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Lance Corporal’s letter details Battle of Vimy Ridge

Percy Argyle

On the 95th anniversary of the First World War battle of Vimy Ridge where Canadian soldiers seized the ridge from German forces, local artist Sharon Argyle Norman shares a brief background, and a letter written by her grandfather, Percy Argyle, to his youngest son, her father, Ray:

PERCY ARGYLE, #198747
Lance Cpl., 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles, Company B, 3rd Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force

Percy Argyle was born in Ilkeston, England on August 6, 1890. He came to Canada in 1905 to join siblings who had earlier immigrated to Manitoba. He joined the 94th Overseas Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Rainy River, Ontario, on January 11, 1916. In England, he was assigned to the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles on December 12, 1916, and arrived in France on February 13, 1917. He saw action at Vimy Ridge April 9-10 as part of the 3rd Division’s assault on heights near the La Folie Farm, midway between Hills 135 and 145, strategic goals of the assault. He was wounded on April 14 in further fighting near Passchendaele and hospitalized, first in France and then in England. He was discharged on March 14, 1919, on his return to Canada. In December 1916, he married Kate Connor of Hull, England. They had met in Canada and she followed him to England after his posting there. After the war, Percy and Kate lived in St. Louis, Mo., Winnipeg, Man., and Creston, B.C., where he died on May 22, 1978. They had four sons.

The following is a letter Percy wrote to his youngest son, Ray Argyle.

January 2, 1962

Dear Ray,

It is hardly possible to put into words what we, who went through this experience, felt at the time. Age has a habit of dimming names of places and names of people but it can never dim the sights and sounds of what we experienced. The shelling, the mud, the apparent confusion out of which grew a single purpose, take the Ridge or else.

In reserves every battalion had a mock-up of the ground we were to take and every day for weeks we practices going over the Ridge. The evening of the 8th we in the 1st Canadian Canadian Mounted Rifles and our supports massed at Mont St-Eloi and after dark we moved out. At Neiuville St-Vasst we were shelled and held up for a short time but by 5 a.m. we were already in position and waiting for the orders to go. As soon as we got in position our Sergeants came with the rum jug and gave each man a shot of rum. It was cold and damp and mud up almost to your knees, shell holes full of water, a wounded man if he fell into one almost always drowned.

At zero hour it seemed as if the heavens opened with one huge crash, it became light as day, and after, only one thought, press on, get going. I do not remember how long we were getting to the top of the Ridge but it did not seem very long. By this time it was broad day and we could see right across the plain [of Douai] to the towns and villages on the other side. I do not know how far it was but it seemed to be about five miles to the opposite side. The Germans thought the Ridge could not be taken, the dugouts and shelters themselves were impregnable to shell fire, but what are you going to do when someone sneaks up to your back door and lobs a stokes mortar down your stair way. I would say lots of Germans were buried alive this way because after a Stokes mortar exploded in a dugout it caved the whole thing in.

There is room for lots of argument over Vimy one way or another but I would say it was a walk over for us, the shelling had been so long and persistent and we had followed it up so close there had been no chance for Fritz to do anything about it. The artillery was massed wheel to wheel as well so it is not hard to imagine what happened when they all opened up at once. It was possible on a still night to hear a bombardment on the English coast that was going on in France, roughly about 60-70 miles away or more. Even after the terrific pounding the German defences took they were still in good shape to use, if they had time to remobilize before our infantry caught up with them.

It is not easy to write about this, we did not have an overall view of what was taking place, it was limited to what we could see ourselves. I did see just before we went in the line, a German flier in a Fokker come over and shoot down five of our observation balloons, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, just like that and off back to his own lines.

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