious man. He was deeply offended by the profanity of the soldiers. He is said to have walked through the trenches asking his men, "What has Christ done to you for you to speak so?"
• Almost 6,000 men enlisted with the 22nd Battalion during the First World War. Almost half of those were wounded, and 992 were killed.

• On Aug. 1, 1959, Vanier became the second Canadian-born governor general (after Vincent Massey) and the first French Canadian one. He served as governor general until his death on March 5, 1967. He was only the second governor general to die in office since Confederation.
• Vanier and his wife are buried in a special tomb at La Citadelle, the headquarters of the Royal 22nd Regiment and official Quebec residence of the governor general.
Medium: Radio
Program: Flanders' Fields
Broadcast Date: Feb. 14, 1965
Guest(s): Georges P. Vanier
Host: J. Frank Willis
Duration: 7:05

Last updated: September 12, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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