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Legion remembers Vimy Ridge

Considered by historians the first major test for the Canadian military, the Battle of Vimy Ridge was waged from April 9 to 12, 1917 in France during the First World War.

ESTEVAN - The Estevan branch No. 60 of the Royal Canadian Legion held its annual remembrance of one of the country's greatest military victories Saturday night.

The Vimy Ridge celebration included a stirring speech about the battle from zone commander Roberta Taylor and the presentation of both service and liftetime membership awards.

Considered by historians the first major test for the Canadian military, the Battle of Vimy Ridge was waged from April 9 to 12, 1917 in France during the First World War.

"Ninety-four years ago, for the first time, four divisions of the Canadian corps came together to work as one," Taylor told the crowd who braved Saturday's sudden snowstorm and found their way to the Legion Hall. "After extensive preparations and months of rigorous training, trench systems being built and tunnels being dug underneath the German lines, huge explosives were set to detonate. Our soldiers knew what they had to do."

Taylor said the artillery preparations leading up to the assault on Vimy Ridge were massive with over one million shells fired at the ridge in the three weeks prior to the attack. Canadian and British Forces were also able to use the tunnel system to stockpile a remarkable 42,000 tons of munitions for the attack. The Canadian soldiers also completed a number of advance raids to weaken the German morale and also to gain valuable intelligence.

By April 8, 1917, Taylor said the Canadian and British forces had swelled to 170,000 troops. One day later the assaults began with a rolling barrage in a storm that blew snow and sleet into the face of the advancing soldiers.

"Gas shells were fired into the German rear areas killing hundreds of horses and disrupting the Germans' ability to bring up their ammo and artillery," Taylor said. "The leading companies were in the first line of enemy trenches before the defenders could emerge from their deep dugouts. Thirty-five hundred prisoners were taken in the first rush."

Although the second line of soldiers took heavy losses, Taylor noted the Canadian troops managed to complete one objective after another and by midday they were astride the ridge, just as they had scheduled.

Taylor noted that while the soldiers had reason to be pleased with their efforts, they also knew their toughest tests remained as the Germans maintained a strong grip on Hill 145 which was the highest and most important point on the ridge.

With heavy fire raining down on them, the Canadian soldiers battled until the following morning and eventually took Hill 145. A short time later they had seized control of the ridge although it came at a significant cost as they suffered over 10,500 casualties and lost 3,598 men.

"It is said that Vimy is where Canada was born as an independent nation," Taylor said while noting the worldwide media also took note of the accomplishment, heaping praise on the rugged Canadian soldiers and the ingenuity shown while planning for the attack.

Unfortunately, as Taylor noted, the win at Vimy was not a decisive one as the Allied soldiers were not able to capitalize on their success and some 25,000 troops were lost in the following days.

"The Vimy Ridge offensive had not led to the major breakthrough it was hoped for. But Canadians stood justifiably proud of their achievement. Lest we forget."

Along with Taylor's speech, the Legion honoured a number of its members. Two in particular, Vince McGillicky and Lyle Dukart, were singled out with the Lifetime Membership Awards which are presented for outstanding service to the Legion and community.

Both men are long serving members of the Estevan Legion and remain heavily in many of the events the local branch's activities.

The service year badges were also presented Saturday.

15 years - Clarence Durr and Ivan Callfas

20 years - Eleanor Pryznyk, Sandra McGillicky (Ladies Auxiliary) and Margaret Thomas (Ladies Auxiliary)

25 years Lil Wanner, Ernie Skjerpen, Harvey Perkins, Leonard Grube, Vi Dukart, David Laing, Al Fellner, B.W. Wheeler, Dale Sorenson and Louise Frank (Ladies Auxiliary)

30 years - Sharren Dukart and Lois Hughes (Ladies Auxiliary)

35 years - R.J. McCleary, William Owens and Conna Lee Borschowa (Ladies Auxiliary)

40 years - Patricia Faulconbridge (Ladies Auxiliary)

45 years - Arnold Schlapkohl, Duane Bill, Doreen Dirks (Ladies Auxiliary), Frances Meckler-Johnson (Ladies Auxiliary), Martha Rothe (Ladies Auxiliary) and Audrey Torgunrud (Ladies Auxiliary)

50 years - Charlie Gessner and Bernadette Jamieson (Ladies Auxiliary)

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