Featured Profile

John George Pattison, VC
(8 September, 1875 - 3 June, 1917).

Born in England and recent immigrant (1906) to Calgary, Private Pattison became one of four Canadians to be awarded the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

 

The Pioneer Descendants of Vimy

by John F. Rauchert

The stated objective of The Southern Alberta Pioneers and Their Descendants (SAPD) is to rescue from oblivion the memory of the early pioneers of Southern Alberta and to obtain and preserve narratives of their exploits, perils and adventures.

This month we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Remarkably, this battle took place almost exactly 50 years after the British North America Act was given Royal Assent on March 29th, 1867.

For four days, from Easter Monday April 9th to April 12th, the men of the Canadian Corps strove to take this well fortified German position that had repelled earlier attempts.

A good overview of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, narrated by William Shatner, was produced for Legion Magazine.

It is not known for sure how many descendants of Southern Alberta Pioneers joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force but, undoubtedly, a great many still had strong ties to the British Empire. The following are the experiences of just a few of these sons of pioneers present at Vimy.

April 9th, the first day of the battle

After a week of intense Allied bombardment, the Canadian Corps attacked the ridge at 5:30 am. The troops moved up the long western slope of the ridge, just behind a rolling artillery barrage designed to keep the Germans hidden in their bunkers and away from their machine guns as long as possible. In wind, sleet and snow, the initial wave of more than 15,000 Canadians stormed the ridge and captured most of the German positions by the afternoon of the first day.

Walter Ramsey Critchley, Front

Major Walter Ramsay Critchley (service record)

Walter Critchley, the son of pioneers Major Oswald Asheton Critchley and Maria Cecil Newbolt, had a lot to live up to as his father and two brothers were also serving.

One brother, Captain Alfred Cecil Critchley (later a Brigadier-General) had won the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1916.

His other brother Major John Asheton Critchley won the Military Cross in 1915 and had just died a mere four days before Vimy from wounds received while in temporary command of Lord Strathcona's Horse leading a cavalry charge against the trenches at Equancourt on the Somme front.

The opening day of the Vimy battle, Walter was fighting with the 1st Division, 2nd Brigade, 10th Battalion (perpetuated by the Calgary Highlanders) on the right-hand-side of the battlefield.

The following account from The story of the Tenth Canadian Battalion, 1914-1917 by J.A. Holland describes what happened.

Lieut.-Col. D. M. Ormond was now commanding the 10th Battalion. They were to operate on the left flank of the 2nd Brigade, whose objective was the Arras-Lens Railway, well over the Ridge itself. The general advance was timed for 5.30 a.m., April 9th. As the dawn began to streak the sky with shafts of light, a snowstorm raged over the battlefield, covering the ground in a thin mantle of white. To the second of time the British artillery barrage opened up, descending like a wall of flame-driven smoke upon the German front line crowning the Ridge. The thunder of the guns was deafening, all-pervading, and the whine of the speeding shells merged into a crescendo of shrieking whistles as the guns, big and little, settled down to their work.

S.O.S. rockets hovered in showers above the enemy lines, and his guns answered these frantic appeals for help with a scattered ill-directed barrage, much less effective than the fire maintained by his machine guns and snipers. British counter-battery work was stifling the German gunfire.

The 10th Battalion left the "jumping-off" trench immediately the signal was given, and trudged through the muddy shell craters after the barrage, stolidly and imperturbably, indifferent to the bullets which sang and hummed through the shell-smoke like hiving bees. Men crumpled up and fell into the water-filled craters right and left, but the advance continued relentlessly.

At 6.30 a.m. the first objective, the German front line, was reached. Gun crews still fought their weapons and snipers lying in the broken ground were still firing from hot rifles as fast as they could load. "Mopping up" parties systematically cleared the dug-outs, and scores of prisoners were herded towards the Canadian lines. German dead in blood-spattered heaps blocked the trench ways.

The 10th Battalion with only one officer left, continued the advance towards the enemy's second line, encountering the same form of opposition - machine guns and snipers. The Hun had modified his method of warfare. His infantry could no longer be depended upon to cross bayonets with the British. His principal defence now consisted of picked machine gun crews and snipers, either forced or sworn to fight to the last. Many were found chained to their guns.

Shortly after 9.0 a.m. the 10th Battalion reached its second and final objective. Messy work with the bayonet and bomb quickly stifled the opposition, and in an incredibly short time the second herd of erstwhile fighting Bavarians were running eagerly towards the safety and hospitality of the Canadian lines. They were unfeignedly glad to be out of it, and required no escorts.

The advance to the railway line was continued by supporting battalions, while the 10th Battalion settled down to consolidate the captured positions. They had suffered very severely and the men were exhausted from the heavy "going," but they turned to with a will proud in the knowledge that they had borne a good part in the taking of Vimy Ridge.

April 10th, the second day of the battle

The first day of battle had ended with most of the Canadian objectives taken. Only two objectives still remained to be achieved as the German forces still occupied the highest part of the Ridge, Hill 145 and Hill 119, known as the Pimple.

Osgoode Hall Law School
Class of 1913

Major John Francis Costigan (attestation paper)

On April 10th at 3:15 pm, Major John Francis Costigan, son of pioneers John Ryan Costigan and Ada Philomene Dowling went into action on Hill 145 in command of A Company of the 4th Division, 10th Brigade, 50th Battalion (perpetuated by The King's Own Calgary Regiment).

The 50th was exposed to fire from the Pimple and German machine guns were causing heavy casualties. As the company struggled through the remnants of wire obstacles and wrecked concrete machine gun posts, fatigued from struggling through the mud, one position could not be taken by the men of A Company. The advance was reinforced by B Company and it was then that John George Pattison won the 4th Division's second Victoria Cross by single-handedly taking out a machine gun nest that was halting the advance.

Objectives were quickly taken and consolidated, but casualties in A Company were heavy totaling eleven officers, five of whom were killed, and over 200 from other ranks.

A newspaper account in the November 1st, 1917 Calgary Daily Herald stated that Major Costigan was killed attacking a German gun battery with his revolver, but the 10th Brigade War Diary says that he was felled by a sniper as he was dressing another man's wounds.

Sergeant Percy Abe Young (attestation paper)

Sergeant Percy Abe Young

With Costigan in A Company was Sergeant Percy Abe Young, son of pioneers William Young and Mary Bourn who was killed in the same attack. Percy had two brothers who also served.

George Herbert Young with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles was killed on June 5th, 1916 in The Battle of Mont Sorrel, but it was not until 1926 that his unmarked grave was found and his dog tag returned to his father. and Sergeant Walter James Young who would survive the war although he was wounded twice while serving with the 50th Battalion with his brother Percy.

Extract of the 50th Battalion War Diary for April 9th to April 12th.

April 12th, the last day of the battle

Despite a driving snowstorm, the 10th Brigade was ordered to secure the Pimple. The 44th Battalion, two companies made up from the remnants of the 50th Battalion and two companies of the 46th Battalion were the bulk of the force.

Private James Ivan Linton (service record)

James Ivan Linton

Just as James Linton, son of pioneers James Campbell Linton and Edith Maude VanWart was sailing for England, his family received word that his brother, Private Signaller Clifford Vanwart Linton was reported missing on October 8th, 1916 in a spot known at the Quadrilateral on the Regina Trench in the Somme Battle of Ancre Height.

Overseas, he was assigned to the 4th Division, 10th Brigade, 46th Battalion (perpetuated by The Saskatchewan Dragoons) which would become known as "The Suicide Battalion" due to of their 91.5 percent casualty rate (1433 killed and 3484 wounded) during the course of the war.

The operation to take the Pimple began at 5 am under very adverse conditions. There were very heavy snow storms at intervals and beyond the original enemy front line the ground was terribly cut up and covered with knee deep mud.

Private Robert George Kentner with the 46th, wrote an account of the action in Some recollections of the battles of World War I.

Just as morning began to break we heard the rattle of many machine-guns and swish of thousands of bullets over our heads...At once we stepped forward toward that crashing wall of bursting explosives which was our barrage on the enemy front position. Almost at the same instant, the snowstorm increased in intensity. Great huge flakes were beating down upon us and directly into the face of the enemy.

We had scarcely started when we began to have casualties. A man on my right dropped — another close by on my left went down — another barely three paces away let out a fearful yell and went sprawling in the mud. As we neared their front line, we were greeted by stick-bombs which took effect but didn't stop us. In a moment we were in the front line. The bay I jumped into was occupied by four Germans — all dead.

House on 4th Avenue decorated for welcoming
James Ivan Linton home

Even though the objectives were taken quickly by the end of the day the two companies of the 46th had suffered 108 casualties, about half their strength.

As the storm passed and the sun came out the Canadians on the Pimple could see down the ridge onto the unspoiled plain of Douai to the north and east.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was over.

James Ivan Linton eventually returned home and ran J. Ivan Linton Picture Framing on 8th avenue until his death in 1964, but not without facing additional trials.

After a week in the rear area, the 46th Battalion moved into reserve and support positions in the left sub-sector of Vimy Ridge. On May 1st they relieved the 50th Battalion a short distance northwest of La Coulotte and in the days following they took a set of German trenches known as The Triangle.

They held this position against at least three German counterattacks until relieved by the 50th Battalion. On May 6th, 1917, during one these counterattacks, James was wounded receiving a severe wound due to the shelling to his face, right leg and shoulder (he was also known to have been buried alive at one time which may have been during this event). When he had recovered from these wounds, he returned to the 46th to fight at the Battle of Canal du Nord in September of 1918.

Special thanks to Kathleen (Hutchings) Rogers, past SAPD President for her research into the Linton Brothers

The Home Front

The news of the victory caused immense pride back home. Congratulations flowed in from the allied countries. The United States had just entered the war on April 6th and the New York Tribune wrote that Canada had fielded a better army than Napoleons and the New York Times called April 9th, one of the great Canadian days.

Calgary Daily Herald, April 11, 1917

Initial reports were that the total casualties were light.

"This would bring the total casualties to between five to six thousand. Some western papers have been publishing disquieting London cables to the effect that the casualties would total twelve thousand, but at the militia department this is said to be gross exaggeration and there seems no warrant for such a statement." — Calgary Daily Herald, April 16, 1917

In reality, the fighting at Vimy was far more intense and costly than the Somme and April 9th would be the single bloodiest day in all of Canadian military history.

Calgary Daily Herald, April 16, 1917

Calgary Daily Herald, April 20, 1917

The Aftermath

Canada Mourns, Vimy Ridge Memorial

The Battle of Vimy Ridge did not end the war or even hasten the end of a war that came at a great cost. The Vimy Memorial on Hill 145 reminds us of that cost as the young nation mourns her approximately 60,000 war dead.

Brigadier-General Alexander E. Ross wrote, "It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then ... that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation." A war veteran remembering the battle at Vimy Ridge echoed those sentiments, "We went up Vimy Ridge as Albertans and Nova Scotians. We came down as Canadians."

Whether Vimy Ridge was the Birthplace of a nation or piece of Canadian mythologizing has been debated, most recently in an article for the Globe and Mail by Robert Everett-Green.

However, the ultimate importance of Vimy's contribution to the national story, is that for the first time the Canadian Corps composed of people from many backgrounds and ethnicities, recent immigrants and descendants of pioneers, the first settlers of Canada and the first nations of Canada all came together in a common struggle for a common cause.

It is the sacrifice of 3598 Canadian lives and 7004 wounded which marks the importance of this time and this place.

 

The Library and Archives of Canada have been digitizing many of the First World War personnel records and making them available through this online resource: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/search.aspx