One-hundred-years ago Canadian soldiers fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge and defeated the German forces but not without significant losses.
More than 100 men from Prince Rupert and surrounding area died in World War One, and by 1917 the city had already experienced many casualties.
Retired Charles Hays Secondary School history teacher, Dianne Rabel, travelled to Vimy Ridge three times, once with a group of students for the 95th anniversary of the battle.
She has spent years researching the Prince Rupert connection to the battle that is often described as a defining moment for Canada as an independent nation.
It was also a moment of honour for northern British Columbians (102nd Battalion) who occupied the place of honour at the very top of the hill. “Most people are unaware of that,” Rabel said.
In her research, she discovered that there are only 27 names on the cenotaph by the Prince Rupert courthouse, and two of those names were men who had died in Vimy Ridge during the battle that lasted from April 9-12.
But seven men from Prince Rupert had lost their lives in the battle, six on the first day and one who died from his wounds the following day.
Their names were Lance-Corporal Charles “Scotty” Dennis, 28, of the 1st/9th Royal Scots, a poet; Private Francis Frank Gray, 33, of the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles, a miner; Lance-Sergeant Charles Helas, 34, of the 72nd Battalion, a builder; Private Percy Godfrey Le Neveu, 21, of the 72nd Battalion, a jeweller; Lt. Albert Lineham, 33, of the 102nd Battalion, known as a “gentleman”; Lt. Robert Alexander Stalker, 38, of the 102nd Battalion, a merchant; Lance-Corporal Albert Williamson, 40, of the 102nd Battalion, a clerk in the road superintendent’s office.
“One [of the names on the cenotaph] is Charles Dennis, he was a favourite in town. They called him Scotty. He had a poem for every occasion and his name constantly appears in the papers of the time,” Rabel said.
The other name written on the cenotaph is Robert Stalker, who was a merchant in town. He was well-known and liked. His granddaughter still lives in the city.
“He died first thing in the morning when they first came out of the tunnels in the first waves,” she said.
And there were more that died in the lead-up during the horrendous trench warfare of WWI.
“On March 1 dozens of men from the 54th (Kootenay) Battalion died when the gas they released turned back on them. One casualty was Major Frederick Travers Lucas, 34, civil engineer, who was a Prince Rupert pioneer,” Rabel said.
“Two local miners also died there that month. Private Thomas Cavanagh, 33, of the 2nd Cdn Mounted Rifles on the 21st, and Private Walter Smith, 37, of the 47th Battalion on the 4th.
A total of 3,598 Canadian soldiers lost their lives and 7,004 were wounded in the battle that brought victory to the Allied side. They had spent months to prepare. Soldiers dug tunnels and laid train tracks. Previous attempts to take the hill from the Germans had failed, but the Canadian Corps were able to take the Germans by surprise and seize Vimy Ridge.
Charles Hays Secondary School and the Prince Rupert Sea Cadets organized a trip to France to commemorate 100 years since the battle.
“When you go to Vimy Ridge it absolutely takes your breath away,” Rabel said, reflecting on her own visit. “It’s set high above the surrounding area so it naturally just grabs your attention. When you approach the monument it’s standing there like a cathedral.”
Rabel hopes that one day the full list of names of soldiers who died in the war will be added to the cenotaph in Prince Rupert.
“Citizens must understand what brought us to this place in history and recognize and honour the enormous sacrifices of previous generations. It is so humbling to walk amongst the tombstones and realize what these young men did for us.”
Prince Rupert Sea Cadet William Roubicek met the Minister of National Defence Harjit Singh Sajjan at the Vimy Ridge 100th anniversary memorial in France on Sunday, April 9. CONTRIBUTED