Birth of a Regiment

 

Vimy Ridge (cont’d)

The Battle


The battle opened on a cold blustery Easter morning April 9th, 1917. The Patricia’s had moved forward through the Grange tunnel the previous day and by 4:30 am had taken their place in the forward trenches having finished a hot meal and a tot of rum. The Patricia’s were positioned in the centre of the 7th Brigade with the RCR on their right and the 42nd Battalion of their left. The 49th Battalion would be held in reserve and provide carrying parties for defensive stores. With a battalion front of only 250 yards the PPCLI advanced with two companies up. No 1 and 3 company were to lead the initial attack with the objective of seizing the Famine trench line. No. 2 and 4 Companies would then pass through to seize the ridge line and eastern slope at La Folie Wood where a strong defensive position was to be established.
Unique to the attacking battalions, the Patricia’s brought forward their pipers to play the troops over the top. With the thunderous opening barrage at 5:30 marking the start of the assault, it is unlikely many of the men heard much else but they were none-the-less well forward for their primary duty as stretcher bearers. The great success of the initial barrage had as much to do with improved artillery techniques and equipment as the number of guns or number of rounds fired so often cited by historians. The artillery now had new instantaneous fuzes that could successfully cut wire. New sound ranging and flash spotting techniques along with aerial reconnaissance enabled the artillery to locate and neutralize enemy guns. Better mapping and survey techniques meant both the guns and the infantry could rely on predicted fire to land where it was needed. Finally, better communications made the guns more responsive to the needs of the attacking force. Although improvements would continue throughout the war, Vimy marked a dramatic change in the effectiveness of artillery support.[i]
The initial attack was remarkably successful with relatively few casualties. By 6 am, the Famine trench line was secure and the even numbered companies moved through to continue the advance for a further 500 yards. The attack continued at 6:45 and within an hour the second objective was secure. Throughout the advance, the muddy ground churned up by the artillery combined with driving sleet made the going tough. Although casualties had been light, No. 4 company lost all four of its officers and command passed to the able hands of 35 year old Company Sergeant Major Charlie Baker, an original who had been wounded at Frezenberg.[ii]

Despite the success of the Patricia’s initial attack, they were now exposed to enfilade fire from the dominating hill 145 to their north. The attack by the 11th Brigade of the neighboring division had met stiff resistance been held back. Pressure was not relieved until the 44th and 50th Battalions finally cleared the hill the following afternoon. Although the battalion had escaped heavy losses in the assault on April 9th, by the time they were relieved early on April 11th, eighty three had been killed or died of wounds. Within a week, 180 men would be removed from the roles of the regiment.

The Regiment at Vimy

View of Petit Vimy from the Ridge

The picture of the Regiment at Vimy was much changed. For the first time, the Commanding Officer was a Canadian instead of a British regular. Although, like Gault, Agar Adamson was very much a believer in Empire and scoffed at those who trumpeted the natural ability of Canadians, he brought a very Canadian flavour to the job. About 42% of the Regiment were Canadian born. The supply of the unemployed urban workers had started to dry up and there is an increased number of farmers and other agricultural workers. A full third of those on strength of the regiment would have joined after the Somme battles of 1916 and the percentage would have been even higher in the attacking companies. Leadership at company level and below was now largely in the hands of University Company reinforcements or officers who had been commissioned from the ranks. 9% of the Regiment had enlisted in the Maritimes, 33% in Western Canada, 39% in Ontario and 19% in Quebec. These figures of course exaggerate the influence the central provinces where most of the originals and university companies had gathered to enlist.

The transition to a more Canadian regiment continued through the balance of the war. Agar Adamson, who was 51 at the time of Vimy Ridge continued in command through the bloody Battle of Passchendaele in the fall of 1917.

[i]S. Bidwell and D. Graham,Firepower, Chapter 6 Ubique
[ii]R. Hodder Williams,Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry 1914-1919, 221

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