Vimy - 1917
The Battle of Vimy Ridge
World War I: April 9th - 13th, 1917
Taking Clutch Trench
On the night of April 8th, 1917, the Seaforths filed into Gobron Tunnel to await the morning’s assault on Vimy Ridge. It was Easter Sunday, and it began to snow.
At zero hour on the morning of April 9th, mines were blown along the enemy’s front lines, and the attacking force of 13 officers and 249 other ranks of the 72nd Battalion advanced behind a precisely-timed creeping artillery barrage.
Positioned on the left flank of the Canadian attack, the Seaforths’ objective was to take Clutch trench between the junctions of Cyrus trench to the south and Cluck trench to the north.
Moments after the attack began, withering German machine gun fire from Hill 145 and Hill 120 (the Pimple) began inflicting tremendous casualties on the Battalion. This enfilading fire from both flanks slowed, but could not halt the 72nd Battalion’s advance. The 72nd took their objectives, but the toll was devastating: by day’s end, 206 Seaforths were killed, wounded or missing.
After three days of mopping-up and consolidating their position, the Battalion overran the last vestiges of German resistance at Claude trench on the morning of April 13th. The Seaforths had secured the left flank of the attack, and the ridge was in Canadian control.
Vimy Ridge: the Seaforth Highlanders’ costliest victory of the First World War.
The Key to the Battle
Planning and Preparation
Constant patrols and trench raids in the weeks leading up to the attack on Vimy Ridge provided the 72nd Battalion with invaluable information on German defences, but it came at a steep cost: dozens of fatalities and over 150 wounded Seaforths.
Storming the Ridge
Let them see the colour of the tartan.
During the attack on Vimy Ridge, Number 13 Platoon, D Company, commanded by Lieutenant D.O. Vicars, was tasked with capturing and consolidating Clutch trench. By the time he got there, only two men of his platoon remained: Private J. McWhinney and Corporal H.J. Matthews. Spotting a group of approximately fifty Germans on his left, he shouted, “here’s a trench full of Huns, come on McWhinney!
I’ll be bayonet-man, you be bomber!” Vicars then charged the Germans, clearing the trench with his rifle and bayonet, while McWhinney and Matthews bombed the dugouts behind him. Those Germans who were chased down the length of the trench were driven into a Canadian artillery barrage; those who broke and ran overland were cut down by the rifle-fire of the last three men of 13 Platoon.
These three Seaforths captured 250 yards of trench, two machine guns, two Minenwerfers (trench mortars), took eight prisoners, and inflicted numerous casualties upon the enemy. For their actions at Vimy, Lieutenant D.O. Vicars was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.), and Private J. McWhinney was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.).
Then there was that time on Vimy Ridge when it looked like Jerry was coming over and Geordie Munro says to Duncan Murray, “I’m taking off my kilt apron and we’ll let them see the colour of the tartan.”
Letter from Sergeant Sam Findlater to Lieutenant-Colonel G.H. Kirkpatrick, July 12th, 1944.