Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Canadian soldiers took the heavily defended ridge during World War I where other, bigger armies failed.
3500 Canadians were killed in the battle. Another 5500 were wounded
Grande Prairie Historian Duff Crerar says the planning for the Canadian attack was much more thorough.
“The Canadians put out special training, they had long rehearsals, they did unprecedented things with their leadership. They gave maps to corporals and sergeants. Soldiers were given intensive briefings down to the individual soldier level as to what they were going to do.”
Crerar says Vimy proved Canadians could handle themselves on a battlefield.
“We don’t want to make this look like party. It was a very serious battle. A lot of people paid a very high price, but when we had the ridge, then that piece of France was never attacked again. The Germans realized, especially when the Canadians were guarding it, that there was going to be no success on that front for the German army.”
Crerar says historians do not accept the notion that Canada became a true nation at Vimy.
“What Vimy Ridge was was our first big win. Afterwards, in spite of very heavy losses, we never lost a battle. Until then, we had been kind of the guinea pig, which German forces had tried different experiments on. Unwittingly we had been the first victims of poison gas, the first victims of their new hurricane bombardment technique.”
Crerar says there is more to becoming a nation that winning big battles. He adds soldiers at the time felt “justifiable pride” in doing something no one else could do.
(photo from Library Archive Canada on Twitter)