Section 2: Investigation For years the Battle of Vimy Ridge has been recognized as the birth of national pride in Canada, but only recently have historians expressed doubt towards this opinion. Few historians would disagree that victory at Vimy provoked nationalism, as excited newspaper headlines proclaimed statements such as: “Canadians sweep Vimy Ridge” or “Well done, Canada”, but many are divided over whether Vimy should be praised in this light.
While some historians maintain their belief of Vimy Ridge wholly and rightfully leading to a burst of national pride, other indications suggest that Vimy Ridge should be seen as the birth of Canadian nationalism to little extent due to the countless and unnecessary deaths from battle, a young Canada’s desperation for a heroic myth, and the eventual division of the country. To begin, the Battle of Vimy Ridge was a bloodbath fought as a result of Canada’s colonial obligations to Britain. The 10,602 casualties and landscape destruction that took place from April 9th-14th of 1917 were unnecessary.
First and foremost, the Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought on Easter Monday. Several sources suggest that Canadian soldiers held high Christian ideals and that the disciples’ encounter with the resurrected Jesus on Easter Monday is a clear parallel to the bravery that propelled Canadians to defeat the Germans at Vimy and thus impact the birth of a nation. However, it is more probable that this symbolism is negative because there is nothing according to the Christian faith that justifies a mass killing during Easter/during a major celebration.
In addition, Britain had control over Canada’s foreign policy/international affairs over the duration of war. Consequently, when Britain declared war, Canada was forced to fight. Canadians had no true intentions to fight other than to fulfill colonial obligations and to maintain their growing military status. Moreover, when the Allies suffered an overall loss at the Battle of Arras (of which Vimy was a part of), the casualties suffered during Vimy were unnecessary. The Great War was clearly also not a war to end all wars, as it was quickly followed by ww2 a few decades later. As well, while some archeology of the battle (i.e.
Human bones, bottles, wire, shell fragments, bombs) is concealed by grass that has since replaced the muddy trenches of war, the general landscape of Vimy remains scarred with thousands of hilly depressions. This is recognized by several soldiers in their war diaries and letters as tragic and pitiful. Nevertheless, some merit should still be given to the tactical approach of the British and Canadians, the critical execution of plans, the bravery of the soldiers, and the unity of the Canadian Corps for the first time on the battlefield. Australian Corps commander General Sir John Monash once said that in a well-planned battle such as Vimy Ridge, history could not be written.
However, many historians think otherwise. Despite the meticulous planning, the 4 Canadian divisions each faced unique obstacles during battle. The editors of Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment conclude that not only did the Canadians have an intelligent military leader to give detailed instruction (Sir Julian Byng), but also an influential one who inspired leadership, bravery, and discipline. Furthermore, Canada was a young nation which desired for a heroic and enduring myth to bring unification to the country and to give people hope for the future. After victory at Vimy, Canada was driven into a Vimy fever which largely influenced the declaration of Canada’s maturity. At the time of the battle, Canada was only 50 years old and was only known to the global stadium as Britain’s junior partner.
In 1919, Canada was offered a position in the League of Nations. People viewed this honorary invitation as a sign of Canada being recognized as Britain’s equal and thus declared Vimy as the birth of Canadian national pride. However, Vimy may have just been used as a convenient symbol as there is no actual evidence that points to this belief as the truth. In addition, news of the Canadian victory at Vimy drove thousands of poets and soldiers to write about the battle in creative forms. Since schools commonly used literature such as poetry as part of their teachings, it became known to the younger generation of 1917 that through Vimy Canada witnessed the birth of a nation. Not to mention, Canadian newspapers had Canadians captivated with pride-fulfilling articles placing Vimy on a high pedestal. Canadian General Jonathan Vance believes that the extensive use of literary devices (such as the hyperbole) in works of literature blew the events of Vimy out of proportion and led many to be blinded by the heroic and patriotic version of events. Speaking of literature, an explosion in literature and in media lasting from 1917 to the 1930s resulted in Vimy fever, which peaked in 1936 with the mass visitation of more than 6,400 Canadians to the Vimy MemorialAll in all, the deaths and actions of the men who fought at Vimy were neither dishonorable or cowardly, nor were the instructions of their leaders faulty or poorly advised.
Vimy fever, despite the popular opinions it conjured, was not necessarily bad. Whether the myth it praised was reasonable or unreasonable, what matters is that Vimy took on a mythic quality in the minds of Canadians and gave them pride. True, the hope that the Canadians held may have been false hope, but they were at least given a sense of spirit and were able to make an economic comeback in the mid 1920s, which followed years of post-war unemployment and financial issues in the early 1920s.