The Gunners

Although it is well known that artillery was critical in the Battle for Vimy Ridge, few people know that the Atlantic provinces provided upwards of 60% of the crews for the Canadian Garrison Artillery’s heavy and siege batteries.

Canadian Gunners first operated under British control in 1916 until coming together under the Canadian Corps Command in early 1917, just in time to prepare for the battle at Vimy.

Most Maritime gunners were organized into the following units:

  • 2nd and 8th Siege Batteries (Prince Edward Island)
  • 4th and 6th Siege Batteries (New Brunswick)
  • 9th Siege Battery (Nova Scotia)

Maritime Heavy Guns at Vimy

4th Canadian Siege Battery (New Brunswick): Ammunition column depot and gun pit with 8-inch howitzer (Library and Archives Canada)

Gunners manned the long-range heavy guns concentrated southwest of the Ridge in the months leading up to the battle. In preparation for the battle, Gunners blasted lanes through massive German barbed wire belts, destroyed German machine-gun bunkers and command centres. At dawn on April 9, 1917, they fired a massive counter-battery bombardment to neutralize German guns firing on Canadian infantry surging up the slopes of Vimy.

Like in the infantry, Atlantic Canadians also served with other Canadian artillery units across the front. Thousands more Maritimers served in the Canadian Field Artillery, including the veteran 2nd Field Brigade (which helped fire the creeping barrage toward Thelus on April 9) and 1st and 2nd Column Divisional Ammunition Columns (which built and operated the light railways that supplied shells throughout the battle.)

Lieutenant Ned Slader and Sergeant Jim Robertson from Saint John made up 1st Heavy Battery’s Forward Observation team attached to Nova Scotia’s 85th Battalion on the evening of 9th April. By dawn, the Nova Scotians had captured Hill 145 overlooking Givenchy-en-Gohelle. Slader and Robertson strung telephone cable reaching back to the Canadian gun line. This enabled them to call down fire on German troops and artillery beneath the ridge, driving off the enemy northeast towards Lens.

Casualties among the heavy gunners and ammunition columns were light during the battle for the ridge itself but they paid a heavy price holding the ridge through the spring and summer of 1917.