Why does Vimy loom so large in Canada's identity--and should it? Tim Cook, Canada's foremost military historian and a Charles Taylor Prize winner, examines the battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 and the way the memory of it has evolved over 100 years. Vimy is unlike any other battle in Canadian history: it has been described as the "birth of the nation." But the meaning of that phrase has never been explored, nor has any writer explained why the battle continues to resonate with Canadians. The Vimy battle that began April 9, 1917, marked the first time the four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought together. 10,600 men were killed or injured over four days--twice the casualty rate of the Dieppe Raid in August 1942.
Cook has uncovered new material and photographs from official archives and private collections across Canada and from around the world. Many of these resources have never been used before by other historians, writers, or film-makers.
With the 100th anniversary of Vimy and Canada's celebrations of 150 years of nationhood just past, this new book is about more than a defining battle: it is a story of Canadian identity and memory, by a writer who brings history alive.
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The Battle of Vimy Ridge was the most carefully planned operation the Canadians fought during the First World War. The ridge was the site of several titanic battles, starting in October 1914, and a place where hundreds of thousands of French and German soldiers had been killed or maimed in attempting to capture or hold the critically important geographical position. The 7-kilometre Vimy Ridge protected the coal-rich area around Lens that the Germans occupied and desperately needed to retain to supply their war effort. When the Canadians arrived at the foot of the western side of the ridge in October 1916, Vimy was a vast desert of shell craters and rotting corpses. The Canadians faced one of the most formidable positions on the Western Front. Under the command of British general Sir Julian Byng, the four Canadian divisions, with significant support from British engineers, gunners, and soldiers, prepared for the battle in April 1917. The assault on Vimy was part of a larger British push, the Arras offensive, which was, in turn, a supporting attack for the French Artois offensive to the south. Through meticulous preparation, training, determination, and sacrifice, the Canadians succeeded where the French armies had failed in the past. The Corps’ victory solidified its reputation among allies and opponents as an elite fighting force.
Excerpted from "Vimy"
Copyright © 2018 Tim Cook.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Vimy: Battle and Legend 1
Chapter 2 Vimy Battleground 8
Chapter 3 Preparing the Assault 36
Chapter 4 Over the Top 72
Chapter 5 Vimy Aftermath 114
Chapter 6 Vimy's Impact 138
Chapter 7 Commemorating the Fallen 164
Chapter 8 Constructing Memory 191
Chapter 9 The Great War Contested 218
Chapter 10 The 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage 249
Chapter 11 Forging an Icon 274
Chapter 12 Birth of the Nation 300
Chapter 13 Vimy Contested 328
Chapter 14 Vimy Reborn 366
Select Bibliography 454