An Almonte connection to Vimy Ridge

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Vimy Ridge: April 9, 1917 and our Gilmour connection to it

by Ken Godfrey

On April 9, 1917 the Canadian Army, fighting together for the first time, and not as part of the British Army, planned a huge co-ordinated attack on a high point of land in France, near the town of Arras, held by the German Forces of WW I. In many real senses, it can be considered as the birth of a Canada, independent from the mother country, Great Britain.

Our grandfather Harry D. Gilmour (or great grandfather, or great-great grandfather, depending on where you are now in the age scale of things), sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Sept. 23, 1916, on the White Star Line’s “S.S. Lapland”. The ship arrived in Liverpool on Oct. 6, 1916.

Presumably, his training continued for another month in England, before crossing the English Channel to see his first real action.

Harry was transferred to the 3rd. Battalion when overseas (Nov. 9, 1916), and was sent to France on Nov. 14, 1916. Harry served in the 15th. Platoon of D Company, in the 3rd. Canadian Battalion in France. He turned 32 years of age on January 12, 1917.

Per a map of Vimy Ridge, April 9 to 12th., 1917 (Source: “CEF 1914-1919” – by Col. G.W.L. Nicholson, Queen’s Printer, 1962) it appears that the 3rd. Battalion was being directed towards an area called “Bois de la Ville”, which is just west of a small village called “Willerval”. On its right flank was the 1st. Battalion., and on its left was the 4th. Battalion. These 3 appear to be part of the 1st. Canadian Infantry Brigade, which in turn was part of the 1st. Canadian Division. The 3rd. Battalion was involved in attacks on both April 9 and on April 10 at Vimy Ridge.

One can only imagine what, in general, the horrific conditions were in the trenches of France during the war, and the longing he felt for his wife Rose, and their 5 children, back home in Almonte, Ontario; but we have a brief, first-hand account of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, from Harry’s own hand. Proof of his presence there, was a postcard which he either sent back home (or took home later) which he had found in a German trench. Per the card, printed in German, possibly a pre-printed card for the soldiers of the Werhmacht to send home, with the word “Feldpostbrief” on the front, Harry wrote on April 9, 1917, {Geschrieben den April 9, 1917} This was written in a German dug out when hell was loose outside,<signed> Harry, and addressed to Mrs. H.D. Gilmour, Almonte, Ontario.

As well, it is quite probable that Harry’s 2 younger brothers, Roy Coultas Gilmour, and Morris James Gilmour, also fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. All 3 were to return to Canada, but all had been wounded.

So, as we watch the television specials, listen to the radio news items, read the newspapers, and contemplate the 100th. Anniversary of the start of this significant battle at 5:30 a.m., on Easter Monday, April 9, 1917, we can remember with pride the sacrifice that our relatives made for us all.