April 9 -12 marks the 103nd anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, part of the Battle of Arras. On a snowy Easter Monday in 1917, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together for the first (and only) time. Training and tactics won the ridge, but at the cost of about 3,600 Canadian lives.
Visitors to Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries along the Western Front today see neat rows of grave stones in well-groomed garden settings, a stark contrast to the original graves. Those killed were usually buried close to where they fell, in graves marked simple wooden crosses. The three crosses pictured here are from Vimy Ridge, placed to mark a grave or to honour the dead from a particular regiment.
A memorial cross was erected by the 15th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (48th Highlanders) in Nine Elms Military Cemetery near Vimy Ridge where 35 members killed in action on 9 April 1917 were buried. (There are 57 names on the cross.) The cross has since moved many times. After the war, when the cemetery received its Imperial War Graves Commission facelift, the 48th Highlanders brought the cross to its armoury in Toronto. When the armoury closed, it moved to the regimental museum (in its several locations over the years). In 2017, the cross was returned to France and put on display at the Vimy Memorial’s Visitor Education Centre. In 2018, the Celtic cross came back to Toronto and the 15th Battalion dedicated a replica granite cross at Écurie near Arras.
The 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade raised a cross in memory of Capt William Forbes Guild, Lt Lawrence Gass, Private Clarence Ross and Gunner David Speck. They were fatally wounded on 8 April 1917 “whilst performing a most valuable reconnaissance and observation work in connection with the artillery preparation for the attack on April 9th, 1917.” The cross is now in the Canadian War Memorial Collection. The diary of Nursing Sister Clare Gass noted her cousin Laurie’s death.
Lt Norman Howard Pawley was the son of William Henry and Margaret Pawley of Brampton, Ontario. He enlisted in March 1916 and was awarded the Military Cross on 23 March 1917. He was wounded during the attack on Vimy Ridge and killed in action three days later. Pawley is buried in Villers Station Cemetery. His original grave marker and medals are now in the Canadian War Memorial Collection.