Friday, August 24, 2007

Forgetting to Remember

What do you know about Canada's military history? If you are older, you probably know alot more than today generation. This really has been an angering topic to me, as I personally believe that we should take pride in our country and what we have been able to achieve. I was disappointed in school, we didn't learn anything about our wonderful nation's contribution during both World Wars. We sacrificed our sons and daughters for freedom, and what do we do to honour them? We put on a small television special and stand in silence for a minute. However, we haven't taught kids what Canada really accomplished, and how much it cost us.
You want to know a depressing fact? Most of Canada's population don't know why Vimy Ridge is such an important part of our history. Actually, most people have no clue what or where Vimy Ridge even is.
Vimy Ridge was Canada's defining moment in military history. During World War 1 Canada was still a British Colony, and when Britain committed to war, we had no choice but to go to war as well. The British thought Canadian soldiers were inferior to them, as we had no historical records of being a military powerhouse like Britain was. Our soldiers often shrugged off direct orders from ranking officers as they weren't used to being told what to do. This didn't, however, change the way we fought.
Canada's sons first proved themselves to be more than capable soldiers at Ypres. Germans unleashed the first poisonous gas attack in the history of warfare at Ypres, the attack aimed directly for Canadian and French troops. When the French saw the green cloud of chlorine gas heading their way, they abandoned their positions and fled, leaving a huge gap of 4 miles in the line. Canadian troops, despite the choking gas that literally made people cough up their lungs, held not only their own line but also took over the French positions that had been abandoned. Not only did we survive the gas attack, we held until re-enforcements came days later. Out of 10 000 Canadians at Ypres, 6 000 were casualties.
At the Battle of Somme 24 000 Canadians are listed as casualties. The Newfoundland Regiment lost 710 out of 801 men, or almost 89% of the company strength. In other words, out of my class of 22 people, only about 2 people would have survived. And the depressing thing is that this was one mere battle of the war.
However, Vimy Ridge was the crowning jewel of the war for Canada. For the first and last time in our History, all 4 Canadian divisions fought together. We also had a Canadian commander by the name of Arthur Currie, the first time a Canadian had been able to command his divisions without a British superior officer.
Vimy had been assaulted before by the French, and it ended with the French losing 150 000 men. In comparison, Canada had a mere 10 000 casualties through the campaign. One reason that the Canadians were so successful was because they used a precision timed creeping barrage. 1 000 artillery pieces were used in the assault, sending shrieking rounds just in front of the Canadian soldiers to shield them from German view. They also split into small groups so they wouldn't be mowed down by German machine gun fire. The months of preparation paid off much better than what commanders guessed, with the Canadians took Vimy Ridge very quickly. In fact some Germans were still in PJ's when the Canadians found them.
But World War 1 wasn't the only war where Canadians proved themselves. In the Second World War Canadians made huge sacrifices for freedom. They braved harsh seas and German U-boats to send goods to Britain across the Atlantic Ocean.
Canadians also made a supreme sacrifice on the Beaches of Dieppe. The attack was poorly executed but the Canadians never stopped pushing forward. The attempt failed miserably but military planners say that the lessons learned from Dieppe helped save thousands of lives on D-Day.
But other countries can claim similar achievements, right? True, the Americans fought tooth and nail to take Iwo Jima, the Russians clung on to Stalingrad and eventually pushed the Germans out of Russia. But Canada had a reputation that totally contradicts their reputation as "peacekeepers" today. We were known as "shock troops", a feared group of soldiers that made enemy soldiers shudder. Opposing forces thought that Canadians were a group of wild men who knew no fear, as was never more evident than at Vimy.
The kilt-clad Nova Scotia Highlanders had an officer walk up Vimy casually twirling his cane admist a ferocious barrage. Lt-Col. Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt took off his helmet and walked across a bridge with bullets bouncing by his feet, spurring his men onward. The 1st CMRs raided German trenches on Christmas Day, destroying enemy positions and pushing the Germans back, as they weren't expecting anything so horrid on a sacrid day. And yes, the 1st CMRs did steal some presents from the Germans.
Even today enemy soldiers know of the gritty Canadian attitude and determination. A Canadian sniper in Afganistan killed an enemy soldier at a range of 2 500 yards. One heck of a shot indeed.
Yes, history may be boring at times, but it is important that we listen and learn of the sacrifices that were made to give Canadians the life that they live today. Men and women died for us so that we may live in peace and comfort, and to me they should all be considered hero's.


Phil L said...

It's interesting to consider that Canadian casualties in WW1 totalled about 67,000 and in WW2 about 42,000.
Sort of puts into perspective the 69 Canadian casualties in Afghanistan to date.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the history lesson! May have to read your books while you are gone. You may need to rewrite the history taught in schools.