Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

At Vimy Ridge

with 6 comments

The above is one in a series of pictures a Royal Canadian cameraman took during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. The photo is regarded as one of the greatest war photos — although its origins are obscure. Some note that it was taken during “pre-battle” training behind the lines. This is not unusual. Because of the primitive photographic equipment available in the field, most photos purporting to portray actual ‘combat action’ during World War I in fact showed troops during pre-war training exercises. Some however note that the soldier going over the top was making a gesture expressing his contempt for the Germans by putting his thumb to his nose. (There is a website refuting this here).

No matter what the battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917 was considered as a pivotal moment for Canada as a nation; four Canadian Army units fought together as one for the first time. Three thousand five hundred and ninety eight Canadian soldiers were killed during the battle, and four Victoria Crosses were awarded. Indeed, the Canadians captured a strategic area, but it was a minor victory for the losing Allies that spring, and had a negligible effect. The Globe and Mail noted that “if French or British rather than Canadian troops had driven the German enemy off Vimy Ridge, history probably would have forgotten about it.”

Yet, the victory at Vimy become inseparable from the Canadian identity. When there were rumors that the Vimy memorial had been destroyed by Germans during the WWII, the Canadians were whipped fury and hatred so much so that Adolf Hitler’s advisers thought it was necessary for the Nazi leader to be photographed in Vimy at the monument to demonstrate that it was still intact.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 31, 2010 at 9:33 am

Posted in Politics, Society, War

Tagged with , ,

6 Responses

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  1. Typo in the title?


    May 31, 2010 at 2:01 pm

  2. Hitler even went so far as to mount an SS guard detachment at the monument to prevent its vandalism by occupation troops.


    June 28, 2010 at 6:14 pm

  3. I found that strange that even Hitler had the Waffen SS guard the monument. Apparently he had a soft spot for the veterns of the great war. I would love to see the monument personally, it looks quite amazing


    July 30, 2010 at 7:20 am

  4. […] At Vimy Ridge В« Iconic Photos May 31, 2010 … No matter what the battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, … Photos that Changed the World (?) В» … […]

  5. The idea that Hitler put an SS guard on Vimy Ridge is a complete myth, apparently dating back to an article in the ‘Toronto Star’ in 2007. In fact very few allied memorials or cemeteries were desecrated by the Nazis in World War II.

    Mark Hone

    March 16, 2014 at 3:10 pm

  6. Hitler preserved it because he knew that angry enemy soldiers are motivated to fight better- period. Not sentimental likely.

    D. Savage

    March 23, 2016 at 12:13 am

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