On Remembrance Sunday, students from the BISC took a trip across the English Channel to Calais, to visit the nearby town of Arras and the surrounding Douai Plains. The Battle of Vimy Ridge, the bloody military engagement that came to define the Battle of Arras, took place there between Easter Monday 9th and 12th of April 1917.
It is a battle of considerable significance for Canadians as it was the first occasion that all four Canadian divisions, made up of troops drawn from all parts of their country, had fought as one.
The unified Canadian forces stormed a steep escarpment that had been under the control of the German 6th Army since 1914. It was a literal uphill battle against well dug-in defences and by the time the Canadian Corps had wrested control of the ridge, they had suffered some 10,602 casualties: 3,598 killed in action and 7,004 wounded.
Today, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, Canada’s largest overseas war memorial, sits at the highest point of the Vimy Ridge and commemorates not only the Battle of Vimy Ridge, but all Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War, including those with no known grave.
The Castle Drum asked two students on the trip to share some of their thoughts and memories of the day:
‘I had heard of Vimy before, because we learn about it at school, so I was keen to go on the trip and see it for myself. The memorial was about a ten-minute walk from the Visitor Centre, but it can be seen from a great distance away – it really dominates the landscape! We all walked around it and took our own route, to explore and read the names inscribed there. It wasn’t until I received the pictures from my drone that I appreciated the scale of the battlefield. As it took off, I had a birds-eye view of the craters that the mortars had created. The sheer size of them cannot be appreciated from ground level. I got a real sense of the scale of destruction, and I think that will be my abiding memory of the trip.’
‘I went on the trip to honour my Great Great Uncle, Lance Corporal Samuel Lyons, who died at the battle. He was 24. I went to Eastbourne the day before to buy flowers to take with me. The Visitor’s Centre was interesting and many of the staff there were Canadian students like us, on a Gap Year. It was a chilly, windy day, so as we walked along the lines of the trenches toward the top of the ridge it made me think of how miserable conditions must have been. At the memorial, I found my Great Great Uncle’s inscription and took photos for my family. In class, casualties are sometimes just a number in your mind, but seeing the long list of the names of the Fallen brought home a real sense of the human cost. Later, as I stood at the top of the ridge and looked back down the slope I thought of the Canadian troops. They must have felt so relieved to finally make it to the top and take the ridge, and yet it would have been a bitter-sweet victory given the losses they had suffered.’
The Castle Drum would like to thank Cheyenne and Joshua for allowing us to use their photos of the day. For more of Joshua’s drone footage, which also features many images of Herstmonceux Castle, please visit his Instagram page @joshualu98.
»The Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration for valour, was awarded to no less than four members of the Canadian Corps for their actions at The Battle of Vimy Ridge.«