Reflections From The Ridge
by William F. Irving – Tuesday, April 25, 2017
In 1914 when the world went to war for the first time, Canada threw itself heart and soul into the war effort. In 1917 the Canadian Corps was tasked with taking Vimy Ridge in Northern France and on April 9, 2017 commemorative events were held across Canada and on Vimy Ridge to remember this victory.
Of the 170 000 soldiers on the Ridge, Saint John High Alumni were strongly represented by two New Brunswick raised units, the 1st Canadian Heavy Siege Battery (now 3rd Field Artillery Regiment) who supported the advance of Canadian infantry regiments, like the 26th Battalion (now the Royal New Brunswick Regiment). Graduates like Major Cyrus Inches, Commander of the 1st Canadian Heavy Siege Battery, left Saint John in 1914 and would not see his summer home in Westfield again until 1919. Greyhounds witnessed the horrors of modern warfare for the first time. Mud, rain, poor tactics and an enormous learning curve resulted in heavy casualties for all sides of the war. On April 9th, 1917 radical tactical and logistical changes were put to the test by the Canadian Corps. These changes resulted in the successful taking of Vimy Ridge and were eventually used by the Allies to break through German lines in 1918 for the 100 Days Campaign.
One hundred years after hundreds of thousands of Canadians stormed the Ridge, it still bears the scars of battle. Trees grow on what was a barren land but while now grass, it still shows the craters and pockmarks of artillery shells. Most of the Ridge is restricted, not for preservation of the landscape, but for preservation of visitors as a large quantity of ordinance is still imbedded there. Tragically, many who entered battle were never seen again, simply vanished into the fields they fought over. As described by Ms. Maryanne Lewell, Class of ‘93 and Vimy Ridge tour guide during the 90th anniversary, “The place is really a graveyard and you can feel it when you stand there. It’s eerie, you’re surrounded by death.” Now the names of the Greyhounds who did not see the end of the war live on outside our auditorium forever.
The greatest reminder of what transpired on the Ridge is the majestic monument which stands overlooking it, a testament to the sacrifice required to achieve peace. It is not a victory monument, but a penance to those who entered battle, and not only did not return, but simply disappeared into the mud. When standing at the top of Vimy Ridge, one looks around at what was an almost insurmountable task, and I was thankful it was not my duty to take the Ridge. There was a price to be paid one hundred years ago so we might enjoy the country we have today. In the sentiments of Lt. Col. John McCrae from failing hands, they threw the torch for us to hold. They, Greyhounds of Vimy, left a torch for us not to continue on in uniform, but to be able to grow as people, to achieve what we can and be proud of what we accomplish. They accomplished the goal they were set, leaving me to wonder what our greatest challenge will be and how we will rise to it. One hundred years after them, we continue their legacy in the same halls, same classrooms, one generation to the next, striving for Vita Vitalis.