By Canadian Centre for the Great War
Canadian Centre for the Great War
Vimy Ridge, 9-12 April 1917
The battle for Vimy Ridge, part of the larger Battle of Arras, was the first Canadian engagement of 1917. It has since become a touchstone moment for Canadian success during the First World War, and embodied the qualities that would go on to make the Canadian Corps one of the best fighting units on the Western Front.
Battle of Vimy Ridge. 1917. Canadians advancing. German prisoners carrying our wounded. [ASE label] (1917-04) by The Raines Company of CanadaCanadian Centre for the Great War
The preparation time leading up to Vimy was long in comparison to the battles of 1916 and Corps Commander Julian Byng used it to his advantage.
All soldiers were trained extensively in a series of practice trenches, and every soldier was given a map and knew their objective.
Artillery build up to the battle began on March 20, and by April 9 thousands of shells had been fired into the German lines. At zero hour on April 9, the soldiers of the four divisions emerged from tunnels in front of the ridge and began their advance, ending on April 12 at the village of Vimy on the other side of the ridge.
Canadian Machine Gunners dig themselves in, Vimy Ridge 1917 [LAC Title] (1917) by [Unknown]Canadian Centre for the Great War
"My Dear Mabel, we have pushed them back and are on the outskirts of the town named the same as the ridge [Vimy]. Awful weather. [...] Things have gone splendidly and the men awfully cheered"
[Lt Col. Agar Adamson of the PPCLI to his wife Mabel, 12th April 1917.]
[Portrait of Albert Arthur Hensler] (1915)Canadian Centre for the Great War
Private Albert Arthur Hensler (25th Battalion) enlisted in Halifax on 11 August 1915, shortly before his eighteenth birthday. Before enlisted, he lived with his parents and sisters in the city and worked as a railway clerk. Private Hensler was initially attached to the 64th Battalion and completed his training in Canada before being sent to England where he was transferred first to the 40th Reserve Battalion, and finally to the 25th Battalion. He arrived in France on 5 October 1916.
At Vimy, the 25th Battalion was placed in support behind the 24th and 26th Battalions, after the first objective, Zwischen Stellung, was taken, the 25th was to leapfrog over the two leading battalions to take the next objective – Turko-Graben. Private Hensler was assigned to be the company runner during the battle, and throughout the day ran messages from the Company Commander to platoons spread out in the attack, all under heavy fire.
For "his inspiring example of personal bravery", Private Hensler was awarded the Military Medal. He survived the war with only minor injuries and marched with the 25th Battalion to the Rhine River in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation in November 1918.
Now a corporal, Hensler was demobilised in Halifax on 25 May 1919.
Preserved trenches at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
Battle of Arleux, 28-29 April 1917
After taking Vimy, the Canadian Corps had to advance down the other side of the ridge, which was achieved in the weeks following April 9, 1917, in a series of small scale battles, including the Battle of Arleux. Image: 2nd Division, Arleux, April 28-29 1917, Times of London, Times History of the War, 1914-1920.
Will R. Bird [no date], The Chronicle Herald (Halifax), accessed 22 April 2017.Canadian Centre for the Great War
“The dead men, the solitary flares, the captured ground, gave us a sense of ghosts about, and hurried us over to a semblance of a trench leading down the slope.”
Will Bird in Ghosts Have Warm Hands, 36.
"A Stretcher Case" at the capture of Arleux (1917-04)Canadian Centre for the Great War
Four battalions from the 1st and 2nd Divisions attacked the village of Arleux at 4:25 am on 28 April and took it by 5 am. They held off German counter attacks launched from the neighbouring village of Fresnoy until the next day, when German high command withdrew due to high losses. Canadian casualties were over 1 200 for two days of fighting.
[Portrait of George Washington Hill] (1914/1917)Canadian Centre for the Great War
Private George Washington Hill, 10th Battalion CEF
An American, George Washington Hill enlisted in Canada in 1915, and fought with the 10th Battalion at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. One of four battalions fighting at Arleux, the 10th went over the top at 4:25 am; Hill was killed in the fighting and his grave was later lost. His name appears on the Vimy Monument.
To learn more about Hill visit https://greatwarcentre.com/2016/05/27/the-weeks-after-vimy-pte-george-washington-hill-and-the-battle-of-arleux/#more-566
Walter Allward's Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
Design by A. Chan
Text and research by C.Bailey
All photographs from the Canadian Centre for the Great War collection, unless otherwise stated.
Image of Will Bird courtesy The Chronicle Herald, Nova Scotia.