Bat­tle of Hill 70 kept alive

Mon­u­ment in Moun­tain the only place in Canada that hon­ours key vic­tory

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - NEWS - BRUCE DEACHMAN

MOUN­TAIN — There is no moun­tain, nor scarcely a mound or em­bank­ment.

But there is, in this vil­lage, a mon­u­ment to the Bat­tle of Hill 70. It’s the only such com­mem­o­ra­tion in Canada and, for a cen­tury, un­til one was erected in France last year, it was the only one in the world.

On Sun­day, 75 people gath­ered to re­mem­ber the 1917 bat­tle in si­lence and in song, as singers Garth Hamp­son and Mar­leen Fawcett, ac­com­pa­nied by pi­anist He­len Hyn­d­man, per­formed mu­sic associated with the two world wars — Oh, What a Lovely War; It’s a Long Way to Tip­per­ary; We’ll Meet Again.

The cer­e­mony, hosted by ra­dio per­son­al­ity Rob Clipperton, whose grand­fa­ther Bil­lie died on Hill 70, also fea­tured piper Jack Yourt and bu­gler Charles Arm­strong; a read­ing of In Flan­ders Fields; the lay­ing of cer­e­mo­nial wreaths; and the deaf­en­ing fir­ings of a Sec­ond World War six-pounder anti-tank gun.

The Bat­tle of Hill 70, which took place near the French vil­lage of Lens over 10 days in Au­gust 1917, was re­mark­able for a num­ber of rea­sons. It was the first ma­jor bat­tle with Cana­dian troops led by a Cana­dian com­man­der — Gen. Sir Arthur Cur­rie. It was also a bat­tle dur­ing which Cana­dian troops proved their war­time met­tle, as they first cap­tured the hill, named for its el­e­va­tion in me­tres above sea level, then suc­cess­fully fought off 21 Ger­man coun­ter­at­tacks to hold the higher ground.

The bat­tle also prevented Ger­man troops in the area from join­ing the Third Bat­tle of Ypres, or Pass­chen­daele.

Hill 70 also pro­duced six Vic­to­ria Cross re­cip­i­ents, two more than were awarded the val­or­ous dec­o­ra­tion at Vimy Ridge.

The cost was sig­nif­i­cant: The Cana­dian Corps suf­fered ap­prox­i­mately 9,000 ca­su­al­ties, while the to­tal num­ber of Ger­man deaths and in­juries was es­ti­mated at around 25,000.

Yet, com­ing be­tween the bat­tles of Vimy Ridge and Pass­chen­daele, the Cana­dian vic­tory at Hill 70 was squeezed out of the spot­light, and re­mained largely ig­nored or for­got­ten.

Al­though not, for rea­sons now lost to time, by the res­i­dents of Moun­tain. Their memo­rial, orig­i­nally just a cou­ple of en­graved boul­ders and an old Ger­man ma­chine-gun in a muddy field, was lent ad­di­tional grav­ity a half-dozen years ago with the ad­di­tion of a large black mar­ble mon­u­ment with steps, stone in­for­ma­tion pan­els, land­scap­ing and a Cana­dian flag. The project, shep­herded by the lo­cal Lions Club, was ini­ti­ated and en­cour­aged by area farm­ing cou­ple and his­tory buffs Don­ald and Eu­nice Johnston.

Eu­nice, whom Don­ald de­scribes as the real driv­ing force to get the new mon­u­ment com­pleted, died in 2011, be­fore the un­veil­ing and re-ded­i­ca­tion. A maple tree was planted in her hon­our be­side the mon­u­ment, with a plaque that reads, “An In­spi­ra­tion for the Hill 70 Re­de­vel­op­ment Project.”

“No one knew any­thing about Hill 70,” says Don­ald, who attended Sun­day’s ser­vice. “It was noth­ing but a foot­note in the pages of his­tory. All these boys gave their lives, and no­body knew. But this (mon­u­ment) tells their story.” bdeach­man@post­


Garth Hamp­son sings as part of Sun­day's memo­rial con­cert to the Bat­tle of Hill 70, of­ten de­scribed as Canada's for­got­ten First World War bat­tle. The cer­e­mony was held in Moun­tain.

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