Immediately the tragedy of the Great War each nation had to go about collectively processing such an immense catastrophe. One of the major consequences of the war was a new sense of distinction among Great Britain’s Anglo colonies. While countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa had control over their domestic affairs, their status in the Empire gave them no control over their foreign policy. So when Britain declared war in Germany, places like Canada and Australia, thousand of miles from the German enemy, where automatically at war as well. The colonies in particular embraced this and sent proportionally huge contingents to Europe. Canada and Australia sent upwards of 7% of their populations to Europe under arms. The Canadians serving for the first time as one cohesive army were assigned what the French and even Germans had assumed was an impossible task, the storming of Vimy Ridge, which overlooked the industrial city of Lens. The French had suffered hundreds of thousand of casualties attempting to take the ridge and the entire Canadian army numbered less than 600,000. The first day of the assault the Canadians suffered thousands of casualties in what is still the bloodiest day in their history with 3500 killed. In spite of their losses within four days the Canadians took the impregnable ridge. In many ways it would serve as a defining moment for the nation. It created a sense of pride and purpose that Canada could hold its own and renewed a drive for great control of its affairs. Shortly after the war Britain released Canada to run its own foreign and military affairs. Although the loss of so many young men was particularly painful to what was then a small rural country, the Battle of Vimy Ridge would be collectively remembered as one of Canada’s most important historical moments.
Canadian National Vimy Memorial