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Canadian History for Kids: Victoria Cross at Vimy Ridge

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One and Canadian History for Kids have assembled 31 remarkable stories about incredible people, places and events which helped shape our amazing nation.

There are many significant stories to be told about the ‘war to end all wars’.

A grateful nation never forgets a hero.

Vimy Ridge, the Victoria Cross and four heroic Canadian Soldiers.

The Victoria Cross was instituted in 1856 and given to soldiers for “most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy”. It is a cross pattee with a dark brown finish and is made from cannons captured from the Russians during the Crimean War. The recipient’s rank, name and regiment are engraved on the reverse of the mounting bar.

World War I was considered “the Great War” and the Battle of Vimy Ridge was Canada’s greatest victory.

In late 1914, the German gained control over Vimy Ridge with tunnels, bunkers, and trenches. Their defences, consisting of strongly-emplaced machine-guns, were impenetrable.

On April 9, 1917, four divisions of the Canadian Corps, fighting together for the first time, made a run for Vimy Ridge, against three divisions of the German Sixth Army. Within the first 30 minutes the 1st Division, under Arthur Currie, they successfully captured the front line and a half hour later the second line was captured. By April 12, 1917, Vimy Ridge was completely controlled by the Allies and stayed in their control for the rest of the war. To that date, it was considered the most successful Allied advance on the Western Front.

Arthur Currie was knighted for his services in the war and four Victoria Crosses were awarded to Canadian solder; namely, Private William Johnstone Milne of the 16th Battalion, Lance-Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton of the 18th Battalion, Captain Thain Wendall MacDowell of the 38th Battalion and Private John George Pattison of the 50th Battalion.

Private Milne crawled on hands and knees to reach two enemy machine guns which were firing upon his company. He was able to kill the gunners and capture the machine guns as well as hold off an enemy party which was advancing on the trench until his own men could gain the position. Private Milne was killed but his body was never recovered. He is buried in the Lichfield Crater Cemetery in France.

Lance-Sergeant Sifton’s company was being held back by machine gun fire while trying to attack enemy trenches. Sifton ran across open ground, charged a machine-gun emplacement with hand grenades, and attacked the gunners with his bayonet. He then helped hold off a counter-attack with bayonet and rifle butt but was fatally shot by a wounded German. He is buried in the Lichfield Crater Cemetery in France.

Captain MacDowell, together with Private James Kobus and Private Arthur Hay (both Privates were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal), reached the German position ahead of his company. He captured one machine-gun and chased the crew from another. When he spotted one German going into a tunnel, he followed and was able to convince the Germans he was part of a much larger force. The result was the surrender of two German officers and 75 German soldiers. He sent the prisoners up out the tunnel in groups of 12 so that Kobus and Hay could take them back to the Canadian line. He continued to hold the position for five days until his company reached the position. He was the only Victoria Cross recipient to survive the battle.

When the advance of Canadian troops was held up by enemy machine gun fire, Private Pattison jumped from shell-hole to shell-hole, took cover within thirty yards of the enemy gun, and hurled bombs killing and wounding some of the crew, and then rushed forward overcoming and bayoneting the surviving five gunners. Pattison was killed on June 3, 1917 making an attack on a power station near Lens, France. He is buried in the La Chaudière Military Cemetery, France

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