Julian Byng: Vimy Ridge
My Dearest Evelyn, June 4th, 1935
I fear that I may not have enough time left, I am old now; my hair has long since turned white and my skin a wrinkled piece of sandpaper ready to grind down to dust. I feel pity for myself, not because I didn't live a fulfilled life, but because I should have spend more time with you. That is the only regret of this old man's existence. So I'm using every last of my strength to write you this letter, and in all likelihood my last letter, to tell you my story, my most important one. Do you remember the year 1917, the victory of Vimy Ridge? I can still hear the deafening sound of the gunfire and the crushing impact each body made when it fell onto the ground; see the helpless eyes of nameless soldiers when I go to sleep sometimes. They scream at me with their eyes blaming me for their deaths, for I couldn't save them, oh bloody hell I couldn't. But I'm getting off-track here, my old age is evidently taking a toll on me. You asked me once if I had told you everything there was to know about what happened at Vimy Ridge. And while I can honestly say I have told you the truth, I may not have told you all of it. I am old now, my dear. I’m not the same soldier I once was. I think it is time for you to know what really happened, the horror of warfare, the planning that went into it, and the moment that changed my life forever. What happened at Vimy Ridge will go down in history; not a single man had died in vain, and I had the honor of witnessing a miracle right before my eyes. The strength of humanity, and the blessing of heaven above was displayed right there on that battle field...It was the defining moment of anyone's life, in the midst of death and agony, glory was shown; hope had won against despair. As I have mentioned before, I am old, my memories are becoming hazy, I am afraid I will not do any justice for Vimy if I retold my story the way I am now. So Eve, when the time comes, go to my left bottom drawer and there you will find my diary. I had written everything down concerning the Vimy Ridge, there you will find anguish, hope, and astonishment. I had my doubts about saving those entries, I had thought about throwing them away or even burning them, but then I could never forgive myself.
Day 1 of the attack at Vimy Ridge, April 9, 1917
Today marks the start of the most important battle of my life, I will either die as the forgotten captain of his fallen troop or live as a war hero who fought and won against despair. I could not stress the significance of this battle at Vimy Ridge. The Allies have already tried to take it and failed, and now it's up to my men to change history. As I have mentioned before, Vimy Ridge is perhaps the principle key to winning this war, and already thousands of men have sacrificed themselves for it; I will not let it happen again. During these harsh months of planning and attempts at raiding the trenches, my trusted Canadian general, Arthur Currie, and I have come up with the most peculiar strategies. We're relying on the elements of intelligence, organization, and surprise. Using airplanes and balloons, my Canadian scouts have flew above the ridge. They took pictures and made new maps. On the ground, soldiers built models of the battlefield, trenches, and tunnels. We have used the models to practice our strategy. For the first time ever, each soldier have learned every detail of the battle plan. They are divided into special groups-machine gunners, riflemen, and grenade throwers. Each man have a job and a schedule. Every step of the battle is timed and practiced. This will be the most rehearsed and best-organized attack in history (Wiseman, 12). I learned from the mistakes of the previous battles that poor planning will lead to necessary deaths...not this time. Aside from rehearsals and applying innovative methods, we have also given our men maps. It is certainly a new idea for me because in the British Army, maps had always been reserved for officers. But never mind that, 40,000 maps were created so that each man can mark out where he would advance on the ridge. Every soldier have learned the details of the attack; I think this have given them a sense of confidentiality, rather than being told to follow orders blindly (Brewster, 17). Failure is not an option, we have to win. The previous raid on March 1 at Hill 145 was a disaster; there were more than six hundred casualties (Wiseman, 16). However from defeat, we have developed a technique called flash spotting. When the enemy artillery fired, we would see a large flash, and even if we couldn't see the gun, we could measure the distance of the flash. By measuring from three different locations, we could pinpoint exactly where the enemy was (Wiseman, 18). Thanks to this, more than eighty percent of the German machine guns and artillery are destroyed. Now it all comes down to this day, after six months of preparation and many weeks of bombardment, the moment of attacking has finally arrived at Vimy Ridge. Dear Germans, happy bloody Easter.
Day 2 of the attack at Vimy Ridge, April 10, 1917
Hallelujah! Victory is almost upon us! Only a few hours after the attack had began yesterday, the First, Second, and Third Canadian Divisions have already reached their goals (Wiseman, 22) of advancing. With Currie's perfect planning and the soldiers exceptional fighting, we have overwhelmed the Germans! Unfortunately, the Fourth Diversion did not fulfill their objective immediately as they were given the toughest job of taking Hill 145. There, the enemy built their trenches and bunkers stronger than anywhere else on the ridge, and if that wasn't bad enough, on a nearby hill called the Pimple, the German guns had a clear view of the Fourth Division (Wiseman, 24). By the afternoon, the advance of the 4th Division was in chaos. Soon night time was approaching, and I knew we had to take Hill 145 before dark. In desperation, my comrades and I have called in the 85th Battalion of Nova Scotia for help. I had my doubts about them since they were not trained fighters, however they have proved me wrong. In just one hour of bloody fighting, the men of the 85th have helped the Canadians capture Hill 145 (Brewster, 35). They have done the impossible, I couldn't be more proud of my boys!
Day 6 of the attack at Vimy Ridge, April 14, 1917
I consider myself lucky to have witnessed a miracle during the days we fought at Vimy Ridge. When I was first given the assignment of leading the Canadians into war, I had felt a certain degree of hesitation. I knew the British and the French have already had their attempts, with hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers died trying to take it back. Yet Canada had done what many thought was absurd and hopeless. The Allied never gave much consideration to the Canadian troops; they had handed them this impossible target treating them as eager toddlers wanting to please their busy parents. Good for them Canadians! Good for my boys for showing them that Canada was not to be taken slightly of. Never in my life, have I seen a group of young men more dedicated to working and serving their country. Germany had held Vimy Ridge for more than two years (Wiseman, 26), and within only a few days we have took control of the entire Ridge. This was the deepest advance the Allies made in over two years of war (Brewster, 39)! Innovations made by my friend Arthur Currie, as well as sacrifices made by the courageous soldiers have surprised me and the entire world. I believe when the day comes as the war is won, it will be partly due to the victory at Vimy Ridge. I have always liked Canadians regardless of what others back in England felt, and I have gained a profound respect for them for they have shown me a miracle. When Canada went to war in 1914, it was a small part of the British Commonwealth (Wiseman, 28). Everything will change from this moment on; the Canadians who fought at Vimy Ridge did more than just winning. They discovered that streak of silver lining which made this whole war seems more significant, as if there were more reasons for us soldiers to keep on fighting. The battle at Vimy Ridge is something I will remember for the rest of my life, it truly marks the beginning of a strong nation called Canada.
Work Cited List
~Wiseman, Blaine. Battle of Vimy Ridge. Calgary: Weigl Educational Limited, 2015. Print.
~Brewster, Hugh. At Vimy Ridge: Canada's Greatest World War 1 Victory. Toronto: Scholastic, 2006. Print.
~Barris, Theodore. Victory at Vimy: Canada Comes of Age, April 9-12, 1917. Toronto: Thomas Allen, 2007. Print
~Berton, Pierre. Vimy. Toronto, Ont.: McClelland & Stewart, 1986. Print.
~Henderson, Ian. World Affairs: Defining Canada's Role. Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford UP Canada, 1998. Print.
~Giesler, Patricia. Valour Remembered: Canada and the First World War, 1914-1918. Ottawa: Department of Veterans Affairs, 1982. Print.
~Larkin, G. W., and J. P. Matreski. World War I. Markham, Ont.: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1987. Print.
~HILLMER, NORMAN. "Julian Byng of Vimy, Viscount." The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2 Oct. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/julian-byng-1st-viscount-byng-of-vimy/>.