On Monday, April 9, 2012, the Royal Canadian Legion in Red Deer will be commemorating the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
It was one of Canada’s greatest military victories. Some say that the battle helped to forge the nation of Canada. It was also, however, a victory that came with a terrible cost.
Vimy Ridge is a high chalk ridge which gives a commanding view of the broad plains of northeastern France.
After its capture by the Germans during the First World War, it became a highly strategic point along the Western Front.
The Allied armies made a number of powerful attempts to recapture Vimy Ridge. Tragically, each assault failed, at a cost of tens of thousands of lives.
In the spring of 1917, the job of making one more attack on the Ridge was given to the Canadian Corps.
The Canadians would be fighting for the first time as a whole corps with all four divisions. They were also expected to meet their objectives with 50,000 fewer men than the French and British armies had lost in casualties on the Ridge.
At 5:30 a.m. on Easter Monday, April 9, 1917, the battle commenced.
The greatest artillery barrage ever known erupted. Then the Canadian infantry attacked. The successes were swift and outstanding.
Over the next few hours, most of the Ridge was captured. The Canadians had suddenly succeeded where hundreds of thousands had previously failed.
While the victory was great, so were the losses.
There were 10,600 casualties, including 3,600 deaths. Twelve young men from Red Deer and area died on Easter Monday. More than 40 were wounded.
One family that particularly felt the triumph and the tragedies of Vimy Ridge was the Carswell family of Red Deer.
John and Addelia Carswell were originally from Oshawa, Ontario where John edited the Oshawa Vindicator.
However, in 1890-1891, the Carswells decided to try a new life on the Alberta frontier. John secured a homestead in the Horn Hill district, southeast of Red Deer, along with his brothers James and Edwin.
In 1906, John decided to return to journalism. He bought the Red Deer News and was the owner/editor for the next 15 years. His three sons, Arthur, Cecil and Charles, worked with him at the newspaper.
When the First World War broke out, all three boys joined the army – Cecil with the 89 Battalion, Charles with the Second University Company and Arthur with the 187 Battalion.
Arthur was soon wounded and returned home. However, he later re-enlisted with the 191 Battalion and then with the Royal Flying Corps.
Cecil and Charles were both at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Both were wounded during the battle. Charles was shot in the arm and hand. At first the doctors thought he might have to have his hand amputated. However, after a long convalescence in a military hospital in Hants, England, he gradually regained some movement in the hand. However, the wrist was badly bent and his fingers were always practically closed.
Meanwhile, Cecil did not go “over the top” with the others in the initial assault. Just as he was getting ready to go, he was hit in the arm with a piece of shrapnel. As he was unable to use his machine gun, he was held back.
The next morning, he went out to try and rejoin his comrades. However, just as he was advancing towards the front line, he was hit in the face by a bullet and badly wounded. He was sent back to “Blighty” (England) where he recovered from his wounds at a military hospital in Sussex.
After the War, Arthur worked as a surveyor in southern Alberta and then became a teacher. Cecil returned to work with the Red Deer News and later worked for the Red Deer Advocate.
Charles became a lawyer and practiced in Rimbey and Pincher Creek.
None of the Carswells ever forgot the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Hopefully, those of us who follow will never forget either.