Posted by Glenn Wright on April 6, 2017 in Canada

As the largest dominion in the British Empire, Canada entered the war when Britain declared war on Germany and her allies on August 4, 1914. Over the course of the next four years, Canada raised more than 600,000 men and women for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).

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The CEF was a citizen army. A large majority volunteered their services, others were conscripted in 1917-1918, and of all those in the CEF, only a small number had any real military experience before joining the colours.

The reputation of the CEF as a fearless and tenacious fighting force was earned in a number of significant battles, including 2nd Ypres (April 1915) the Somme (September-November 1916), Vimy Ridge (April 1917), Passchendaele (October-November 1917), Amiens (August 1918), and the last 100 days of the war (August-November 1918).

Vimy Ridge, April 9-12, 1917

The Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge was one objective in a much larger offensive known as the Battle of Arras. The ridge, with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside, had been held by the enemy since 1915 and repeated attempts by both British and French troops had been repulsed at great cost.

The Canadians arrived on the Vimy front in early 1917 and ambitious plans were soon laid down for a Canadian attempt to dislodge the Germans from the ridge. It marked the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Corps were brought together in one offensive action.

Following a massive artillery bombardment of German positions for 2 weeks, the Canadians attacked the ridge on the morning of April 9 and over the course of the next four days, they pushed the Germans off the ridge, captured more than 4,000 enemy soldiers, and secured the heights. As a result of their actions, four Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross, the Empire’s highest honour for bravery.

Where others had failed, the Canadians succeeded. It was an incredible victory. Taking the ridge came with a terrible human cost. The Canadians suffered more than 10,000 casualties, including 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded. Most of the casualties were sustained on the first day of fighting, making April 9, 1917 one of the bloodiest days in Canadian military history.

The Vimy Memorial

In the early 1920s, Vimy Ridge was chosen as the location for Canada’s national war memorial. It took fifteen years to erect the memorial on Hill 145 where some of the toughest fighting for the ridge had taken place.

The memorial is Canada’s national war memorial to celebrate the country’s contribution to WWI and the Allied victory, and also commemorates all those who died in France during the war—11,285 in number—with no known grave. Their names are inscribed on the monument’s base as a perpetual memorial to these soldiers.

Since the memorial was unveiled in July 1936, it has become an iconic symbol of Canada’s greatest victory in the war and a rallying point of remembrance and recognition of the sacrifice made by an entire generation of Canadians.

Do you have a Vimy hero?  Search our database of those Killed in Action at Vimy Ridge.

Search our entire collection of Canadian World War I-related records which includes:

WWI CEF Personnel Files, 1914-1918

Complete service records consisting of 20-30 page s are available for all those men and women who served in the CEF to the letter “M.” The files are being digitized by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in alphabetical order and should be completed in 2018.

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Soldiers of the First World War, 1914-1918

This collection includes the sign up/attestation papers for all men and women who volunteered to serve with the CEF as well as those who were drafted in 1917-1918. The document includes personal information, a physical description, the soldier’s service number and the unit he first joined. Officers, including nurses, do not have service numbers.

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Military Honours and Awards Citation Cards, 1900-1961

This collection contains all First World War honours and awards for bravery and gallantry, including the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Military Cross, the Military Medal, foreign awards to Canadians, and more.  In most cases, detailed citations are included.

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War Graves Registers (Circumstances of Casualty), 1914-1948

Approximately 60,000 Canadians died in the First World War from all causes. The records in this database document, where possible, the circumstances that led to the casualty, including those who died on the Western Front (France and Belgium), in the United Kingdom, at sea and at home in Canada during the war and until the 1940s if death was attributable to war service. Cemetery information is included. Those who died with no known grave, about 20,000 in number, are commemorated on either the Vimy Memorial in France or the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

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Commonwealth War Graves Registers, 1914-1919

These records document, if known, the death and burial location of soldiers who were killed in action or died of wounds during the war and any subsequent exhumation after the war when the cemeteries in France and Belgium were established. You may find their next of kin’s address many years after the event.grave registers

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Glenn Wright is a family historian and genealogist with a special interest in Canadian military history and research; he is the author Canadians at War, 1914-1919: A Research Guide to World War One Service Records (Global Genealogy, 2010).

To download the Battle of WWI Vimy Ridge research guide, visit this link.

Glenn Wright

Glenn Wright is a family historian and genealogist with a special interest in Canadian military history and research; he is the author Canadians at War, 1914-1919: A Research Guide to World War One Service Records (Global Genealogy, 2010).

19 Comments

  1. Alison

    A wonderful article. Having been to Vimy with my Canadian partner a few years ago it holds great significance to him, he being a military man himself. Was a moving experience. Many thanks to the writer.

  2. Dave Longueil

    My Grandfather, Sgt R.D. Longueil # 441458, who survived the Vimy Battle returned home many years later with his last ‘Field Message’ book and in it are 4 entrees from Vimy dated Apr 9/17 between 6:03 and 6:55 am, nothing after that. He was wounded during the battle

  3. Christine Frank

    I had my Fathers papers from his entry into the 1914-1918 war at the age of 16, on his 18th birthday, they realised he was under age when he joined and gave him leave of absence for a year before allowing him to rejoin, my son now has all his Grandfathers papers. We are English but at that time Canada was under British rule as part of the commonwealth so they were all in the ” so called” British forces.

  4. Doug Chisholm

    My father William Alexander Chisholm served in the Eleventh. Field Ambulance at Vimy as well as other areas during WW1 returned to Canada lived his life in Saskatchewan passed away on May 31 1973 he never discussed his war service other than the mud and the lice.

  5. Doug Chisholm

    My father William Alexander Chisholm served in WW1 with the Eleventh Field Ambulance at Vimy as well as other areas of action during the war he returned to Canada enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan in pharmacy lived his life in Saskatchewan passed away on May 31 1973 he never spoke of his war experiences other than the mud and the lice may he rest in peace after a life well lived.

  6. Bill Bell

    With the arrival of another anniversary of Vimy I have been wondering again if I would ever know anything of the service careers of two of my maternal uncles in WW1. Since their surname was Spring it would appear that I don’t have long to wait now. Thanks for the information!

  7. Patricia Brown

    Mt Dad was commissioned on the field and also decorated on the field too,in WW1.
    Were do I go to find his service record?

  8. GEQ

    My Grand-Uncle, John Edward QUINN #793093(42nd Battalion) was killed at Vimy Ridge on 25-Apr-1917, but I cannot find him on your list.

  9. Lesley Anderson

    Patricia Brown – the easiest thing to do is to search on our WW1 page http://www.ancestry.ca/cs/world-war-1 to see all of the related military documents including Honours & Awards and then go to Ancestry’s search to see other records such as Census, Birth Marriages and Deaths. Attach them to your tree.

    GEQ – The list on this blog posting of those Killed in Action were for those who were only killed at Vimy Ridge in the 4 days of battle from April 9th – April 12th. However, if you go to the WW1 page listed above you should be able to find his related military records. If he was buried, it should show on the 2 War Graves collections, if he went missing or doesn’t have a known grave, he should be commemorated on the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

    Hope this helps!

    Les

  10. Albert Searle

    My grandfather, Albert Searle, was a private in the Canadian Army in WWI
    and returned to Canada in 1918 injured from the chlorine gas in the trenches and shell-shocked. He died well after WWII leaving his wife, 3 sons and one daughter.

  11. Joyce Eleanor Hill

    Jay Batiste Moyer, died in the big battle at Vimy Ridge. I understand he was born in Toronto, Ontario, and was living with his widowed Mother and five siblings, in Jordan Station, Ontario. I visited his Name on the monument, the I did the tour of the Canadian and German trenches. Jay’s letters to his mother Lydia (née Batiste) and Samuel Moyer , have been typed by Marie Troupe and I have copies.
    My questions are: Did Jay fall, mortally wounded, in No Man’s Land, and I heard that he was noticed as having died, the following day. Were there just too many wounded to get them in to shelter before night fell. What happened to his body? Was he blown to bits? Did his body stay on the battle field just got covered up there, or was he buried? Jay’s Nephew: Jay Moyer also and his younger brother and families have been to Vimy for a big ceremony a few years ago. I went in the Fall of 2014, with my French friend Martine Allouchery. She arranged to have the coloured panel with his name on it, a page, sent to me. That was very kind of her.
    Jay Moyer, (Nephew)still living, lives in Ontario, and I will try to contact him.
    Thank you. Joyce Eleanor Hill, #202, 2165 Argyle Ave., West Vancouver, BC. Canada. V7V 1A5
    email: joellie@shawca P.S. A friend of mine who was a U.S. Marine and served in Vietnam, told me, We always go in to collect our wounded and dying.” I’m sure the Canadians tried, but there may have just been too many, and all were exhausted, bewildered and wondering how they were going to get out of there. Maybe Jay was mostly buried under the mud. I do not know. Joyce

  12. Barbara Thompson

    My Great Uncle, George Simeon Passmore was a Lance Corporal. He died in 1917 at Vimy Ridge. Excellent article!

  13. Milton ross

    My father,Duncan Wilbert Ross fought in the battle of Passchendaele ,ww1 ,1917,returned to Canada 1919.He was with the 1st Canadian Heavy Battery.

  14. Allan Quicke

    I offer my sincere thanks to all the brave, unselfish, soldiers who gave their freedom, youth, and in a lot of cases their lives so we could live the lives that we have now. And to the families that gave their parents, sons, and siblings so us, that came after many live in one of the best countries on earth, only possible because of their sacrifice. Thank you.

  15. Vicki

    Do you have a data base of those who fought at Vimy but survived? My husbands grandfather was Charles Rutherford Smith who was there but the only records we can find are those who died at the battle. Thank you.

  16. Jeannette

    My paternal uncle died in France in August 1918 and is buried there. My Dad, who passed at the age of 95, always spoke of his older brother with a bit of sadness. I have many documents connected to him, including birth, death, Canadian Army Service records, picture of the school in France where he suffered for three days until his death, pictures shared with me by other family members and a few found in my father’s effects, etc. on down the list. I feel I know all my ancestors and love documenting their lives as much as I can. Thank you Ancestry – I have found so much on your site.

  17. robert mcclellan

    I was very interested in the subject of Vimy. My parents had developed scanty information on James Irvine McClellan, b 1 Feb 1892, died in France 5 Sept 1916. James was a great uncle of mine, born in Whitby, ON. I asked for a search as a result of your recent email, and was surprised that you apparently were unable to find anything about him. I subsequently spoke to my brother who was at home while our parents were working on family tree things. He was likewise surprised at the lack of available information. He reminded me that James was with a Bank (I believe the CIBC) in Winnipeg when he signed up. My brother also indicated that James died at the Somme, but that he has personally seen James’ name on the War Memorial at Vimy. Perhaps this will help us learn more.
    Many thanks. I hope to send a copy of this email to my brother
    Bob

  18. Valerie Lee

    My Grandfather Leonard Stevens, Regimental # 291063, M.D.10 222nd Battalion had battle honors in Vimy 1917. But I can’t find any documentation for the soldiers who fought at Vimy and returned home safely. Can you please help with my search for these records?
    Thanks, Valerie

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