The Battle of Vimy Ridge:
Battle Account by Sir Arthur Currie
April 4th, 1917
My dearest Lucy,
My apologies that you have not heard from me in awhile. It is night-time, and I am writing by candlelight, as I can hardly contain my excitement. We’ve really done it! The boys took back Vimy Ridge. It may not seem like much compared to how large scale the war is, but for us Canadian troopers, you would not believe its significance, and I, being the one who has led them to this victory! You cannot possibly fathom how I am feeling right now. I am tired and grieving for all my lost boys, but underneath it all, elated. The conditions here have been tough. The days we fought, we fought in a bitter blizzard. (Quinlan et al, “The Canadian Challenge” 22) I am alright, but I watched as some of the youngsters struggled to transition into the harsh life, and my heart went out to them. The young boys have an innocent young spirit that makes me reminisce of my first time commanding a small regiment from the beginning of this treacherous war. In fact, I almost feel bad for being so harsh on them everyday. You are the only one who I have revealed the soft side of me to, Lucy, and I intend to keep it that way. However, my tough exterior worked the boys for success, so thank God that I was strict. I do not wish for you to have worried about me, as I have just had my first major success that I am sure shall go down the books! We fought, Lucy, and we fought not brashly and with abandon, but methodically and intellectually. Canada has finally made an impact and proved our significance in this dense world, and I was the one to lead them through to our glorious victory. This ridiculously important victory to Canada is one to be marked down for ages to come. Already I know that the battle has drastically changed our Canadian identity for the better thanks to the new employed battle tactics and the way we rose up as underdogs! I am certain that you folks at home will already be raving about it before my letter even arrives.
I still must stay at my post for a while longer, so in the meanwhile I will write to you to help you make sense of just exactly why your brothers are up in such commotions for our small victory!
April 16th, 1917
I will continue on a piece of my letter each night as I only have a short time slot in which I can write to you.
On the grand scheme of things, our battle must be insignificant, but many days and many nights we spent planning for our success, which truly revolutionized the way our troops fought, and I presume for future battles as well. I, confident of my intelligence, opted to try something different, something that had never been done successfully before in war. I adopted the ideology of being thorough. I made sure that before the troops went in, they knew exactly what they were doing. As I always say, “thorough preparation must lead to success, neglect nothing!” (Quinlan et al, “World Affairs: Defining Canada’s Role” 17) We started preparations in February, giving us two months before our big attack. (“Pride at Vimy Ridge”) I sent my troops on reconnaissance raids, and my fighter planes, the Royal Flying Corps, (Larkin 27) off to retrieve aerial photographs of the German trenches. We knew nearly all the locations of their trenches, troops, (Quinlan et al, World Affairs: Defining Canada’s Role” 17) machine guns, artillery, and batteries. (Larkin 27) I frequently sent my boys on raids in the enemy trenches, dangerous as it may be, it was worth the trade-off. (“Preparing for the Attack on Vimy”) It cost me 1406 men (Larkin 27), but thanks to their efforts the casualties in our actual attack was significantly less. (“Preparing for the Attack on Vimy”) During these raids, my spies, with blackened faces, silently entered German defences and used listening devices to gain intelligence. (Larkin 27) You should also tell the boys back home of how my boys even killed and captured German Guards in their own base! (Larkin 27) After we knew everything there was to know about the Germans, we moved on to the next stage, which was to build tools to be fully prepared and ready for battle. Using the information we gathered, we innovatively created plasticine models of the German encampments, so every soldier understood the geography of the land. (Larkin 27) It was a full scale battle replica, I treasured it almost like a child would of his prized project for school. This replica included reams of coloured tape and flags labelled behind Canadian lines (“Preparing for the Attack on Vimy”), and labelled trenches, artillery emplacements, and communication centres. (Larkin 27) You have to give me some credit, Lucy; no General in history I bet has been as well prepared as me. Do not call me cautious either, because you can never be too cautious when lives are on the line. In fact, everyone knew exactly what they were supposed to do in during the big battle; we had rehearsed our battle patterns with the aid of these models to perfection. (Roy, “Vimy Ridge”) Even if their leading officers died, it would not be like the past when suddenly everyone became stupid. No, our soldiers would carry on because they knew exactly what to do; they have rehearsed it many times. (Keogh) As an extra measure, we even handed out maps for everyone to use to know exactly their course of action on the day of the battle. (“Preparing for the Attack on Vimy”) Finally, we dug subway systems in no man’s land using our Allies’ previously built tunnels. These tunnels reduced casualties as they were used for shelter and as well to bring in more supplies. (“Preparing for the Attack on Vimy”) We had 11 underground tunnels, with 34 kilometres of wiring and 1770 kilometres of telephone cable. (Quinlan et al, “The Canadian Challenge” 22)As you can see, all of the extensive preparation that I led ended up being the key to our victory, and this innovatively different approach would definitely make headlines in the world stage.
April 17th, 1917
Have you told your brothers (and our sons!) of my incredible intelligence yet? I bet they are yearning for more about the brilliant way I led this country to fame. Not to fear, because there is more to be told!
When the day of the battle came, that was, April 9, 1917 (Easter Monday), the way that I sent the troops to fight were very different from previous battles, and using this new method, it became a big factor in our success and left a mark for Canada as it earned the world’s respect. Our innovative battle method was to use the creeping barrage technique. In the past, I witnessed my comrades shell out artillery lasting for days, followed by a long pause, and then start attacking. (Quinlan et al, “World Affairs: Defining Canada’s Role” 16) Knowing me, I disagreed with this tactic. During the pause, the enemies would be prepared and ready to fight back, and would have a good idea of when Ally troops would be coming in. (Larkin, 27) Not in my books. We would bombard the Germans with heavy shells a week in advance of our big day. The Royal Flying Corps led by dropping a constant stream of flares, shells, and shrapnel. (Larkin, 27) This weakened them significantly. My genius left the Germans immobile; they could not repair damages, and had no ammunition, food or relief troops. (Larkin, 27) Then afterwards, this “week of suffering” (serves them right) was followed up with more artillery, but we would have the troops behind them this time. My troops would advance continually behind the artillery, exactly 100 metres behind, no more, no less. (“Hell Crept up on Zero Hour”) Our rehearsals made sure of that. The men moved 100 yards every three minutes, timed precisely. (Quinlan et al, “World Affairs: Defining Canada’s Role” 16) With this tactic, my boys were on top of the Germans before they were ready to attack. If they tried, our troops would use counter-battery fire to silence them. (Larkin, 27) (Quinlan et al, “World Affairs: Defining Canada’s Role” 16) The shells ahead of the troops destroyed German barbed wire and machine gun nests (Larkin, 27). My troops were adequately prepared; they had immense firepower for the attack: 1097 howitzers, mortars, and field guns. (“Pride at Vimy Ridge”) The battle lasted until April 14th, when the Germans finally retreated. (Roy, “Vimy Ridge”) My boys quickly fought through three lines of German trenches until they reached the top (“Pride at Vimy Ridge”), in four days all of Vimy was captured. This was no easy feat, the Germans were quite confident of their 500 metre deep trenches, which were protected by the dense barbed wire that we broke, along with heavy machine guns. (Larkin, 27) Do you want to know something quirky, Lucy? I guess it was an act of me showing my boys that I did care for them, despite how harsh I am on them. Before they attacked, we served them a hot breakfast of bacon, bread, butter, tea, oranges, and finally, rum! It would be quite quaint to think this meal made the difference in a successful army! Of course it was not, but now can you tell, the significant differences of how my groundbreaking new method allowed for such an efficient, well executed - and I hope by now, well-known - attack?
April 18th, 1917
I have received the newspaper article you sent me! What great state of unity our nation is in. My heart swells with pride as I see the effects of my efforts. I just wish that the newspaper would give me more credit, and not just my British partner, Julian Byng.
Our victories in this battle, and how we came up against all odds has definitely given our nation collective pride as we have made a name for ourselves now; it has created the birth of a nation! We walked into this battle under Britain, as a mere dominion, but we walked out beside her, as allies. I can just imagine our country right now, standing together as one just as we had for the first time during this battle, people from all over the country in one place, fighting for the common goal. It was the first time that all 4 divisions of the Canadian Corps stood as one. (Larkin, 27) You should know, that more people stood together that day at Vimy Ridge than in any city in Canada. (Keogh) Vimy Ridge, what was thought of as an impregnable stronghold, was finally broken through, by the least suspecting of countries. (Quinlan et al, “World Affairs: Defining Canada’s Role” 16) I am sure you know, Lucy, that Britain and France, the “powerful” countries, tried to take the Ridge in the past and failed. France tried in 1914 and 1915, and Britain in 1916 (Larkin 27). They had 200 000 casualties, while we only had 10 602. Under my command, my boys also managed to take much more from the Germans than our Allies ever did. My boys took command of the ridge within hours of our initial attack; the Germans did not know what was coming because of our surprise attack. They thought we would be resting since it was Easter Monday, hah! (Quinlan et al, “World Affairs: Defining Canada’s Role” 17) We seized 54 artillery guns, 104 trench mortars, 124 machine guns, 60 square kilometres of ground, and 4000 prisoners! (Quinlan et al, World Affairs: Defining Canada’s Role” 16) I hope you can hear the excitement in my voice Lucy, I felt like all of this belonged to me! We took so many tactical important points, such as Hill 145 and The Pimple. We also closed off the main access way for the Hindenburg Lie, that links Germans to their main trenches, from Hill 70 to Aras. (Roy, “Vimy Ridge.”) Vimy Ridge also protected an important French mining area, so after we reclaimed it, France sure was grateful. (Larkin, 27) All of these accomplishments gave our Canadian troops immense pride, self-confidence, and recognition. I think it will pave the way for us to become an official country as well, not just a simple dominion. Even though the battle was small, the fact that we all worked together as the underdogs to achieve the impossible, really makes me proud of our country and by the looks of it, so is everybody else.
Coming home soon to celebrate with my beloved again,
General Sir Arthur Currie’s Log
June 9th, 1917
Today I was knighted by King George V on the very battlefield that brought me this honour. It is remarkable, as I did not think this simple battle would make such a difference in my life, and as well in the lives of all Canadians who fought bravely in the battle, acted as bluebirds and healed the wounded (Quinlan et al, “The Canadian Challenge” 23), or watched attentively for news of the battles at the home front. This battle raised national pride to a new high, but it provided me with my own personal achievements as well. From this point on, I am now the official commander of the Canadian Corps, succeeding Julian Byng. (“Pride at Vimy Ridge”) Will I be able to lead the Canadian troops on to further victories like that fateful day at Vimy Ridge? I do believe in myself. I believe that being thorough and investing time in preparations will always come through; Vimy Ridge was a wonderful success. It was the grandest day the Corps has ever had. The attack was carried out exactly as planned, and the sight of it was awful yet wonderful. ( “Pride at Vimy Ridge”) Here is to more days like this to come!
Don Quinlan et al. World Affairs: Defining Canada’s Role. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print.
Don Quinlan et al. The Canadian Challenge. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.
Larkin, G.W., and J.P. Matresky. World War 1: Canada in the Twentieth Century. Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1987. Print
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