'Vimy' is a book written by Pierre Berton about the taking of Vimy Ridge by the Canadians during World War I. If you're not a Canadian, you can be forgiven for not recognizing the name; in most history books, the battle would rate no more than a paragraph or two. After all, what's one engagement among so many in the four year horror that was the Great War.
For Canadians, however, the Battle of Vimy Ridge looms large, as it was the first time that all the Canadian divisions fought together as one. More importantly, they did so as Canadians, not merely as British subjects, which played an integral part in the formation of our national identity. After Vimy, no one from the top echelons of British power on down thought of these troops simply as colonists come to defend the "auld sod". They had earned at a terrible cost the right to stand on the world stage with their own identity- Canadian.
Vimy Ridge was considered to be of great strategic importance by both sides. The Germans held it, and they could be excused for believing it to be impregnable. Certainly they seemed to have every advantage: the high ground, familiarity, and dug-in defenses. Their confidence was no doubt bolstered by the fact that both the French and British armies had attempted to take the ridge earlier in the war and failed, resulting in catastrophic loss of life. They assumed that the Canadian army would fare no better, but on the morning of April 9, 1917 (Easter Monday) the Canadians , now a battle-hardened force with experienced leaders, attacked with ferocity, using innovative new tactics which the Germans had never encountered before. The fighting was fierce, the losses- on both sides- were staggering, but on April 12, The Canadian Corps stood in possession of Vimy Ridge. It was the first time in 32 months that the Germans had lost ground. It was never retaken.
Against this terrible backdrop, Berton highlights the indomitable spirit and the toughness of these men-boys, really. Boys who, surviving these earlier engagements, learned from them, adapted, and fought on. When changes in command gave them competent- and Canadian- leadership, men who were focused on achieving victory through carefully planned, strategically smart battles, the Canadian Corps became a force to be reckoned with. Berton spends a lot of time detailing the preparations for Vimy, the meticulous planning and practices, the innovations thought up and put into practice by seasoned Canadians who had seen what didn't work, and were determined to do better.
This is not an accounting of the entire war. As I said, Berton's book has a very narrow focus: the Canadians' journey to, and experiences at, Vimy Ridge. The actions and experiences of other armies and their men are mentioned only when they affect the Canadian divisions in some way. It is unflinching in its portrayal of the brutality and cost of war, but also chronicles the courage of these men, their fierce loyalty to each other, their ability to endure- and sometimes even laugh at- the grimmest of conditions. In short, it is the story of the "ordinary" men who fought and won Vimy Ridge, and forever changed the face of Canada.