by Lorraine Payette, written April 13, 2013
(GANANOQUE, ONTARIO) In honour of the memory of those troops who fought so nobly at Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, the Cadets from Gananoque’s 492 Military Police Royal Canadian (Army) Cadet Corps chose to stand a vigil at the cenotaph in the Town Park in Gananoque on April 13, the 66th anniversary of the battle.
“No Allied operation on the Western Front was more thoroughly planned than this deliberate frontal attack on what seemed to be virtually invincible positions,” reports Canada at War. “Vimy Ridge was so well fortified that all previous attempts to capture it had failed. However, Canadian commanders had learned bitter lessons from the cost of past frontal assaults made by vulnerable infantry. This time their preparations were elaborate. As the Canadian Commander of the 1st Division, Major-General Arthur Currie, said, ‘Take time to train them.’ This is exactly what the Canadian Corps did, down to the smallest unit and the individual soldier.”
Thus all was in preparation as the artillery started creeping toward the Germans at 5:30 a.m. that Easter Monday. Pocked and scarred by the endless attempts to take this strategic point, the landscape provided little comfort to the 20,000 troops who made up the four attacking Canadian divisions, first wave of the assault. Twenty battalions in line abreast, they led the assault, crossing “No Man’s Land” with at least 32 Kg (70 lb) of equipment per man.
By April 12, they had achieved their exalted goal and taken not only Vimy Ridge but also Hill 145, and Thelus village.
James Frederick McParland, born in Gananoque on June 29, 1881, was a graduate of the Royal Military College in Kingston. He wrote of Vimy:
“It was a glorious victory. The battle started at 5:30 a.m., and I have never seen or heard such artillery fire. There was never anything like it, even at the Somme, and our infantry just walked right ahead and swept everything ahead of them. We captured the whole of the much-talked-of ‘Vimy Ridge,’ also Hill 145, and Thelus village, and the whole thing was over at two o’clock. Everyone, of course, is wild with excitement over it, as it was such a complete success. Our casualties were very light.”
His definition of “light” varies considerably with our modern understanding:
“Casualties were not light as McParland claimed,” says Bill Beswetherick of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 92 in Gananoque. “When the war had started on 4 August 1914, the Canadian army had an army of just 3,110 soldiers. Fighting from 9 to 12 April killed 3,598 Canadians and wounded another 7,064.
“The Legion has the two Military Crosses awarded to Captain (Doctor) William Hale of Gananoque who the medical officer of the 42nd Battalion (Black Watch of Canada) at Vimy where his actions earned him his first Military Cross.”
The Vigil is only one activity performed by the Army Cadets in Gananoque. They do many other things as well.
“We aren’t the Army,” said Marian MacDonald, Executive Director of the Army Cadet League of Canada (Ontario) in an earlier interview. “When you join Cadets, you are not enlisting.” Although some people go on to join the Canadian Forces or come from military families, membership in the organization is based on what you want to do with your life.
Young people aged 12-18 living in the Gananoque or TLTI area will be welcomed with open arms by the 492 Military Police Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps. Originally founded in the late 1800s, the Canadian Cadet programme received royal assent from His Majesty King George VI for their contribution to the war effort.
Members meet one evening a week and on occasional weekends to drill, learning about good citizenship, effective public speaking and how to become good leaders. Best of all, everything related to membership is free. The organization receives support from the Army Cadet League of Canada and the Canadian forces, who partner to provide uniforms, training and equipment without cost. All programmes are also free, including the chance to attend several summer camp sessions ranging in length from 2 – 6 weeks. There’s even a weekly training allowance paid to Cadets for attending camp.
Training can take place anywhere in the world. Selected for their merits by their local corps, Ontario cadets have gone to Cadet Camps such as Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Vernon, BC, and White Horse in Canada, and on International Expeditions as far away as Italy and New Zealand. One International Expedition saw Cadets climb to the Base Camp of Mount Everest. They lived in tents, practiced rappelling, orienteering, canoeing, hiking, obstacle courses, strategy games, and other skills which help build confidence and self esteem. Shy kids start to come forward and blossom as they get to know their strengths, troubled kids find solutions. The results are astounding.
“Parents are always saying how amazed they are,” said MacDonald. “Even school teachers and other authourity figures have told us what great improvements they see in these kids.” Self-discipline, better grades and improved relations with others are just some of the potential benefits of membership.
In the Corps, they find themselves and others like them, becoming a cohesive family-type group. Socio-economic standing is meaningless here. Uniforms and ranking, with high quality discipline, help give them strength and pride they may never have experienced before, bringing out the very best they have to offer. Instruction is given to junior cadets by senior cadets, further enhancing not only the bond between them but their ability to become effective leaders. It’s all reflected in the Army Cadet Honour Code:
“I resolve, as a member of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets, that I shall aspire to become a citizen of the highest integrity in my community; I shall strive for success in my studies, to be considerate of all persons and their property, and to achieve the highest physical, mental, spiritual and moral standards as a Citizen of Canada.”
“It’s a way we can give back to the community,” says MacNeil.
Anyone wishing more information on joining the 492 Military Police Royal Canadian Army Cadet is asked to please contact Captain MacNeil at 613-382-3269 or Ronald.firstname.lastname@example.org .