I knew very little about the First World War before going to Vimy Ridge.
At the site they showed me how the Canadian Archives worked, and with some help from my friend I found out that my grandfather had been in the 28th Battalion (also known as the Northwest Battalion or the Regina Rifles), one of the Canadian Battalions that ‘won’ the Ridge but was almost decimated in the fighting.
Granddad in 1914, when he joined the 28th Battalion. He looks so young, but his papers say he was 24 at the time.
Granddad with a friend and fellow Canadian during the First World War.
Although he lost a lung due to a gas attack, my grandfather survived the fighting, went back to England where he was first billeted and turned my English grandmother into a Canadian war-bride. He still looks so young!
Into the present, May 3rd, 2012. With the horrible weather we just drove all day, and ended up in Arras, France. Upon finding out that we were Canadian a local recommended that we go to Vimy Ridge in the morning, telling us it was a gift from France to the people of Canada.
May 4, 2012. If we were hoping for better weather today it didn’t happen. This morning we awoke to a dense fog and dampness that had settled over everything.
(Back to April 14, 1917, my grandfather’s battalion was put to work on road in Vimy and on the Lille-Arras road. Once the task was completed the Battalion moved into the old German trenches on Vimy Ridge.) (Back to May 8, 1917 – 95 years ago almost to the day, the same foggy weather caused a group of German troops to get lost and blunder into the Canadian trenches at the Arleax loop. The 28th Battalion (my grandfather’s) was in the process of being relieved by the 19th Battalion, and the two battalions were able to stand together to throw back the Germans.)
There are still undetonated explosives within Vimy Ridge. Map of the placement of Canadians (Maple Leafs) and Newfoundlanders (Caribou) in this region of France during the first world war. At this point in time Newfoundland had not yet joined Canada and was considered a separate country.
Robert Lindsay has written a comprehensive story of the 28th Battalion movements at: http://www.nwbattalion.com/history6.html and most of my information comes from his site.
May 3rd, ‘Enroute from Belgium to Arras, France’, we drove along much of the war route. There is detailed pdf brochure (in English) about a particular bike route called: ‘Flandersfields Country & the Great War’. It is full of information on sights, food, beers and the war, and something I’d like to do someday…