SSNS Home > Senior Years > Curricula 9-12 > Grade 11 > Canadian History > Battlefields Tour > 15 July 2010
We travelled north via Souchez to Notre Dame de Lorette this morning. What struck me was the geography. Contour lines on a two-dimensional map simply cannot convey an impression of the landscape as well as one’s own eyes. Souchez is at the bottom of a deep valley with Vimy Ridge towering over it to the right. On the left is the Lorette spur, which is an extension jutting out to the west of the Ridge. Once we were up on the top of this spur, we stopped to look out over the plain below. It is easy to see why it was crucial to the defense of the region as far south as Arras. From this vantage point, the Germans could see everything for miles around and effectively direct the fire of their big guns hidden safely behind these uplands. It was crucial that the spur and the ridge be taken.
It is common for Canadians to believe that we won the Battle of Vimy Ridge after the French and British forces “failed” to take it. It is a belief both ignorant and offensive, and one that can be totally swept away by a visit to Notre Dame de Lorette. For it was the French forces that took the Lorette Spur before the Canadians had their victory, and there are 100,000 French soldiers buried there to prove it. I wept when I saw Notre Dame de Lorette. Dear France, the home of so many of my forebears, had paid a terrible price for its victory. Even to this day, four soldiers, volunteers retired now from the regular forces, stand in solemn tribute at four corners inside the ossuary, where the bones of some 36,000 soldiers have been interred. One passes through that sanctuary in reverent silence.
From Lorette, we retraced our steps and stopped in a farmer’s field just east of Neuville-Saint-Vaast, where we saw two bombs on the side of the road waiting to be picked up. After over ninety years, people still find them. Here Lee introduced us to the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which was fought by all four divisions of the Canadian Corps. We were at the jumping off point for soldiers of the 2nd Division, who came up out of tunnels that reached back as far as the church in Neuville-Saint-Vaast. These soldiers attacked across open fields, but as Lee pointed out, it was no easy victory. There was little cover, as they moved ahead from trench to trench, and many soldiers were lost before they captured the village of Thélus.
After lunch at Neuville-Saint-Vaast, we travelled to the Vimy Ridge Memorial. We stopped at the base of the ridge near the interpretive centre and book store. Here Lee discussed the preparations of the Canadian Corps for the battle and the geographic challenge faced by the 3rd Division in this section of the battlefront. We saw reconstructed trenches and walked up the steep, crater-pocked battlefield which has been left as it was. We also saw the exit from the tunnels where the Black Watch and the PPCLI poured out on April 9th to attack the German lines. My soldier, C. D. “Dick” Richardson, was wounded and later died in that battle.
From here, we drove up to the Vimy Memorial itself. Oddly, it had little impact on me. Maybe it had no surprises, or maybe it was the difficulty I had finding the names of particular soldiers inscribed there. They are not grouped by battalion, as they are at the Menin Gate, but by alphabetical order. As a result, no one is listed with his friends. Diane Leaist-Yorkston did her soldier’s biography next to his inscription; I did mine a little later at the Liévin British Extension Cemetery. When we got back to the hotel in Arras, Dan and I led the discussion groups, which were always lively affairs. An hour later, we went out to explore this beautiful old city. The town square was most interesting architecturally, and the restaurants were quite wonderful. After a meal and a little sightseeing, this tourist turned in for the night. It had been an exhausting, but rewarding day.