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April 3, 2017: Steve Armstrong, an educator and consultant, speaking on the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Joe Klassen capably introduced Steve Armstrong, who has 35 years as a leader, soldier and humanitarian. He has helped manage the relief and recovery of some of the largest natural disasters of our time, including the Fort Mac wildfire and the 2004 tsunami. Steve has a Master's degree in Public Policy and Management.

Vimy Ridge is an escarpment five miles northeast of Arras on the western edge of the Douai Plain. The ridge rises gradually on its western side, and drops more quickly on the eastern side. At approximately 4.3 miles in length, and culminating at an elevation of 476 ft, the ridge provides a natural unobstructed view for tens of kilometers in all directions.

The ridge fell under German control in October, 1914, during the race to the sea, as the Franco-British and German forces continually attempted to outflank each other through northeastern France.

The British Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, relieved the French Tenth Army in the sector in February, 1916, permitting the French to expand their operations at Verdun.

The four divisions of the Canadian Corps fighting together for the first time attacked the ridge from 9 to 12 April, 1917, and succeeded in capturing it from the German army. More than 10,500 Canadians were killed or wounded in the assault. Today, an iconic white memorial atop the ridge commemorates the battle and honors the 11,285 Canadians killed in France throughout the war who have no known graves.

The assault plan called for the four divisions of the Canadian Corps to attack up the slopes of the ridge in side-by-side formation. Under the command of British General Sir Julian Byng, and assisted by British and Canadian staff officers including the Corp's 1st Division leader, General Arthur Currie, the Canadians carefully rehearsed the assault.

Troops were given detailed information of the terrain and the location of enemy strong points, and were shown models and maps of the battlefield based on aerial photographs of the ridge. Infantry soldiers would no longer all be riflemen. Many were now assigned specialist tasks as machine gunners or grenade-throwers.

New platoon tactics were also introduced: Keep moving, the troops were told, follow your lieutenant (and if he goes down, follow your corporal), prepare to outflank enemy machine gunners who might survive the initial artillery barrage, use grenades and follow-up with bayonets. Don't lose contact with the platoon or company next to you.

Such tactics were the expression of new, innovative thinking percolating at that time through the British army — aimed at solving the riddle of the trenches — based on three years of observed successes and failures in the war so far.

Army engineers also dug extensive tunnels under the battlefield to bring the infantry more safely and closely to the German lines. And new artillery tactics would be used in advance of the main assault, including a nearly unlimited supply of shells, and a new shell fuse that allowed the bombs to explode on contact, rather than become buried in the ground.

Steve provided many interesting facts, including:

  • Canada's population in 1917 was eight million
  • 650,000 served in the military, or roughly 8% of the population
  • 425,000 served overseas and 60,661 were killed in WW1
  • 1 million artillery rounds were deployed

Today, 100 years later, on land granted to Canada for all time by a grateful France, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial sits atop Hill 145, rising above the now quiet countryside.

Terry McDonough expressed the thanks of the club and presented our world famous Boltman as an expression of our appreciation.

  • Terry McDonough, Steve Armstrong and Bill Tapuska Terry McDonough, Steve Armstrong and Bill Tapuska
  • reported by Mike Carlin

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