Vimy Ridge, in northern France, is high enough to give a clear view of the surrounding countryside for many miles. It was taken by German forces in October 1914 and formed a key part of their Germans’ defense system. Allied forces (British and French) had attempted to re-capture the ridge in October 1914, May and September 1915, and again in February 1916. In May 1916, the Germans pushed the allied forces from the few positions they had gained.
Canadian forces replaced the British at Vimy Ridge in October 1916. Months of preparation followed, which included building tunnels, trenches, tramways, and roads. John Adams of Gray Creek served with the 176th Tunneling Company of the Royal Engineers and was one of the soldiers involved in this work. During the final build-up to the battle, he returned to his unit with the 16th Reserve Battalion and had just taken over relief in the trenches at the front line when he was wounded and transferred to England. Fred Hilton, laying track and ballasting up to the forward trenches with the 5th Battalion Railway Troops, was killed on 4 April 1917.
The preparation included a gas attack on the German lines, followed by an assault by troops. When the wind changed direction, the gas drifted to another part of the line and left the German defences intact. The assault failed, and the Allied trenches were subjected to heavy shellfire. Charles Pendry, who had been transferred to the 54th Battalion only a few weeks before, was struck by a shell and killed.
Rupert Wilson of Boswell was also killed in the lead-up to Vimy Ridge, though we have no details about the circumstances.
Extensive reconnaissance used observation balloons for the first time, and the German defenses were subjected to a three-week barrage of artillery in advance.
Each of the four Canadian divisions was tasked with capturing and holding a specific part of the German line. The 1st Division, on the right, had the broad southern sector of the ridge, with the farthest distance to advance of all the Canadian divisions. The 2nd Division, on the 1st’s left, was to capture the town of Thelus. The 3rd Division was tasked with capturing the narrow central section of the ridge and La Folie Farm, while the 4th Division, farthest to the left, was striving for Hill 145 and a large, heavily defended knoll called “The Pimple” on the northern end of the battlefield.
The Canadian troops all along the line were supported by artillery units of the British 5th Division. Although we do not know exactly where he served, it is possible that Dennis Howard was among them.