Battle of Vimy Ridge centenary
Bermuda’s vital contribution to a Canadian victory at the Battle of Vimy Ridge 100 years ago was commemorated on Sunday by island historian Dr Edward Harris.
The Bermuda Militia Artillery played a key role in supporting artillery, which cut through German barbed wire, bombarded enemy trenches and allowed Canadian troops to capture the strategic ridge.
“A century is a long time and in the case of the battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, three generations have now passed or are passing since the Bermuda Militia Artillery, a corps of some 240 black Bermuda volunteers set sail to fight on the Western Front in France as the Bermuda Contingent of the Royal Garrison Artillery,” Dr Harris, director of the Bermuda National Museum, said.
“Not many will recall their sacrifices through three years of war, but part of the purpose of marking anniversaries is to remind the present generation of the debt to those who went before us, particularly volunteers, soldiers who put their lives on the line so we can be living in freedom today.”
The Bermuda contingent served primarily in ammunition supply, at dumps, and in delivering ammunition to batteries in the field. The island troops served at the Somme from June to December 1916. They were then moved away from the Front, serving on docks until April, 1917, when they were attached to the Canadian Corps, serving in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Dr Harris added: “All the men had served in exemplary fashion, as indicated in Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s report, issued just after the war.”
Field Marshal Haig, the British commander in France, gave the Bermuda artillery men a unit commendation for their courage under fire.
He wrote: “This contingent [BMA] served with the Canadian Corps during the operation in May and June, subsequent to the capture of Vimy Ridge.
“They were employed on heavy ammunition dumps, and great satisfaction was expressed with their work. Though called upon to perform labour of the most arduous and exacting nature at all times of the day and night, they were not only willing and efficient but conspicuous for their cheeriness under all conditions.
“Their officers rendered valuable services in the management of the dumps. The unit also worked on ammunition dumps from end of June to the beginning of September in another corps. On more than one occasion the dumps at which they were employed were ignited by hostile shell fire, and much of their work was done under shell fire.
“Their behaviour on all these occasions was excellent, and commanded the admiration of those with whom they were serving. In fact, the manner in which they carried out their work under all conditions was strikingly good.”
Dr Harris added that, even in the horror of war, love blossomed.
He said: “Two of the BMA men returned to France after the war and married their French sweethearts and I recently had the honour of meeting one of their granddaughters.
The Bermuda Militia Artillery was the largely black part of the island’s defence forces in a still-segregated island. White Bermudians served in the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, which also saw service in the First World War.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge, which saw the deaths of 3,598 Canadian soldiers over three days, is regarded in Canada as one of the events that forged the nation and is commemorated at home and at the Vimy Ridge Memorial, part of a park permanently ceded to Canada by France to honour their courage in liberating the country.
The centenary was marked on the site of the battlefield on Sunday, with thousands of Canadians gathering to reflect on its legacy. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid tribute to those who fought and he attended a commemorative ceremony with French President François Hollande, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
The Queen also sent a message to Canadians in French and English commending their soldiers for the sacrifice they made.
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