On April 9th, Ridley will look back 100 years to commemorate the Battle of Vimy Ridge. A battle which saw six graduates make the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of victory and the birth of a nation.
The battle, which began on April 9th, 1917, was a turning point in Canadian history, where all the Canadian divisions fought together for the first time. By the end of the battle on April 12th, some 3,598 Canadian soldiers were killed, including six Old Ridleians. The impressive victory over German forces is often cited as the beginning of Canada’s evolution from dominion territory to independent nation.
During the March break, students had the chance to relive history, on the Vimy Ridge trip, that visits monuments and battle sites in France and Belgium. This trip was made even more special when Charlotte Westcott ’18 and William Clayton ’22 discovered the names of Old Ridleians who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Situated in northern France, the heavily-fortified, seven kilometre ridge held a commanding view over the Allied lines. The Canadians would be assaulting up a ridge that the French Army had failed to capture. In numerous attempts, they had suffered over 100,000 casualties trying to retake it from the German Army. It would be up to the Canadians to take the ridge.
The first of the Old Ridleians to fall was Lt. Fred “A.J.” Norsworthy (1901-04), who was killed by artillery in the week before the battle, when the two opposing armies traded artillery barrages, in preparation for the upcoming battle. A week the German forces would later call “The Week of Suffering.”
After the call to go “Over the Top” was made at 5:30 a.m. on April 9th, five more Ridleians fell; including Gunner Jack “J.L.” Hart who was killed by an artillery shell in no man’s land. He was with friend and fellow Old Ridleian, Gunner Jack “J.M.” Wainright, who was mortally wounded by the same shell. He would perish in the days after the battle.
Lt. J.F. Manley (1910-14) a Mason Gold Medal winner in 1914, and one of the school’s most accomplished cricket players, was killed battling up the ridge with his unit, the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders. Lt.-Col. Dick “R.W.F.” Jones (1896-1901) and Capt. Alfie “A.S.” Trimmer (1893-1901) died on the ridge at the height of the battle. Trimmer had previously won the Military Cross and bar award for his actions at the Battle of Ypres a few months earlier. The Midsummer 1917 edition of the Acta Ridleiana— the former monthly magazine —noted that Trimmer “had come through so many dangers that we hoped he would be spared.”
“It was inspiring and also heartbreaking to find the graves. Seeing them for myself really drove home the sacrifice that they made during the war. It showed me the value of what they fought for and how much I have to be thankful for,” says Charlotte. “Seeing their names below the Canadian maple leaf really drives home that these Ridleians really were consumed in service.”
After the war ended on November 11th, 1918, the government of France granted the ridge and 250 acres of the battleground to Canada, to serve as a memorial park to commemorate the fallen Canadians. Hill 145, the highest point of the Ridge, is now the site of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. After the war, Ridley commemorated the six Old Ridleians who fought and died at Vimy Ridge, along with 55 others who died in WWI, with the building of the Memorial Chapel. The Chapel was dedicated on June 23rd, 1923.
Today, the Ridley community continues to remember the students who made the ultimate sacrifice many years ago. Be it in the classroom, the Archives or the Memorial Chapel, the students continue to honour those who lost their lives.