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from the globe archives

The Globe at war

The Globe and Mail looks back at its front-page coverage of the battles of Vimy Ridge and Hill 70

Canadian soldiers bringing in German officers at Vimy Ridge in April, 1917.

Many Canadians know the story of the battle for Vimy Ridge, which marks its 100th anniversary on April 9. Historians and writers have called the victory a defining moment for Canada. In April 1917, The Globe and Mail was giving readers daily front-page coverage of the four days of fighting in northern France and how Canadian troops, under the command of British Lieutenant-General Julian Byng, were able to advance the Allies' line and capture more than 11,000 prisoners during the assault.

Four months later, on Aug. 15, 1917, Canadian troops would attack the hill north of the city of Lens, in northern France, and the Battle of Hill 70 would dominate the front pages of The Globe and Mail. Although the Battle of Hill 70 is not as well-known, the victory – after 10 days of fighting and nearly 8,700 Canadian casualties – was a pivotal moment in Canada's history. The attack marked the first time a Canadian, Lieutenant-General Arthur Currie, had full command of the Canadian Corps. Canada's success in taking and securing the hill – despite German counterattacks – was a considerable blow to the enemy.


Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 9-12, 1917

April 10, 1917

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The day after the Canadian Corps attacked Vimy Ridge, under Lt.-Gen. Byng's command, the Globe's front page assigned the victory overall to British Gen. Douglas Haig, who led the British Expeditionary Force from 1915 to 1919. "The strongest defensive position of the enemy on the western front has been captured by the army of Sir Douglas Haig, and the Canadian Corps was given the place of honour in the great event, being strongly supported by some of the most famous of the British formations."

April 11, 1917

The Globe's coverage focused on the significance and impact of taking Vimy Ridge, and the number of German prisoners who had been captured during the struggle. "Vimy Ridge has been an historic battleground in this war. The country on either side is dotted with graveyards, in which lie tens of thousands of French and German soldiers who gave up their lives in the fight either to take or to hold this imposing position. The British, too, have tasted of the bitterness of the battles there, and the Canadians had been holding on to a slender position on the western slope all winter only by the display of the most tenacious courage."

April 13, 1917

As the Globe continued to report on the battle, its front-page coverage highlighted the Canadian Corps role and the strategic planning it took to capture the area. "We hear that the whole four Canadian divisions went over Vimy. The capture of this key position, no matter the luck, is purely the reward of skillful preparation by the leaders, backed by incomparable troops," The London Standard reported a source saying. News that day also included British and French naval officers making plans with the United States to take over patrol of the Atlantic Ocean.

April 14, 1917

The front-page of the Globe's Saturday paper focused on the impact from the Canadian troops' victory at Vimy, highlighting that the Germans were in "full retreat." "We are the top dogs at last. We have the Germans on the down hill and once they are started you may be sure they will go back fast," said one Canadian officer who fought in the four-day battle.

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April 16, 1917

A week after the battle began, the Globe's front page included war correspondent Philip Gibbs's account of the fight for the area. His dispatch from France included "wild scenes" and "vivid stories" of the work done by Canadians.

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Battle of Hill 70, August 1917

August 16, 1917

The day after Canadian troops attacked Hill 70, the Globe's front page assigned the important win to Lt.-Gen. Currie and his men. The Globe's coverage gave readers an idea of how Canadians from "every part of the Dominion" captured German positions on the hill north of Lens, and how they fought off five counterattacks from the enemy.

August 17, 1917

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Mr. Gibbs wrote a front-page story describing to readers how Canadian troops were able to attack Hill 70. "It seems Hill 70 was held lightly and by a younger class of soldiers, the best Prussian troops being kept back to hold the inner defences of Lens and make counterattacks." Mr. Gibbs spoke with one Canadian who described the assault on Hill 70 in comparison to Vimy Ridge: "It was a walk-over. Our barrage was great and simply smashed the ground to pulp. I though [sic] it a greater wreck than Vimy, which was some wreck."

August 18, 1917

As the fight for Hill 70 continued, the Globe's front-page included coverage of the battle, but also highlighted an income tax bill that was given a third reading in the House of Commons. The Globe published an excerpt of a letter from Lt.-Gen. Currie saying that the Canadians would succeed if drafts were supplied: "I hope that by the time you receive this, I shall be in a position to report some good news concerning the operations of my corps. Everything is going well with us. I am quite sure that the splendid reputation now enjoyed by the corps will be fully maintained, provided, of course Canada does her duty, and keeps the necessary drafts supplied."

August 20, 1917

Five days after the Canadian Corps first launched an attack on Hill 70, the Globe's front-page coverage featured the headline, " Haig and Currie get grip on West front." One story highlighted how Lt.-Gen. Currie and his men were continuing to battle around Hill 70, and while German artillery was still active, there seemed to be "no organized counter-attacks from the enemy." "The most fierce engagement on the Canadian front since the beginning of the war is gradually coming to a triumphant end by the exhaustion of the enemy," Canadian Press correspondent Stewart Lyon wrote.

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CANADA AT WAR: MORE FROM THE GLOBE AND MAIL

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