105 Years Later: The RMR’s Assault on Vimy Ridge

Westmount, Quebec – 09 April 2022: 105 years ago this morning, in the snow and rain, the men of the 14th Battalion (RMR) – as part of the first assault wave of the entire Canadian Corps – rose out of their muddy trenches and began advancing towards their two objectives. Prior to their attack they had moved into position, and according to the first volume of the Regiment’s history (pages 143-144): “…a few days earlier, on 05 April 1917, the 14th Battalion (RMR) moved forward to Maison Blanche, completing occupation at midnight and moving forward again on the following day into front line trenches (Thélus Sector) with Headquarters in Bentata Tunnel.  This vast cavern, electrically lighted and provided with side chambers and passages, was used to shelter troops during assembly for the Vimy attack.”[1]

The battle of Vimy Ridge was a defining moment for Canada. In April 1917, the Canadian Corps, fighting for the first time as a Canadian entity, attacked the ridge which spanned seven kilometers and was heavily fortified by the Germans. The French and British had previously attempted to take the ridge but failed with massive casualties. However, the Canadians were successful and forced a major German retreat. Their victory came at great cost: 3,598 Canadians were killed and more than 7,000 wounded. Amongst these men were 98 RMR soldiers dead and 176 wounded – close to a 50% casualty rate for the Regiment. Despite the cost, Canada demonstrated superior military skill and success on a world stage, and Vimy was the first of a series of victories to follow (Hill 70, Passchendaele, Amiens, Drocourt-Quéant line, etc.) during the rest of the war. The success of the Canadians that began in force at Vimy earned the young Dominion a place at the table for the subsequent treaty of Versailles ending the war. To commemorate the brave Canadian soldiers who fought so successfully 105 years ago to take Vimy Ridge, the RMR Foundation is releasing this video[2] created by a friend of the Regiment, Bombardier Ambert Fong, 2nd Field Regiment RCA.

Again from the Regimental history:

“For the battle (of Vimy Ridge) each man of the 14th Battalion (RMR) was ordered to carry rifle, complete equipment less pack, 120 rounds of small arm ammunition, 2 Mills bombs (grenades), 5 sandbags, 48 hours’ rations, unexpended portion of current ration, waterproof sheet, box respirator (gas mask) worn at the alert, smoke helmet, goggles, 1 ground flare, and filled water bottle.  In the case of bombers, rifle grenadiers, Lewis gunners, and runners, small arm ammunition was reduced to 50 rounds to permit the carrying of special equipment, or to aid rapid movement. Warrant officers and N.C.O’s. Were instructed to carry rifles with fixed bayonets, and officers were ordered to equip themselves with revolvers and Very signalling pistols. All ranks were ordered to wear steel helmets, and half of the Battalion was instructed to carry forward 33 picks and 67 shovels.”

“Sharp at 5:30 a.m. the attacking waves of the Regiment stepped over the parapet and advanced towards the German front line, which at the moment was suffering the destroying wrath of a marvellously placed barrage.  In the ensuing hand to hand fighting the Royal Montrealers soon established superiority, but the enemy, by clever use of his machine guns, forced payment for the ground torn from his grasp.”

Nine Elms Military Cemetery Name Marker

Original Nine Elms Military Cemetery name marker

Vimy Ridge was the deepest advance the Allies had made in over two years of war.  The Canadians had shown how a carefully planned, rehearsed, and subsequently well executed assault could lead to victory.

The RMR and the entire Canadian Corps was victorious at Vimy Ridge, however the price of victory was high. The RMR itself lost 98 killed and 176 wounded on that one day of battle, which was close to half of the Battalion’s effective strength at the time. If you ever find yourself in the area of Vimy, please visit the 80 RMR boys who are all buried together in Plot 1, row A of the Nine Elms Military Cemetery.

We will remember them.

Plot 1, row A of the Nine Elms Military Cemetery contains 80 of the 98 RMR soldiers killed on 09 April 1917

Plot 1, row A of the Nine Elms Military Cemetery contains 80 of the 98 RMR soldiers killed on 09 April 1917

[1]    R.C. Featherstonhaugh, The Royal Montreal Regiment 14th Battalion C.E.F. 1914-1925, Montreal, The Gazette, Printing Co., Ltd., 1927, pp. 30-31.
[2]    Photo Credits: Library and Archives Canada, Imperial War Museum, RMR Museum Video Credits: Imperial War Museum Audio Credits: Massed Bands of H.M. Royal Marines "Drumbeats", Irish Defence Forces Band "Minstrel Boy Mix" Sound Effects: Freeware

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