Vimy

Description

336 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
$24.95
ISBN 0-7710-1339-6

Year

1986

Contributor

Reviewed by Ken Ramstead

Ken Ramstead was Associate Researcher at Reader's Digest in Laval, Quebec.

Review

The capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Corps in April 1917 was the only bright spot in an otherwise bleak year for the Allies. The position had long been considered impregnable by the Germans, who had secured the heights in late 1914 and had repelled two French offensives aimed at retaking it. The victory at Vimy gave the corps a pride in their own prowess. More than that, though, Vimy gave Canada a sense of identity.

This is the subject of Pierre Berton’s newest book, released in time to mark the seventieth anniversary of the assault. The need for a fresh look at the battle had been long overdue.

Berton has produced an evocative look at Vimy as seen through the eyes of those who actually had to do the fighting, the “poor bloody infantry.” While this is in keeping with the author’s view of how history should be written, the stance robs him of the wider perspective needed to examine such a crucial battle. For example, Berton bemoans the fact that the Canadians did not exploit the breach made at Vimy. What he fails to realize is that no breakthrough was intended. Had he properly examined the source material so readily available, he would have seen that the seizure of the ridge, as part of the larger offensive, was an end in itself.

A distressing Anglophobia colors Berton’s judgments and conclusions. For instance, the role of General Byng, the corps commander, is allowed to be overshadowed by that of Arthur Currie, the commander of the First Division. In reality, Byng introduced the infantry methods that were to prove so successful at Vimy. Currie was an eager pupil who put what he learned from Byng to good use after he himself assumed command of the corps. Similarly, the fact that the artillery methods, upon which so much depended, were British-inspired is glossed over as well.

Vimy is very much a reflection of the author’s strengths as a writer and weaknesses as a historian. The maps are to be commended, as is the bibliography. But this is more than offset by the lack of footnotes and the paucity of supporting documents. Berton, as always, writes with a vigor and a passion that few in the field can emulate. But this cannot compensate for an inaccurate and sometimes misleading text. If nothing else, the prose might just stir his readers into wanting to learn more about Canada’s part in the Great War. Unfortunately, the more they delve into that past, the more they will be disappointed with the account given in Vimy.

Citation

Berton, Pierre, “Vimy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 25, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/35291.