Re­mem­ber­ing Hill 70

Kingston group en­sures key First World War bat­tle is im­mor­tal­ized

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - NEWS - MIKE NORRIS mnor­ris@postme

Thanks to a group of Kingston res­i­dents, one of Canada’s most im­por­tant vic­to­ries in the First World War will no longer be for­got­ten.

Since 2012 the lo­cal vol­un­teers raised $6 mil­lion to build the Hill 70 Me­mo­rial in Loos-en- Go­helle, France, to honour the sac­ri­fice of the 1,877 Cana­dian sol­diers who died on the hill and to com­mem­o­rate the sig­nif­i­cance of the bat­tle.

“The aim of the project was to make sure Cana­dian peo­ple prop­erly rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of the Bat­tle of Hill 70,” re­tired colonel Mark Hutch­ings, a Kingston res­i­dent and chair of the project, said.

An of­fi­cial ded­i­ca­tion of the me­mo­rial was held in April, presided over by then Gov.- Gen. David John­ston, and the site was opened to the pub­lic in Au­gust to mark the 100th an­niver­sary of the Bat­tle of Hill 70, which took place Aug. 15-25, 1917.

The bat­tle, which most Cana­di­ans are un­aware of, not only re­sulted in a re­sound­ing vic­tory over the Ger­mans, but it also marked the first time the Cana­dian Corps fought un­der a Cana­dian com­man­der, Lt.- Gen. Arthur Cur­rie.

Among the sol­diers who fought in the bat­tle were those from the Kingston-based 21st Bat­tal­ion, per­pet­u­ated to­day by the Princess of Wales’ Own Reg­i­ment. Hill 70 is one of the bat­tle honours in­scribed on the Princess of Wales’ Own Reg­i­ment me­mo­rial in City Park.

Ten years ago, Hutch­ings and his fam­ily were at the Vimy Me­mo­rial for the 90th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion of the April 1917 bat­tle at Vimy Ridge.

“An English­man named Peter Last said, ‘Have you seen Hill 70?’” said Hutch­ings, a Royal Mil­i­tary Col­lege grad who served at di­vi­sion head­quar­ters in Kingston from 1989 to 1992 and moved back to the Lime­stone City in 2002.

“I said no and he said, ‘You must come.’ I drove to the top of the hill but didn’t see any­thing. I said, ‘Where’s the mon­u­ment?’ and he said, ‘Exactly. Where’s the mon­u­ment?’” Hutch­ings was stunned. “Canada lost 1,877 men and there was nothing there, not even a cairn,” he said.

Hutch­ings and the other Kingsto­ni­ans formed a group and went to work.

“We said let’s make this a project, let’s raise money, we’ll get a char­ity num­ber from the CRA [Canada Rev­enue Agency].”

Ot­tawa ar­chi­tect Sarah Mur­ray de­signed the me­mo­rial park, which en­com­passes ap­prox­i­mately four hectares and in­cludes a 15-me­tre­tall obelisk made of white lime­stone, an am­phithe­atre and a walk­way im­printed with maple leaves rep­re­sent­ing ev­ery one of the Cana­di­ans who died in the bat­tle.

“Be­cause there were 1,877 Cana­di­ans who never left Hill 70,” Hutch­ings said.

The me­mo­rial project’s board of di­rec­tors are all from Kingston: vice chair John S. Cowan, the for­mer prin­ci­pal of Royal Mil­i­tary Col­lege; Art Jor­dan, hon­orary colonel of the PWOR; and Dou­glas Green, David Parker and Warren Everett. Su­san Everett of Kingston cre­ated an ed­u­ca­tional kit on the project.

Canada’s in­volve­ment in the Bat­tle of Hill 70 is of­ten re­ferred to as “a for­got­ten vic­tory.”

“It has been for­got­ten ,” Hutch in gs said. “One of the rea­sons is that Pierre Ber­ton’s Vimy book [pub­lished in 1986] started Cana­di­ans’ fas­ci­na­tion with that bat­tle at the ex­pense of all oth­ers.”

The Bat­tle at Hill 70 fell be­tween two well-known bat­tles in­volv­ing Cana­di­ans in 1917 — Vimy Ridge (April 9-12) and Pass­chen­daele (late Oc­to­ber to early Novem­ber).

The suc­cess at Hill 70 wasover-shad­owed by what Hutch­ing sc all ed a “tragic bat­tle” at Pass­chen­daele, where Cana­di­ans cap­tured the ridge in mid-Novem­ber.

“There were huge losses,” he said.

More than 4,000 Cana­di­ans were killed and ap­prox­i­mately 12,000 wounded at Pass­chen­daele.

“Ev­ery [Cana­dian] fam­ily lost some­one in that bat­tle,” Hutch­ings said. “Pass­chen­daele scarred the psy­che of Cana­di­ans.”

Hill 70 — so named be­cause it was 70 me­tres above sea level — was a ridge just north­west of the town of Lens, a key strate­gic out­post oc­cu­pied by the Ger­man army. In an ef­fort to di­vert the Ger­mans from mov­ing north and re­in­forc­ing in Pass­chen­daele, Cur­rie, who in June had be­come the first Canadan com­man­der of the Cana­dian corps, de­vised a plan to take the hill and force the Ger­mans to coun­ter­at­tack.

“Cur­rie said, ‘We will pay the price in shells rather than blood,’” Hutch­ings said.

The as­sault be­gan at 4:25 a.m. on Aug. 15.

The Cana­di­ans took the hill in the first five hours and over the next 10 days fended off 21 coun­ter­at­tacks by the Ger­mans, whose ca­su­al­ties were al­most three times that of the Cana­di­ans.

“The Ger­mans were wiped out by ma­chine-guns and ar­tillery,” Hutch­ings said. “[The Cana­di­ans] ba­si­cally de­stroyed five di­vi­sions of the Ger­many army.”

Canada suf­fered 9,000 ca­su­al­ties, in­clud­ing 1,900 deaths, at Hill 70. An es­ti­mated 25,000 Ger­mans were killed or wounded.

“Ger­many lost a dis­pro­por­tion­ate ra­tio,” Hutch­ings said.

The 21st Bat­tal­ion fought at Hill 70 un­til Aug. 18 when it was re­lieved. In those few days, the bat­tal­ion’s ca­su­al­ties were 40 killed, 208 wounded and 23 miss­ing in ac­tion.

The vic­tory was sig­nif­i­cant for Canada, Hutch­ings said.

“The ef­fect [of the vic­tory] is that [com­man­ders] didn’t want to split up the Cana­dian Corps,” he said. “They be­gan to treat the Cana­dian Corps as a sledge­ham­mer that could be used to slam [any op­po­nent].”

The Hill 70 Me­mo­rial is 10 min­utes from the Vimy Me­mo­rial.

“From the Vimy mon­u­ment on a sunny day you can see the Hill 70 Me­mo­rial glis­ten­ing in the sun,” Hutch­ings, whose group wants to raise an­other $2 mil­lion to build an ac­ces­si­ble walk­way at the me­mo­rial, said.

Al­most ev­ery reg­i­ment in the coun­try has hon­oured the bat­tle dur­ing the past 100 years, Hutch­ings said.

“It’s been called ‘Canada’s For­got­ten Vic­tory’ be­cause the gov­ern­ment and some reg­i­ments for­got it. You know who didn’t for­get it? The fam­i­lies of those lost at Hill 70 never for­got it.”

For more in­for­ma­tion on the bat­tle and the me­mo­rial, go on­line to www.hill70.ca.

LI­BRARY AND AR­CHIVES CANADA

Ger­man pris­on­ers cap­tured by the Cana­di­ans on Hill 70 in Au­gust 1917.

MCPL JEN­NIFER KUSCHE, CANA­DIAN FORCES COM­BAT CAM­ERA

Cana­dian Armed Forces per­son­nel and civil­ians at­tend the ded­i­ca­tion of the newly built Hill 70 Me­mo­rial mon­u­ment in Loos-en-Go­helle, France, on April 8,.

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