At 5:30 AM on the ninth of April, 1917, four Canadian Expeditionary Forces Divisions began an assault on Vimy Ridge. It was the first time all Canadian divisions would fight together and at least partially under Canadian command rather than full command of the greater British Expeditionary Forces.
Following the wall of artillery fire before them, the first wave of twenty thousand Canadian soldiers went over the top, fighting through mud and fresh snow. By nightfall the force of nearly one hundred thousand had achieved the impossible, and most of the ridge was in Canadian hands. The next morning they took Hill 145 and two days later captured the ‘Pimple’, thus completing their mission. The human cost on the first day alone was 10602 Canadian casualties, including 3598 dead. The Canadians would not sit on their laurels, and continued to press the attack in the weeks ahead.
My grandfather’s brothers, Edwin William Greenhow and Edison Eugene Greenhow of Balcarres, Saskatchewan, stormed Vimy Ridge on that wet and muddy spring morning. Edwin fell on April 9, 1917 and Edison fell, also on Vimy Ridge, on April 28, 1917. As with so many, their bodies were never found.
Challoner (Charlie) Greenhough, my grandfather, was much younger than the ‘Eds’, and I have vivid memories of him telling his story about trying to enlist shortly after war was declared. Charlie never talked of losing his brothers. Nor did he ever mention why he and one of his brothers took a different spelling for their last name. I suppose these are the mysteries that keep us researching our family lore.
Much has been written of the battlefields and for good reason, but I will leave those stories to the military historians. This story is about the home front, told from the perspective of my grandfather. My fear is that I cannot possibly do it justice. The story is at best an unremarkable account of remarkable people at an extraordinary time in our nation’s history.
Shaunna Powers of CBC Radio and I discuss the project.
The Town of Balcarres and the Balcarres Legion commissioned a commemorative video. It can be viewed here.