One hundred years ago – On Easter Monday, April the 9th, the Canadian soldiers left their trenches below Vimy Ridge and began their walk into history. It was the 50th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Before that famous walk began, we thought of ourselves as a Colony of Great Britain. By the afternoon of April 9th we were a Nation and the emblem they carried with them on their cap badges and collar tabs was a small insignia of a Crown superimposed on a Maple Leaf.
The French and the English had gone up against the German defences at Vimy Ridge three times in the previous two and a half years and failed to capture it, having suffered losses of 140,000 casualties in dead and wounded. Now the job of taking the Ridge had fallen to the Canadians.
The One hundred thousand Canadian warriors who stood poised to attack along a 7 km front of the Great Ridge were the very essence of who we are today. They were First Nations, they were descendants of the early waves of United Empire Loyalists and new comers from the British Empire; they were Hungarians, Poles, Ukrainians, Belgiums, Chinese and Germans – and they all declared themselves “Canadians”.
Fifteen hundred Norfolk men were scattered throughout the army. Many of them had enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the early stages of the war. Others had enlisted in Brantford, London and Woodstock. Many had been born and raised in Norfolk but had scattered across the country in search of work. They would enlist in battalions from New Brunswick to Vancouver. The greatest concentration enlisted in the 133rd Norfolk Battalion. In November 1916, the 133rd Norfolk Battalion had arrived in England and the men were immediately placed in a reserve battalion in France. From here they were sent as reinforcements to the battalions that had been in the bloody fighting throughout 1916. About 250 went to the 14th Battalion, the Royal Montreal Regiment. Two hundred and forty went to the 4th Battalion, Central Ontario.
The attack began at 0530 on Easter Monday, April 9 proceeded by a bombardment from 985 guns of the Royal Canadian Artillery. By 2:30 in the afternoon, they had taken Vimy Ridge. “Vimy – the papers read – was the pinnacle of Canadian military achievement. Canada could now take its place among the nations of the world.” But what a price! While there was breast-thumping pride throughout Canada, 3,598 families were left to mourn the death of a father, son or brother lost on the slopes of Vimy.
Twenty four Norfolk men were killed in the Battle and another 300 were wounded