2017 is Canadas’ 150th Birthday. It is also the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge that took place from April 9 – 12, 1917. Canada was just 82 days short of celebrating her 50th anniversary of Confederation when this battle occurred and when it was over Canada came of age and was no longer seen as a former colony.
Thirty-two years after our Confederation we became involved in our first foreign war, the 2nd Boer War (1899-1902). Just 12 years later when the war drums beat again Canada would fight in the “Great War” (WWI) and emerge a nation who could hold her head high and showed the powers that be, we were no longer a colony but a proud free nation. In the waning years of the 19th century and on into the middle of the 20th century Great Britain’s foreign Policy was also Canadas. When the Motherland beat the drums of war Canada responded and for a non-military power that response was overwhelming. In WWI almost 9% (619,000) with a population of just 7.1 million volunteered. WWII 10%. (1,100,000) with a population of 11 million.
For a non-military nation, when the need arises we respond and for some inexplicable reason made excellent warriors. We are so good that in both World Wars we were the Shock Troops of the Commonwealth. When a particular nasty job had to be done it was the Canadians who did it. This was the case at Vimy, Easter 1917. At precisely 05:30 Easter Monday April 9th the barrage began and after months of preparation the Canadian Corp moved out of its’ trenches and tunnels and with sleet blowing in their faces advanced up the ridge. Three days later on 12 April Vimy Ridge was theirs’. They had done “That which no one else could do”.
The Canadians had started making a name for themselves at the 2nd Battle of Ypres in 1915. 2nd Ypres was the first time poison gas was used. The Germans unleashed a large cloud of Chlorine against the Allies lines. The first to get hit with it were French Moroccan troops who broke and ran, for which no one can blame them. The 1st Canadian Division was the next to be hit by the green cloud of death creeping over the battle field. At this juncture the Canadians were fairly new to combat but when the battle ended they had withstood the gas by using urine soaked handkerchiefs as improvised gas masks. Not only did they withstand this chemical attack but they were the first former Colonial troops to beat a European Imperial Army at St. Julien and Kitchener’s Wood, both engagements in the overall battle. This was the first of the battlefield victories that would lead to the Canadian Corps (along with the ANZAC {Australian/New Zealand Army Corps.}) to become the Shock Troops of the British Imperial Army.
Next came the Somme, July 1st through November 18th 1916. This four and half month slug fest ended in the Allies favour but just barely having only advanced their lines 10 kilometres. In this battle the Canadians again proved what outstanding soldiers they were which added to their growing reputation. After the Somme the Canadian Corps was transferred to the Vimy area in north eastern France. Here they would triumph where others had tried and failed. Here in the space of three days they would earn everlasting glory by taking Vimy Ridge but at a terrible price, 3,598 killed and 7,000 wounded.
After the war Brigadier General A.E. Ross declared that “in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation”. We had come of age.
From the Victory of Vimy the Canadians were sent north to the Ypres Salient (Belgium) and in mid-October 1917 they entered the Charnel House called Passchendaele winning yet another victory but at the staggering cost of 15,000 casualties. As the casualties grew so did their reputation. From 2nd Ypres in 1915, where they held against the first gas attack to the last 100 days and in between, the Canadians solidified their reputation as the “Storm Troops” of the Empire at a cost of nearly 61,000 dead. a high price to pay for a Nation with a small population.
So 100 years later in the 17th year of a new century we remember and pay homage to all those young men and women who answered the call and stood in “Harms Way” to preserve our freedoms and way of life. In the scheme of things, we are not a super power nor are we militaristic but when the need arises Canada has always answered the call to arms to defend our freedom and the freedom of others.
On Sunday 9 April of this year thousands will gather both here at home and at the Vimy Memorial in France to honour and remember, above all remember all the sons and daughters of Canada who paid the price in blood for our Freedom.



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