As the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge passes, we are reminded that the last surviving veteran of the First World War died just this past February. Although this generation has now passed on, digitization and the application of digital content has become an effective way for families, students, and scholars to immerse themselves in the Canadian experience during The Great War.
Below are some resources that we believe offer a tangible and interactive glimpse into the lives of Canadian service personnel during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Whether you are looking for personal information on a family member, primary source material for teaching a class, or oral histories to use in a research paper, these databases provide unique insights into the lives of the men and women who experienced the conflict first-hand.
For Information on Canadian Service Personnel…
Did you have a relative who died at Vimy Ridge? The CWGC casualty database lists the names and place of commemoration of the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died during the two world wars. It also records details of the 67,000 Commonwealth civilians who died “as a result of enemy action” in the Second World War. Using this search form, you should be able to trace an individual, regiment, cemetery or memorial by putting just a few details into the entry fields. For help on how to find a casualty, click here for tips to help you perform an accurate search.
Library and Archives Canada (LAC)
If you have a relative who fought at Vimy Ridge, his or her full service record may be online!
The Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) database is an index to those service files (attestation papers), which are held by Library and Archives Canada for the soldiers, nurses and chaplains who served with the CEF. These files can consist of up to two or three dozen forms, dealing with enlistment, training, medical and dental history, hospitalization, discipline, pay, medal entitlements and discharge or notification of death. As long as you have a name or regimental number, this database can offer great information on relatives or notable persons from the First World War. You can search the database here.
If you had a relative who fought during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the database may already contain their records. If not, you can request a copy. Those of some Vimy veterans have already been digitized, including:
- Private E.H. Burtwell, who became “neurasthenic” after being buried by shell at Vimy.
- Curley Christian, whose limbs were destroyed by a shell while serving with the Winnipeg Grenadiers during the battle of Vimy Ridge. He is the only quadruple amputee to survive the First World War.
Library and Archives Canada has also compiled a database containing the digitised War Diaries of the CEF units. From the start of the First World War, CEF units were required to maintain a daily account of their “Actions in the Field.” This log was called a War Diary. The War Diaries are not personal diaries, rather they are a historical record of a unit’s administration, operations and activities during the First World War. The collection can be searched using the unit’s name or date, making it easy to search for the War Diaries of units serving during specific battles, or between specific dates. To search the collection, visit their website here.
LAC is also a great resource for oral histories from the First World War. Visit their collection here for images, essays, and interview transcripts.
For Primary Source Material…
The Canadian War Museum
The Canadian War Museum has compiled an extensive resource package containing historical information, primary source materials, and photographs pertaining to the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The database can be accessed through their website here.
Other relevant links from the Canadian War Museum:
- Tim Cook, “The Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9-12 April 1917”
- Laura Brandon, “History as Monument: The Sculptures on the Vimy Memorial”
- Vimy Ridge – Maps
- Vimy Ridge – Photographs (PDF)
- Vimy Ridge - Primary Source Materials (PDF)
Wartime Canada: A Visual Heritage of the Nation at War
LCMSDS is a partner in “Wartime Canada,” a digital database of written and printed matter from the First and Second World Wars. The website, featuring downloadable scans of materials and lesson plans, is an invaluable resource and can be accessed at wartimecanada.ca.
The online exhibition highlights items revolving around the commemoration of major battles, including the Battle of Vimy Ridge:
- Souvenir of the Vimy Pilgrimage: “Canadian Pilgrimage to the Unveiling of Canada’s Memorial on Vimy Ridge and to the Battlefields of France and Belgium, July 1936,” to David Spencer Ltd., Vancouver, British Columbia, 16 July 1936
- A Vimy Pilgrim Writes Home: “Vimy Canadian Memorial,” Dave to Harry Smith, Windsor, Ontario, 26 July 1936
- A Poetic Voice From the Front: “Corporal Adelard Audette, A Few Verses and a Brief History of the Canadians on the Somme and Vimy Ridge in the World War, 1914-1918 (London: A. Talbot, 1919)”
- A Reunion of Gunners: 15th Battery C.F.A. (Overseas) Re-union and Dinner, King Edward Hotel [Toronto, Ontario], Friday, April 9th, 1926
For Oral History…
The Memory Project: Digital Archive
A great place to find oral histories is at the Memory Project’s Digital Archive. The database houses more than one thousand audio interviews and five thousand photographs and artifacts from Canada’s veterans of the First and Second World Wars, Korean War and the Canadian Forces.
Their archives boasts numerous accounts from Vimy veterans and their families. Click the names below to view some examples and hear their stories.
Canadian Letters and Images Project
The Canadian Letters and Images Project is an online archive of the Canadian war experience, from any war, as told through the letters and images of Canadians themselves. The collections are divided by time periods into sub-collections in which the individual collections are listed alphabetically by surname. Individual collections can include correspondence, diaries, photographs, postcards, and other miscellaneous items
Below are links to the stories of three Vimy veterans archived in the collection: