It’s the most healing sound in the world; the meadowlarks are here and their songs are echoing and re-echoing across the prairie this morning. These angels of music sing me awake in the dawn and they pray me to sleep in the cold spring twilights. My heart asks, what does the peace and solace they offer have to do with the filth and obscenity of the trenches, and in the second part of the Battle of Arras as the assault on Vimy Ridge continued 102 years ago today…….
Read part one here.
Throughout the night of 8/9th April, the Canadian guns had continued unceasingly to pound the beleaguered Germans. There was also a miserable sleeting snowstorm. Everyone had to fight in it of course but it was blowing right into the faces of the Germans and so made their conditions even more dispiriting and exhausting. April 9th was also, incidentally, Easter Monday.
As we already know, the Battle of Vimy Ridge lasted over a period of several days and it was an absolutely ferocious conflict in which the Germans and Canadians essentially fought each other to a standstill. (The Germans also recorded Vimy as a victory).
By 12th April, the Germans had lost control of the rest of the ridge but were still in possession of The Pimple. The 4th Canadian Division attacked them and fought with valour but a clean up crew was needed … and that crew was the 10th Canadian Brigade from Calgary, Alberta, my own beloved city.
Yes, troops from Calgary, a city barely forty years old, were there — the 10th and the 40th. And they fought bravely, with the 10th planting its standard on the face of the hated and feared Pimple. The battle flags of the 10th and 40th hung in the Central United Church until last year, when one was relocated to the Military Museums. The other is still hanging in the church; it is not a replica. It is the same flag that was carried by that force of Calgarians on Vimy Ridge during that battle. You can go to visit it and I encourage you to do that. It is a life changing sight, the power of history in our own city.
As I was putting together this blog post, my friend Bruce from New Zealand reminded me of the troops from ANZAC and it is my pleasure to honour their courage, bravery and expertise. “The Colonials” who had been dismissed and underrated by their British overlords fought with unlooked for courage from the very beginning and many became skilled and hardened warriors. I want to especially highlight the role of those New Zealand troops whose specialized knowledge and efforts in mining and tunneling were such an important part of the successes that the Allies had in the Battle of Arras.
What was the fall out from Vimy Ridge? There were certainly consequences from this rather insignificant battle that the Canadians were not expected … or even particularly wanted … to win. And we’ll explore that part of the story next.