The men of the Canadian Corps were huddled in their trenches, awaiting the artillery barrage to open up, softening the German trenches ahead of them. While the night had been fairly calm, a storm started to blow in. It came from behind the Canadians, blowing rain and sleet into the faces of the German lines. The Canadians pulled their coats a little tighter, others made sure to keep their head down, knowing there were snipers on the other side who were waiting for the chance to pick off a man who let himself forget to keep the head below the trench line. Canadian scouts did the same, waiting for Germans to do the same.

Each man was carrying a rifle, bayonet, 120 rounds of ammunition, two grenades, sandbags, hard rations, waterproof sheet, gas mask, goggles, flare and water. Some even had picks and shovels, which would come in handy to dig in if needed. Others had rudimentary body armor, intended to stop a bullet, and shrapnel from the constant barrage of artillery.

Just before the men went over the top, 983 guns and mortars rained down on the German trenches, the roaring din adding to the tension the men felt waiting for the whistle. The 21 battalions of Canadians, spread across four divisions, waited, while the artillery created a cesspool of mud, blood, shattered trenches, and shell holes on the other side of no man’s land. Each explosion, while in the distance, would seem to echo right in the soul of each man, knowing what would await them over the top.

Huddled in their trenches, waiting for the sharp whistle which would tell them it was time to go, were a number of men who enlisted in Weyburn. Some at the outset of the Great War, others as the war continued and the call for more volunteers was issued. They came from all walks of life. Farmers, bookkeepers, pharmacists, labourers. They were immigrants from the Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States. Some were born and raised on the prairies. Others had moved here from the east to find their fortunes and homes. All were volunteers, who promised to put their life on the line with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, for King and Empire.

Many of those who enlisted in Weyburn were part of the 5th Battalion. The Battalion was comprised of men who were the prairies, enlisting in places like Weyburn, Regina, Brandon and Moose Jaw. They were commanded by Lt.-Col. Hugh Marshall Dyer, who farmed in Manitoba, but was originally from Ireland.

The 5th Battalion was attached to the 1st Canadian Division, commanded by Major General Arthur Currie. On April 9th, it was tasked with making an attack, along with the other three Canadian divisions, to attack Vimy Ridge. The operation was part of the greater Battle of Arras, an attempt to break the German lines that stretch from the Belgian coast, all the way to the Swiss border.

The 1st Division, along with the 2nd and 3rd Divisions, had a series of objectives along the ridge, beginning with the “Black Line”. The men of the 5th Battalion waited for the signal, each with their own thoughts before the charge. It was a tense atmosphere. They knew many of the men who were with them may not make it back to the trenches, or return home after the war. Not many would voice it.

Casual estimates say five per cent of all men from Weyburn, between the ages of 18 and 44, died on Vimy Ridge

Just after the artillery barrage started, a series of mines planted along the German line by British and Canadian sappers was detonated, throwing earth and humanity into the sky. The light artillery pieces then began a crawling barrage, with the shells advancing every three minutes, as the heavier pieces continued to shell deepers defensive trenches, and the German artillery.

The whistles sounded, echoing along the Canadian lines. The men clambered out of the trenches, carrying their kit, advancing towards the German line. Ahead of them, the lines illuminated by the glow of flares, and fires. The sounds deafening, as the cacophony of explosions and small arms fire erupted around them.

The 5th Battalion moved up, split into four companies. The A company was on the right, the B company on the left. Behind them, the C and D companies provided support. The Canadians were just 75 yards away from the German front line position when the attack opened.

They quickly advanced on the German line. Softened by the artillery barrage, the trenches had started to fill with water from the storm, and the water was red from the blood of the fallen. The 5th Battalion captured the first trenches with little opposition, but suffered casualties from the return artillery fire from the enemy. From the first trench, they began moving towards what was called the Sunken Road. They encountered machine gun fire from the German line, and the battle quickly became one of hand to hand combat.

Bayonets, clubs, knives, the butts of rifles, all used against each other. The Canadians attacked with a ferocity the Germans were unaccustomed to. Many of the Germans shed their equipment, running from the attack. They sought shelter in dugouts and along secondary trenches, but the Canadians would subdue them. Few prisoners would be taken by the initial wave of the 5th Battalion. The mop-up companies would handle those who remained.

Behind the Sunken Road, the machine guns opened up once again, slowing the progress of the Canadians. With the machine guns pinning down the A and B companies, and the C and D companies close behind them, a group of men moved up to stop the machine guns.

Using grenades and rifles, they attacked. Once again, the hand to hand fighting began in the trench. In the close quarters the Germans put up a strong resistance. The plan was quickly changing for the Canadians, as they adapted to meet the situation. The C and D companies, who were to have leaped over the A and B companies to move up to the “Red line”, joined in the attack to counter the strong opposition. The D Company moved to flank the trench, using their machine guns to fire down the trench of the Germans. Rifle grenades were also used by the Canadians.

The Germans suffered numerous casualties, as did the Canadians. Eventually, the Germans along the “Black Line” began to surrender, and the Canadians pushed to finish the fight. The advance swept on, with the Canadians preparing to move on to their next objective. At 6:25 a.m., the 5th Battalion, along with the rest of the 1st Division, had captured their first objective of the day. Next, was the “Red line”. A bombing party, men who carried numerous grenades, moved up. They flanked the German position, and were able to avoid excessive casualty. The men then began the work to clear out the dugouts of the German trenches, using grenades and smoke bombs. From there, the consolidation of the line began.

“It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then, and I think today, that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.” - Brigadier General Alexander Ross, Commander, 28th Battalion, 1917.

Further down the line was the 10th Battalion. It was comprised of men from across the country, but primarily Saskatchewan and Alberta. They had the same objectives as the 5th Battalion. Capture the Black Line and the Red Line.

As they left the jumping off trench, the bullets from the German lines whizz past them. The men stumbled through the mud-filled craters, making it to the first trenches of the German defense. Men fell as they advanced, crumpling into the craters left by the artillery barrage, and the counter-fire of the German guns.

As the 10th Battalion reached the German trenches, the machine guns continued to fire, and snipers were trying to hit the Canadians as fast as they could reload. The defense withered, many of the Germans lying dead, the blood-spattered heaps of their bodies blocking the trenches. Those who survived the onslaught were matched back to the Canadian lines, taken prisoners.

The 10th continued their push to the second objective - the “Red Line”. They encountered similar resistance, machine guns and snipers. The Germans had changed their orders, though. Now, they weren’t relying on the hand-to-hand combat further down the trench, like the 5th Battalion encountered. The men were forced or sworn to hold the line until their death. Many of them, according the the accounts of the Canadians, were chained to machine guns to prevent their flight.

Grenades and bayonets ended the resistance of the Germans. In short order, another group of German prisoners began their march back to the Canadian lines. This time, the Germans seemed quite pleased to have surrendered, glad to be out of the hellish fight, and went back relatively unescorted.

The Canadians secured their lines, preparing for the inevitable counterattacks from the Germans. The positions they defended were destroyed, ruined by the artillery barrage before the initial attack. The trenches were littered with the unburied dead. The Canadians took shelter in knee-deep mud whenever the Germans would shell the positions. When the 10th was finally relieved, they marched back to billets in Mont St. Eloi, a shadow of the battalion that left the trenches the morning of April 9th.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was not over yet. A village, Arleux-en-Gohelle, lay just beyond the ridge, and it was part of a trench fortification the Canadians dubbed the Arleux Loop. It was tasked to the 5th, 8th and 10th Battalions to attack, and they would get to their lines on April 27th. They waited, and at midnight, as the day passed to the 28th, they launched their attack.

The loop was dotted with little forts, trenches and tunnels. The Germans were driven from their shelter by the ferocity of the Canadians. Men were driven from cellars and ruins, the Germans cleared out. The Canadians pushed onwards, establishing a defensive line in the woods beyond the village Behind them was the village, it’s machine gun nests littered with the dead. The Canadians had defeated the hand picked men of the German Army.

In the opening days of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, many men who had enlisted, or lived in Weyburn, wouldn't be returning home. More were wounded, and there would be countless others who would carry the tragic horror of the battle in the minds for the rest of their lives. For a community of just 3,050, with a few thousand more who lived in the surrounding villages and hamlets, it would be a huge sacrifice for the region. Casual estimates say five per cent of all men from Weyburn, between the ages of 18 and 44, died on Vimy Ridge; the town paying a steep price for the country.

Pte. Frank Baird was originally from Lyles, Minnesota, but had relocated to Ogema with his family. Living with his parents on the family farm, he had enlisted in Weyburn in February of 1916. Going over the top that morning, he was originally reported missing. When the Canadians had the chance to go back over their lines, they found his body.

Moving to the Ogema area with his wife Ethel May, Jesse Barnett was 26 years old when he took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Originally from Motley, Minnesota, he travelled from his family farm to Weyburn to enlist. While he made it through the ferocity of the opening days of the battle, he was killed in action on April 13th. His wife was left to care for their two children, both of whom went on to live long lives in Canada, eventually moving away to Ontario.

A car-checker with the Canadian Pacific Railway, Pte. Wesley Bell had spent two years with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was part of the D company, which went over the line in support of the B company the morning of the battle. He was wounded during the attack, and brought back to the Canadian Field Ambulance behind the Canadian trenches. His father Alfred, who lived in Minnedosa, Manitoba, was given the news his son, just 21-years-old, wouldn’t be returning to Canada after succumbing to his wounds.

Coming from Ogema as well was Pte. George Berry. Having moved to Canada, the 32-year-old farmed near the community west of Weyburn. He enlisted in Weyburn in January of 1916. Coming from Lancashire, England, his mother, who still lived in the U.K., was listed as his next of kin. Sadly, he wouldn’t get to see his mother again, as he was killed in action that day.

William Boblo was born in the Ukraine, and had moved to Canada to start a better life for himself, and his wife Kathrino, who had stayed behind. He had settled in Weyburn, and worked on a farm, when the war broke out. He travelled to Camp Hughes, Manitoba, where he enlisted. Boblo never had the chance to welcome his wife to the new country they would call home, as he was killed in action during the first day of the battle, charging the ridge with the 102nd Battalion.

Pte. William Butterworth had moved with his family from Lancashire, as well. His family had settled in Radville, where Butterworth worked as a clerk. He was one of the few members of the 5th Battalion who had previous military experience, having served for four years in the Territorials. He didn’t return to Radville. His sacrifice is commemorated at the Alameda War Memorial.

A farmer originally from Sligo, Ireland, Pte. John Cawley had a plot of land near Hardy, SK. He enlisted in Ceylon, just after Christmas. Cawley went over the top with the rest of his Battalion in the early hours of April 9th. His farm, taken over by his brother Joseph, who moved to Canada, and Saskatchewan, in 1920.

Coming over to Canada from Kent, Pte. Ernest Cutridge was a farmer near Hume. He was just 22 years old when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Weyburn, just before Christmas in 1915. He was part of the initial attack the morning of the 9th, and was wounded in the stomach by machine gun fire. He would die the following day, at the Canadian Field Hospital.

At age 40, Pte. Stephen Coram was one of the older enlisted men in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He had moved from London with his daughter Ethel May, while his wife remained in England. He had taken up in work as a bookkeeper in Weyburn when he enlisted. His daughter was living in Moose Jaw when she received the notice of his death. He died of his wounds on April 11th, two days after the initial attack on Vimy Ridge.

Pte. Alfred Davis was originally from Derbyshire, but had emigrated to Canada with his family. They settled in Willow Bunch. In March of 1916, just 21 years old, Davis came to Weyburn to enlist in the C.E.F.. He died the first day of the battle, as the Canadian Corps pushed forward.

Thomas Dickie had moved to Toronto with his father, Thomas Sr., before moving to the Prairies. At the outset of the war, Dickie was working as a carpenter in Weyburn when he enlisted in the military early in 1915. He had seen action before Vimy Ridge with the 10th Battalion, and survived the horrors of the Somme. In the afternoon of the 9th, after the initial attack, he was killed by a German machine gun, never having the chance to return to the town he called home.

Living in Horizon, a town that exists in name alone today, Pte. Howard Ford was just 19 years old when he enlisted in the military. His family had moved to southeast Saskatchewan from Staffordshire, and farmed in the area. He had been a part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force for just over a year, before his life was cut short during the attack.

While not from Weyburn, Pte. John Hargreaves had connections to the community, as he was originally part of the 152nd Battalion, which was made up of men from Weyburn and Estevan. Hargreaves was married, with children, who lived in Estevan. Originally from the U.K., Hargreaves had moved to Saskatchewan in 1912, with his daughter, while his wife stayed back in England. Hargreaves was killed in action, his daughter left with her grandparents in Winnipeg.

A veteran of the Canadian military, Lee Hart had moved from Halifax to the Prairies. Taking after his father, Major George Hart, he attended the Canadian Infantry School in Winnipeg. As time went on, the 27 year old found himself in Weyburn working as a realtor when he enlisted. Originally a sergeant, he reverted to private, as he would be able to get to the front lines quicker. The morning of April 9th, during the initial attack, he was struck by a machine gun fired from the German lines, killing him instantly.

Pte. Ernest Heron was born in Flesherton, Ontario, and had moved with his family to Ogema. Just 17 years old at the outset of the war. Working on the family farm, Heron travelled to Weyburn to enlist just after his 19th birthday. He was wounded on the first day of the battle, and passed away three days later, just 20 years old.

Having served four years with the United States Marine Corps, Cpl. Thomas Hoban was living in Weyburn when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in August of 1916. He was working as a railwayman in Canada, but was originally from Tera Alta, West Virginia. He was killed as he left the trench the morning of April 9th, struck in the chest by a bullet.

Pte. Alexander King was living in Arcola at the start of the war. Originally from Owen Sound, Ontario, he had a farm near Arcola, east of Weyburn, along with his wife Eleanor. When the 5th Battalion went over the top on April 9th, he was one of the lucky ones to survive the initial day of battle. He would be wounded, though, the following day, and wouldn't return home.

Unlike many who enlisted in Weyburn, Charles Knox served with the 102nd Battalion. The 102nd Battalion was part of the 4th Division, which encountered the heaviest resistance during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, being the only Canadian division to not achieve their objectives in the morning of the attack. Knox has moved from England with his wife, and homesteaded with the wife Eva Martha near Wood Mountain He enlisted in Weyburn in 1916, and found himself going over the top on April 9th. He wouldn’t return to his wife, as he was killed in action that morning.

Along with his two brother Tom and Frank, Pte. Bertram Lambert enlisted in the Canadian  Expeditionary Force in Weyburn. Originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, the family moved originally to Ceylon, then to Maxim. Lambert was killed in action during the first day of the battle at Vimy Ridge.

Pte. George Lister was born in Norfolk, England, and moved to Yellow Grass. He was working as a farmer, when he enlisted just after Christmas in 1915. As part of the 5th Battalion, he survived the first days of the battle. He would be killed in action on April 13th, during a German counterattack.

A fireman living in Carlyle, Pte. Martin McConnell was originally from South Ayrshire in Scotland. He travelled to Weyburn to enlist after the outbreak of the war, at the age of 28. He was killed in during the attack, never having the chance to return to see his mother, who stayed behind in Scotland.

Coming from MacPherson, Nova Scotia, to Weyburn, John McDonald was born John McGillivray, but served as John McDonald. No one is sure why he changed his name when he enlisted in April of 1916. He served with the 28th Battalion, as opposed to the 5th and 10th, as many from Weyburn did. He would be killed in action on April 10th, having made it through the first day.

The 102nd Battalion saw a number of people from Saskatchewan join its ranks, despite being primarily from Central Ontario. One of those in the 102nd was Joseph McKinnon, who hailed from Singhampton, Ontario. He moved to Yellow Grass, and was working as a farmer at the outbreak of the war. He enlisted in Weyburn, and was one of those who was killed in action during the heavy fighting involving the 4th Division.

Pte. John Mitchell served with the 5th Battalion, enlisting in Weyburn in June of 1916. He originally came from Waterdown, Ontario, before homesteading just west of Colgate, south of Weyburn. He was killed in action April 13th, during a German counterattack.

Originally from Riga, in what is now Latvia, Pte. Charles Millens was living in Estevan when he travelled up the Soo Line to Weyburn to enlist in the 5th Battalion. He had joined the C.E.F. almost a year to the day of the battle of Vimy Ridge. While he did make it through the battle of the first day, and the German counterattack on the second day, he was killed in action on April 11th.

No longer on the map of Saskatchewan, Kantenville was the home of Pte. Charles Moyer. He was a farmer in the area, when he travelled to Weyburn to enlist in the 5th Battalion in 1916. He would never have the chance to return to his farm, as he died of his wounds suffered on the first day of the battle.

A farmer near Orkney, just east of Climax along Highway 18, Lt. Stanley Odlum served in the 10th Battalion. He had been born in Beverley, U.K., and emigrated to Canada to homestead. He enlisted in January of 1915, and was made an officer. Along with a number of the men under his command, Odlum was killed in the first day of the battle for the ridge.

Pte. Barclay Osborne was born in London, Ontario, then moved near Kisbey, where his father homesteaded. Working on the family farm, he enlisted just before his 20th birthday, in March of 1916. He was posted with the 102nd Battalion, and was killed in action on the first day.

Originally from Brussels, Ontario, Stanley Sample was a farmer who had land southwest of Minton, in the Big Muddy region. He also worked in the Pangman area. Enlisting with the C.E.F. in Weyburn, he was stationed with the 29th Battalion. During the firefights that erupted on the third day, he was wounded, and would later pass away in the field hospital.

Lt. William Thompson was a teacher in Weyburn when the war broke out. Prior to the war, he was a member of the 95th Saskatchewan Rifles, a militia regiment. He was commissioned as an officer when he enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, leaving behind his students while answering the call of King and Empire. During the first hours of the battle, Thompson was killed in action.

While there were a number of Canadian soldiers who gave their lives at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, many more from Weyburn would survive the battle, and the war to return home. Men like Pte. Andrew McNaughton Allan. He was originally from Scotland, and was living in Key West, Saskatchewan when he enlisted in Weyburn. He returned home after the war, and settled in Regina.

Albert Clyde Anstis, who enlisted as a private when he was just 15 years old, was also one of the “lucky ones”. Serving with the 152nd Battalion, he was wounded during the attack on Vimy Ridge, suffering a gunshot wound to his right thigh. He was evacuated to the 2nd Canadian Field Ambulance. He would recover from his wounds and returned to the front. He came back home in 1919, and would marry in 1926. He passed away in 1959 in Vancouver, far removed from the horrors of the war.

Pte. Frederick Wheeler (also spelled Wheler in some records) enlisted in Weyburn in January 1916. He was with the 102nd Battalion during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. His family had a plot of land just south of Weyburn, where his parents and siblings lived. He survived the battle, but unfortunately wouldn’t return home, as he was killed in action later in the war.

Not everyone who helped in the Battle of Vimy Ridge served on the front lines. Millen Alexander Nickle lived in Weyburn at the outset of the war, and was with the 8th Canadian Hospital, which was based in the United Kingdom. He worked to treat the wounded and the sick who came over after the opening days of battle. After leaving the military, he moved to Clearwater, Florida where he practiced medicine until his death in 1944. His family’s name lives on in the region. His nephew Armour Nathaniel served multiple terms as an alderman on Weyburn City Council, and Nickle Lake, and it’s adjacent regional park, is just outside of the city limits.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge is considered to be a pivotal moment in Canadian history. For the first time, all four Canadian divisions fought as one, cohesive unit. They were each commanded by a Canadian general. They were also given a task which was considered to be one of the toughest along the front line of the Battle of Arras.

“Ah! Les canadiens! C’est possible! (Ah! The Canadians. It is possible!)” - French soldier upon learning Vimy Ridge was captured, after previous attempts by the British and French failed.

Having developed a reputation within the Entente forces as a shock trooper, who could break the lines when needed, they were selected for the assault so the Germans would feel the sharp end of the stick. It would work. The Germans were pushed back, and the front line made one of the very small shifts of the first three years of the war.

The lessons learned from how the Canadian Corps planned the attack, to how it was executed, would be used numerous other times throughout the war, and to great success. The Canadians, who entered the war as just a dominion of Great Britain, earned itself a chair at the table during the end of the war negotiations, with many pointing to the conduct of the Canadian troops at the Battle of Vimy Ridge as the beginning of the process.

To commemorate the members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force who were killed during the war, the Vimy Ridge Memorial was unveiled in 1936, in France. Looking over the battlefield on Hill 145, where so many of the 4th Division fell April 9th, the memorial is for the 11,169 Canadian soldiers who were killed during the war who have no known grave. The monument itself is the centrepiece of a 250-acre battlefield park that encompasses just a small portion of the land over which the Canadian Corps made their assault during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The number of trenches, unexploded munitions, craters and more make it difficult for visitors to walk the grounds, much of it is roped off 100 years later.

-photos in the story are courtesy Library and Archives Canada, and the Department of National Defense