April 9-12, 1917
The story of the Battle of Vimy Ridge has become entwined in the history of Canada. It marked the first time during the Great War that the four Canadian divisions were brought together to fight for a common objective: to launch an assault on a strategic piece of land the Germans had held since 1914. The resulting victory, and its human losses, have been commemorated by Canadians ever since. Those who fought and lived had memories to recall, and the dead were remembered by those they had known and loved at home, while enduring memorials were constructed as reminders to subsequent generations. Evidence of those memories, in memoriams, and memorials are preserved at the Simcoe County Archives.
"Battle of Arras began this am"
During the First World War, Gerard Breckenridge Strathy (1880-1963) was an officer in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. In April 1917 he was serving with the No. 2 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station based at Remy Siding.
In his personal diary entry for Monday, April 9, 1917, Strathy wrote: "News in to-day that Canadians have captured Vimy Ridge… a great stunt if true."
981-21 Morton Family Collection - G.B. Strathy Diary, 1917. Copyright: Public domain.
"Vive. Vive Canadien"
Christopher George Cook (1892-1979) was born in Cookstown, Simcoe County, and enlisted in the 169th Overseas Battalion on January 24, 1916. He joined the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry "in the field" on March 6, 1917.
Cook had worked at the Cookstown Advocate for a time before the war and apparently never got the ink out of his system. His essay and poem in memory of Vimy were likely written during the 1960s or 1970s.
986-39 Essay and Poem by Christopher George Cook. Copyright: C.G. Cook Estate, used with permission.
"Albert to Ypres – 60 miles"
Norman D. Clarke (1893-1977), enlisted in the 5th University Company on November 30, 1915. He joined the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry "in the field" on June 9, 1916. Among the many volumes in Clarke's private library was a copy of The Times War Atlas and Gazetteer, which was published the same year. The Atlas included maps of the war areas as well as statistics relating to the "belligerent countries."
979-38 Norman D. Clarke collection - The Times Atlas and Gazetteer, 1916. Copyright: Public domain.
"Died in the service of his King and Country"
Francis Goodwin Rankin (1896-1917), was the son of Henry Thomas and Frances Melinda (Goodwin) Rankin. On September 3, 1915 he enlisted with the 76th Battalion in Niagara Camp, and later served with the 4th (Central Ontario) Battalion. Rankin died on April 10, 1917, just a few months past his 21st birthday.
A service in Rankin's memory was held at St. John's Anglican Church, Cookstown, at 8 o'clock in the evening of May 4, 1917. The Order of Service also included the words to the four hymns which were sung.
969-42 R. Graham Estate collection - Order of Service in Memory of Francis Goodwin Rankin. Copyright: Public domain
"In morning Jack got a message by wire..."
Laura (McMurray) Wiggins was born in Sunnidale Township in 1880, the daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth (Clubine) McMurray. In 1913 she married John W. (Jack) Wiggins and moved to Severn Bridge, Muskoka District.
Her diary entry of April 12, 1917 noted that her husband had received news by wire that Sid Mearing, a former resident of Orillia, had died of wounds on April 6th.
972-33 Laura Wiggins collection - Laura Wiggins Diary, 1916-1921. Copyright: L. Wiggins Estate
"… killed in action at Vimy Ridge"
During the First World War, local and national newspapers and magazines routinely published photographs of, and obituaries for, those who had died. Individuals then clipped the items and pasted them into scrapbooks.
One donated to the Simcoe County Archives by Annie Boyes includes a newspaper clipping re. Thomas Robert Speers (1882-1917), second son of Mrs. and Mrs. James Speers of Barrie. Speers fought at Vimy and died between April 8th and 10th.
967-129 Annie Boyes collection - WWI Scrapbook. Copyright: Public domain.
"No known grave"
969-31 Haughton photograph album - postcard of Vimy Memorial. Copyright: Public domain.
While there are other memorial sites located in the vicinity of Vimy Ridge, the monument designed by architect Walter Seymour Allward commands the most attention. It both commemorates the Battle of Vimy Ridge and stands as a tribute to all Canadians who gave or risked their lives during the First World War. Unveiled by King Edward VIII on July 26, 1936, the figure of "Canada Bereft" looks down on the ramparts and the inscribed names of 11,285 Canadians who were killed in France and who have no known grave. Included are William Robert McKay and William Chester Pettit, both of Tottenham, who fought and died at Vimy.
"Wreaths can be placed on graves at any time…"
9620-1320 Wreaths for War Graves booklet. Copyright: Public domain.
The graves of the more than 7,000 buried in cemeteries within a 20-kilometre radius of the National Memorial at Vimy Ridge could not be personally visited by the majority of their family members and friends. The St. Barnabas Hostels was established in 1919, "to help relatives of the fallen in every possible way." This included making arrangements for wreaths, blessed by the chaplain, to be placed on graves at any time, but especially for Armistice Day, Christmas Day and Easter.
"To the memory of those who gave their lives…"
976-26 Memorial and Arena Gardens, Midland, Ontario, Canada postcard. Copyright: Public domain.
Dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives in the Great War, 1914-1918, Midland's Memorial was unveiled on June 1, 1927. Four of the 68 names engraved on the monument are of men who fell during the battle at Vimy: Oscar French, David Green, John Lowes, and Albert Walker Sterrett.
Remembering Vimy, April 9-12, 1917
From: For the Fallen, by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
985-66 Morton collection - Cloth poppy Copyright: Simcoe County Archives