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Going over the top at Vimy Ridge

The Story

For Canadians, Vimy Ridge is now a place of legend, the site of this country's defining military victory. But in 1917, the French battlefield was a seemingly impregnable fortress, a killing field of tunnels and trenches constantly watched by Germans occupying the high ground. But after weeks of preparation, and the biggest artillery bombardment in history to that point, the Canadians succeed where the British and French failed: they take Vimy Ridge. In this clip from CBC Radio's remarkable series Flanders' Fields, veterans of Vimy Ridge describe the moment when they finally left the trenches, storming across craters, trenches and barbed wire, and into history.

Medium: Radio
Program: Flanders' Fields
Broadcast Date: Jan. 10, 1965
Guests: Raymond Brutinel, F.F. Worthington
Host: J. Frank Willis
Duration: 6:37
Photo: W.I. Castle / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-001101

Did You know?

• Vimy Ridge was one of the first battles in the larger Battle of Arras. The German-held ridge was heavily fortified with tunnels, artillery, machine gun nests, barbed wire and three rows of trenches. The British and French had failed to capture it despite thousands of casualties since 1915.

• In 1917, the Canadian Corps and the British 5th Infantry Division were assigned the almost impossible task of capturing the ridge. Each soldier was trained for weeks. The ridge was bombarded by more than a million shells, knocking out most of the German artillery. On April 9, 1917, the Canadians began advancing behind a moving wall of shells known as a "creeping barrage."

• By the end of the day, the Canadians had captured the hill and controlled the entire area by April 12. But the cost was high: 3,598 soldiers were killed and 7,104 were injured.
• According to the Return to Vimy website, when a French soldier heard the ridge had been captured he exclaimed, "C'est impossible!" After learning the Canadian forces had accomplished it, he replied "Ah! les canadiens! C'est possible!"

• Vimy Ridge became a symbol of Canada's coming of age as a nation. At the end of the war, France gave Canada the Vimy Ridge grounds on which to build a memorial to Canada's fallen soldiers. At the 1936 unveiling ceremony, King Edward VIII spoke of Canada's great loss and tremendous contribution in the war, and called the memorial a consecration of love.
• You can listen to the ceremony in the CBC Archives clip Vimy Ridge Memorial Unveiled.

• The memorial was designed by Canadian sculptor and architect Walter Allward. His proposal was selected from over 160 other submissions in a cross-country competition.
• Inscribed on a series of long walls are the names of 11,285 Canadians who were killed in France, their resting places unknown. Sitting on the walls are two stone pylons and 20 giant statues. The pylons represent Canada and France and the statues represent truth, knowledge, gallantry and sympathy.

• The following words are inscribed at the base of the memorial in both English and French:

To the valour of their
Countrymen in the Great War
And in memory of their sixty
Thousand dead this monument
Is raised by the people of Canada

• This is an excerpt from a program which can be heard in its entirety here.


The First World War: Canada Remembers more