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Berton, Pierre.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1986. 336pp, cloth, $24.95, ISBN 0-7710-1339-6.CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Alfred F. Greenwood

Volume 15 Number 1
1987 January

Vimy Ridge, a seven-mile escarpment in Northern France, rises out of the plain to 470 feet at its highest point. This elevation, converted by the Germans into a formidable fortress, pinned down the Allied forces, making the conquest of Vimy Ridge essential to the Allied plan for victory. Attacks in 1914 and 1916 had cost 150,000 French casualties. The British had fared no better.

In 1917 the Canadians were moved in and on April 9 their attack began. This book is the account of how, and under what conditions, the civilian soldiers of a young colony carried the day and ousted the enemy from the Ridge. The cost was high: twenty thousand casualties, of which five thousand died.

Research for this book was exhaustive and the author has used the results well. His stated aim to tell what it was like engenders a reluctance to believe what man will suffer for what he deems, however mistakenly, a just cause. Forty-eight years after the battle, Gregory Clark, journalist and raconteur, is quoted on the CBC: "Now they speak of trenches in this ribbon of deadly stealth across Europe. Trenches were too romantic a name, . .these were ditches. . .no garbage disposal, no sewage disposal, they became filthy." In these conditions men lived, fought and died.

Private Green. . .suddenly a dud shell whizzed past barely missing him. It sliced off the head of the machine gunner beside him. . .the headless corpse, blood spurting from severed arteries, actually took two steps before toppling into the muck.

Vimy buries in the mud and filth of the trenches of World War I any illusion that war can be mentioned in the same breath as nobility, chivalry, or dignity.

This volume shows author Berton at his best. It is also a well-crafted tome. Nine excellent maps allow the reader to follow the fighting. There is an index and a bibliography and, a wonderful touch, the inside front and back covers contain two separate montages of some of the principal persons involved. Highly recommended.

Alfred F. Greenwood, Victoria, B.C.
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