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On Easter Monday 1917 with a blizzard blowing in their faces, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps in France seized and held the best-defended German bastion on the Western Front - the muddy scarp of Vimy Ridge. The British had failed to take the Ridge, and so had the French who had lost 150,000 men in the attempt. Yet these magnificent colonial troops did so in a morning at the cost of only 10,000 casualties.
The author recounts this remarkable feat of arms with both pace and style. He has gathered many personal accounts from soldiers who fought at Vimy. He describes the commanders and the men, the organisation and the training, and above all notes the thorough preparation for the attack from which the British General Staff could have learnt much. The action is placed within the context both of the Battle of Arras, of which this attack was part, and as a milestone in the development of Canada as a nation.
This striking account of the Battle of Vimy Ridge gets right into the guts of the battle from the outset; with no room to manoeuvre. Just what is needed. It is a battle perhaps so often mentioned in the history books but often misunderstood. It is easy to get cynical about the emphasis put on the Battle of Vimy Ridge in so far as it was in fact part of the wider Battle of Arras. My own interest is, for example, on the 51st Highland Division who were just further to the south. However, this book dispelled all of my concern given the overall description of the Canadian experience of this element of the battle. These men were to prove themselves and - as encapsulated in the spirit of this book - the nationhood of Canada was firmly born within this battle.Jon Sandison
For anyone passionate about the First World War, or indeed History generally, there are various types of books that meet your needs. On the one hand, you have detailed, informative academic histories, that give you a second to none comprehensive account of an event or period in the past. On the other, you get a book that gives you an account of events that suck you in, living every moment and bringing the event to life for you. Then, sometimes also, you come across a book that does both. This book comes into this category well.
Featured inGreat War July 2019
First published in 1986, this paperback reprint of Pierre Berton's excellent book is most welcome. The author's well written and authoritative account places the action firmly within the context of the Battle of Arras, of which this attack formed a part. Narrowly pipped as my Editor's Choice for this issue.The Great War Magazine
The remarkable story of four divisions of the Canadian Corps in France who seized and held the Western Front's best-defended German bastion – the muddy scarp of Vimy Ridge.Military History Monthly
In this classic account of the offensive the author examines the results of when all four Canadian divisions, made up of troops drwan from all parts of the country, fought as a cohesive formation for the first time.Britain at War
The author has succeeded in his objective of telling not just the history of the assault on Vimy Ridge, but also how it felt to the men who were there. He has linked many personal accounts and anecdotes to give great depth to the story. It is a Canadian book and focuses on the actions of the Canadian Corps and is a little lightweight on the events concerning ‘British’ Divisions that also fought at Vimy but let that not detract from a well-balanced narrative of the role of the Canadian Corps. Vimy remains a place that always conditions an emotional response and should form part of any visit to the Western Front today.Michael McCarthy
Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide