World War I

by Edward Paice

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Student Question

How would a Canadian soldier describe life on the western front during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in WWI?

Expert Answers

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Start by deciding who you are writing to - your girlfriend, your family, or someone else. This may make a difference in how you open or close the letter or how much detail you include.

You might start by explaining the setting of the battle, describing the trenches and barbed wire and the distance between the German and Canadian lines before the battle started. This was an area that was very strongly defended by the Germans, so there would be lots to talk about. You will also need to mention the weather, probably to comment on how difficult it was to see, move, or understand exactly what was happening in the blizzard.

You can decide exactly what your responsibilities were during the battle. Were you a soldier trying to crawl through the snow and slush and mud to get across no-man's land? Were you a medic, dashing from hole to hole to try to care for the wounded? Use your imagination - think about the war movies you've seen and put yourself in the middle of the action.

To end your letter, you might report on friends who were killed or injured in the battle after reassuring the letter's reader that you are alright (or that your injuries are minor, or whatever you decide). You might comment on the overall number of casualties, the amount of land now controlled by the Canadian troops, and how you felt after the battle had ended (tired, cold, wet, hungry?). Send your love or best thoughts along with the letter, ask for news from home, and tell them you hope to see them soon!

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How could I describe the trenches and living conditions as a Canadian soldier in Battle of Vimy Ridge in a letter to my wife?

In describing the trenches, you would want to explain to her that these were dug into the ground and ran for great distances, with tunnels connecting larger below-ground-level areas. Mention that they were crowded with men, guns and ammunition, backpacks of clothing and other equipment. Tell her how water and snow collects in the bottom of the trenches so that they become muddy; try to make her understand how cold and wet and miserable it feels to try to eat and sleep and get ready to fight in them.

Help her to get a picture of looking over the top of the tunnel, through the rows of barbed wire stretched along the length of the tunnels, across no-man's land, and into the barbed wire standing along the near edge of the German trenches. Comment on the difficulty of judging distances between trenches or fences in the very snowy conditions under which the Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought.

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