9 April

Canadian War Memorial at Vimy, France

Vimy Under Attack

One of the most striking war memorials is at Vimy Ridge, near Arras, France. It commemorates the part played by Canadian troops in an important battle of World War I on April 9, 1917. The commander of the Canadian forces in the attack was General Sir Julian Byng, who later became Lord Byng of Vimy and Governor-General of Canada.

Early in 1917, it was decided to try to dislodge the Germans from their position in Vimy, and the assault was entrusted to the Canadian Corps, and a British brigade; a force of 170,000 men. The battle was carefully planned, even rehearsed. This could be done because there was a network of underground tunnels running from Arras toward Vimy Ridge. Twenty-five thousand men could be hidden underground and moved to the jumping off places for the assault.

April 9 was Easter Monday and by dawn most of the Canadian force had moved to within 100 yards of the enemy, guided through the darkness of the tunnels by white tapes laid along the floors. The attack was preceded by a heavy artillery barrage that had been going on for two weeks, but intensified during the first hours of the morning. Nevertheless, the 100 yards up the slope to the enemy trenches were 100 yards of hell. A combination of snow and rain before the attack made the ridge muddy and slippery.

Just as the assault began, the weather suddenly cleared. The Canadian divisions climbed the open slope firing Lewis guns and throwing grenades. When they reached the trenches, bayonet fighting began. Overhead the planes of the Royal Flying Corps, manned by many Canadians, were acting as spotters and tangling with German aircraft trying to stop them.

More than 3,000 Germans surrendered in the first assault, and after heavy fighting, Vimy Ridge was taken. Unfortunately, the battle was not decisive. After three years of similarly terrible casualties, the French soldiers to the south were on the verge of revolt. Marshal Pétain took over after 20,000 desertions, herded 200 mutinous men into an artillery range and blew them up. He exiled another 100 men and shot 20 more after courts-martial. These were harsh measures, but the morale of the French army was restored in time to withstand a final German assault that nearly broke through to Paris.


9 April

-1682    La Salle reached the mouth of the Mississippi and claimed Louisiana for France.

              Louis XIV recalled Governor Frontenac.

-1914    The first train arrived at Prince Rupert, British Columbia, from Winnipeg.

-1961    British Prime Minister Macmillan arrived at Ottawa for discussions with the Canadian government.