1 August 1917
A Centenary Action

August 1917 would prove to be another monumental month for the Canadian Corps, with its successful attacks on Hill 70 and Lens. Unfortunately, these battles lie in the shadow of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and for many years have not received the recognition they deserve; indeed, the Battle of Hill 70 has been referred to as the Forgotten Victory. The Vimy Foundation continues to strive to correct this gap in our national memory, by bringing attention to the many centennial events of 1917, including the Battle of Hill 70 and Lens. On 7 August 2017, sixteen students aged 14 – 17 years old will depart Canada on the Vimy Foundation’s Beaverbrook Vimy Prize. In anticipation of their commemoration of the Battle of Hill 70, as well as other important milestones in Canada’s military history, today’s post begins a series of coverage on that monumental battle of August 1917.

On the cusp of the attack on Hill 70, the skies over the Canadian Corps suddenly opened up. Any hope of launching the attack in late July 1917 were dashed by a sudden torrent of rain. For those on the ground, while the weather may have provided comfort by delaying the frightening thoughts of an attack, it also worsened their prospects of a speedy advance and prolonged their exposure to the elements. In letters written home just before the scheduled date of attack, stretcher bearer Ralph Watson of the 29th (Vancouver) Battalion lamented: 

“Unable to ride his cycle through the mud caused by the recent storm. A Canadian messenger carries his “horse”. August, 1917.”
Credit: Library and Archives Canada/PA-001581 (modified from the original).
Colourized by Canadian Colour

“29 July 1917… Today it has unexpectedly rained, heavily; aeroplane work at a most critical moment is suspended; and roads already in very bad shape. In all probability, the advance will be held up. The trenches, incidentally, will be hell…” (Watson, Letters of a Canadian Stretcher Bearer, 1914 – 1917, p. 150-151). 

“1 August 1917… Weather worse – it’s damnable. Was there ever such luck! Rain came so badly through roof had to hunt around for corrugated iron to put on the remains of the ceiling beams – that is, on what was once the bedroom floor. All dry then, huge open wood fire – jake!” (Watson, Letters of a Canadian Stretcher Bearer, 1914 – 1917, p. 153).

Today’s photograph has been colourized as part of the Vimy Foundation’s First World War In Colour project. Learn more about this project, and see additional photographs, by following this link:  http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/projects/ 


Tour de France 1914 – 1919
23 July 2017

Today marks the end of the 2017 #TourdeFrance.

Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-28-996

The history of the Tour de France was deeply impacted by the First World War, with 1914 being the last Tour before the onslaught of the First World War. In fact, the 1914 Tour began on 28 June, the very day that the Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo.  That Tour ended on 26 July 1914. Six days later, on 1 August 1914, France would mobilize for war. Many of the pre-war cyclists would answer this call of mobilization, including the champion cyclists of the 1907-1910 Tours. All three former champions would die during the war, along with many of their former competitors.

There would not be another Tour until 1919, which served as a sombre Tour of the devastated French countryside. The country’s road system was utterly destroyed, and the Tour’s wealth of riders gutted by casualties lost to the war. In an economy ravaged by war, individual bicycle manufacturers were unable to sponsor entire teams and thus formed a unique collective, sponsoring a large portion of riders as “La Sportive”. As a result of all these factors, only ten cyclists would finish the race, the lowest completion in the Tour’s history.

Cyclists passing through the ruined village of Brie, March 1917. Such devastation would have remained during the 1919 Tour de France.
© IWM (Q 1870)

#TDF  #TDF2017