On 31 July 1917 the 3rd battle Ypres commenced, it is also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, and 102 days later on 10 November 1917 it ended with the Canadian Corps capturing Passchendaele ridge and town. The cost to all British Forces was 275,000 killed, wounded, captured, or missing which includes 15,654 Canadian casualties. The Germans sustained 220,000 casualties. Passchendaele is synonymous with the frightful conditions and waste of lives which was the 1st World War.
After the Victory at Vimy Ridge the 4 Canadian Divisions were pulled from the line for rest and refit and to fill the loses in the ranks. This was merely a short respite as more tough fighting lay ahead. After Vimy would come Hill 70, Passchendaele, and finally the 100 Days. The reputation that the Canucks had built was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it built a great “esprit de corps” and enhanced Canadas’ reputation amongst the allies and on the worlds stage. A curse because now when the Imperial General Staff had a particularly hard objective to overcome the job fell to the Canadians.
This is also the 100th anniversary of The Battle of Hill 70 which took place in August 1917. This battle is often overlooked because of the Vimy Victory. Again the Imperial High Command call on the Canadian Corps to crack this hard nut with the hope of drawing German Troops from the Passchendaele offensive. The Canadian Corps took Hill 70 sustaining 9,000 casualties. The Germans lost an estimated 25,000 casualties. Although Hill 70 was taken the probing attacks against the town of Lens were unsuccessful and by the 25th of August the Canadian attack petered out leaving the Canadians holding the western part of the town. Soon the Canadian Corps would be ordered to move north to Passchendaele.
In mid-October 1917 the Canadian Corps was ordered north to relieve the ANZACs (Australian/New Zealand Corps) at Passchendaele. If Passchendaele itself wasn’t Hell it was surely the foyer. The Ypres Salient was very familiar to the Canadians as it was here on April 22 1915 that they were exposed to the first use of poison gas deployed by the Germans. Here their reputation started and here in October of 1917 it would again be strengthened. Just 7 months before at Vimy it was confirmed and from October 1917 until the end of the Great War it would become enshrined in the History of this first World War. For 3 years the area around Passchendaele had been relentlessly pounded by artillery bombardments that the centuries old drainage system for this low lying area was totally destroyed. Now if one looked out from either frontline they gazed upon a pockmarked carpet of gluttonous mud, shattered trees, and filthy water filled craters where carcasses of the dead floated and hanging over all was the stench of putridness.
The Canadian Corps now under the command of Lt. Gen Arthur Currie were given the task of taking Passchendaele Ridge and Town. Upon inspecting the battleground Currie did not want to commit his corps but was overruled by his superiors. Currie immediately put the Canadians to work improving the roads and tramlines in order to move his artillery and ammunition up to their positions. Currie had predicted that the coming battle would result in 16,000 Canadian casualties. This was almost prophetic as the butchers bill was 15,654 dead and wounded. Since the Canadian Corps stood against the first German gas attack in April 1915 the Imperial High Command put the Canadians at the “Sharp End” of any thrust against German strong points. They became the British “Shock Troops” and in July of 1918 they would be called upon again in what is called “The Hundred Day Offensive” that ended the “War to end all Wars”. Twenty-one years later Canada would be called on again. One year and one day after Passchendaele the war ended and Canada had lost almost 60,000 dead. They are laid to rest in the fields of Flanders and Northern France. Some have never been found and some never identified so it is on November 11 of each year we honour them and all the other brave young men and women who go in Harms Way to keep us safe. LEST WE FORGET.



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.