Canadian machine gunners dig themselves in, in shell holes on Vimy Ridge. Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001017
Shortly after the Somme offensive the Canadian Corps was moved into a relatively quiet section of the line near Arras, directly across from a small French town called Vimy.
In March 1917, the Canadian Corps received orders to capture Vimy Ridge. Lt.-General Sir Julian Byng’s staff worked feverishly on a plan to take the ridge. With the French Army having lost 150,000 soldiers over two years in several failed attempts to take the ridge, Byng, and his right hand man Canadian Major General Arthur Currie, knew how important precise planning would be.
The preparations for the attack on Vimy Ridge were extensive. Soldiers, all the way down to privates were issued maps, lectured on plans, and studied models of the ridge for months before the assault. In addition, an extremely complex artillery strategy was conceived. The plan of attack involved all four Canadian divisions, the entire Canadian Corps, fighting as a single unit for the first time.
At exactly 5:30 AM on April 9 nearly 1,000 medium and heavy guns began firing at Vimy Ridge. Canadian soldiers attacked, following the plans laid out for them in their weeks of practice. The soldiers were relentless and quickly took many of their objectives. Only the 4th Canadian Division was held up, as they had the most difficult task of capturing Hill 145 (the highest point on the ridge) and ‘The Pimple’, which was a heavily fortified redoubt on the north of the ridge.
By April 12 only the Canadian Corps remained on the heights of Vimy Ridge. Soldiers from all four Canadian divisions- from all across Canada- fought shoulder to shoulder for the first time to take Vimy Ridge. After the war, Brigadier General A. E. Ross wrote of the attack, ‘In those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.’
Born in Rat Portage (Kenora), Robert was working as a civil engineer in British Columbia when given a commission as a Lieutenant with the 102nd Battalion in May 1916. He married Flora McKelvie in Vancouver before going overseas.
Taking part in the Somme Offensive, Robert was recommended for the Military Cross for his part in the assault and capture of part of the Regina Trench. Although he did not personally receive one, five men in his unit were awarded Military Medals.
Now Acting Major, Robert led C Company over the top on the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, with their objective Hill 145. During the operation Robert Brydon was reported missing. His body was found the next day.
Upon hearing of her son’s death, Robert’s mother suffered a paralytic stroke from which she did not recover. She died exactly two weeks after Robert.
James grew up in Rat Portage and attended Kenora High School before joining the Bank of Commerce staff in Winnipeg. Transfers took him to several branches further west and he was working as a clerk in Canora, Saskatchewan when he enlisted in April 1916.
After seven months of training, James arrived in France in November 1916 with the 102nd Battalion. He was killed on April 9, 1917 at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, when his unit was advancing up the slope of Hill 145 in the first wave of the assault.
James is buried in Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery near Vimy, France and commemorated on the Cenotaph in Kenora and the Saskatchewan War Memorial in Regina.
Hilliard Rusteed Dusang was the son of a lumberman and was working as a pharmacy clerk when he enlisted in Kenora in November 1915.
After a brief illness in France, Dusang spent time with the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) at the Battle of the Somme. In late 1916 Dusang transferred to the 13th Machine Gun Battalion.
Hilliard Dusang was hit and killed by shellfire while advancing with his unit on the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
A month after the battle Thomas Purvis, a fellow soldier who was also with a machine gun unit, wrote to Hilliard’s mother saying ‘he got a good burial Mrs. Dusang and there was one Kenora boy present, namely myself.’ After the war Hilliard’s grave could not be found and a memorial cross was erected for him in Nine Elms Military Cemetery in the village of Thélus, France.
In the trenches near Avion, predawn on May 11, 1917, the enemy attacked in force using flamethrowers. The weapons were both a physically and psychologically potent weapon. These streams of liquid fire caused horrific deaths as it cleared trenches and killed riflemen, striking terror in all. Following the attack, nineteen year old Albert was first listed as missing and then presumed dead, with his status changed to killed in action. Albert’s body was not recovered.
Born in Birmingham, England, Albert immigrated to Kenora as a child with his parents and siblings. He went overseas with his buddy Harry Betton, both boys transferring to the 44th Battalion for service in France.
Albert’s name is inscribed on the Vimy Memorial as is the name of his friend Harry who was killed in action in August of 1918. Dubbed the ‘Kenora Kids’, neither would return to their families.