Many things – events, people, objects – have been lost to the passage of time. A speech made by a pre-presidential Abraham Lincoln in 1856 that led to the creation of the Republican Party has been lost to the ages. The original ending to Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, the first film he directed following the masterpiece Citizen Kane, is gone forever.
However, something that hasn’t been forgotten, something that hasn’t disappeared, is the remembrance of the sacrifices made in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France a century ago.
Raging on for three days, the Battle of Vimy Ridge saw more than 200,000 men fight for control of a high point as part of a much larger offensive, the Battle of Arras. The plucky Canadians, having been an independent dominion for about 50 years at this point, were given the task of taking Vimy Ridge. And take it they did.
But as with any military offensive, there were casualties. In total, 3,598 men on the Allied side of the trenches lost their lives between April 9 and 12, 1917. To put that into context, the number of men lost in three short days is more than 20 times the number of Canadians killed during the entire war in Afghanistan, and nearly seven times as many killed during the Korean War.
To say that this battle was hell would be an understatement.
But through adversity comes strength. While the battle may not have had any strategic significance, it was in this offensive that the Canadians were able to do what others could not – take Vimy Ridge. Since falling into German hands in the early days of the war, more than 150,000 French soldiers lost their lives trying to take it back.
And the sacrifice will not soon be forgotten. Just look at the hundreds, if not thousands, of people that made their way to France this week to pay their respects. The Vimy Ridge Memorial has been commemorated on our $20 bill. There are schools, including one in Ajax, named for the battle.
While the last of the survivors of the First World War have passed on – Canada’s last living veteran from the war, John Babcock, died in 2010 at the age of 109 – we will not soon forget the sacrifices made that helped make Canada what it is today.