During the First World War, Canada sent 10% of its population to war, some 700,000 men and 2 million horses, fed Britain and provided tons of ammunition. The dead will number around 70,000 and thousands more gravely wounded, more disappeared never to be found. It was the first industrial war with new weapons of destruction never seen before, mustard gas, the machine gun, barbed wire, tanks. The military strategy was still the old 19th century style of throwing large numbers of men into battle in the hope gaining advantage, in this war it would result in horrific casualties each day, numbers of dead so great, censorship had to be applied so as to not depress and frighten the civilian population. In 1919 many Canadians asked what was this sacrifice for given the Armistice, no clear winner.
Canadians would see many terrible battle but the Vimy Ridge battle where Canadians fought for 3 days and won this battle is best remembered. Canada did not have to get involved in this European War but our government out of duty to the Empire and the King decided to participate.
At Vimy, attacking together for the first time, the four Canadian divisions stormed the ridge at 5:30am on 9 April 1917. More than 15,000 Canadian infantry overran the Germans all along the front. Incredible bravery and discipline allowed the infantry to continue moving forward under heavy fire, even when their officers were killed. There were countless acts of sacrifice, as Canadians single-handedly charged machine-gun nests or forced the surrender of Germans in protective dugouts. Hill 145, the highest and most important feature of the Ridge, and where the Vimy monument now stands, was captured in a frontal bayonet charge against machine-gun positions. Three more days of costly battle delivered final victory. The Canadian operation was an important success, even if the larger British and French offensive, of which it had been a part, had failed. But it was victory at a heavy cost: 3,598 Canadians were killed and another 7,000 wounded.
Vimy became a symbol for the sacrifice of the young Dominion of Canada. In 1922, the French government ceded to Canada in perpetuity Vimy Ridge, and the land surrounding it. The gleaming white marble and haunting sculptures of the Vimy Memorial, unveiled in 1936, stand as a terrible and poignant reminder of the 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France who have no known graves.
Here is the message of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, (in French)
Nous avons le devoir de nous souvenir et d’honorer Ia mémoire de ceux qui ont servi vaillamment et qui ont tant donné ici, sur la crete de Vimy, et tout au long de la Premiere Guerre mondiale.
The Canadian War Memorial at Vimy, France