The Battle of Vimy Ridge

Digging through newspaper archives reveals local soldiers participated in iconic First World War battle.

Bringing back the wounded from the attack on Vimy Ridge

Bringing back the wounded from the attack on Vimy Ridge

Cranbrook was hit hard 99 years ago, with the news of the death of two of its young men at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Harry Banfield and John Macdonald were both killed in action April 9, 1917, the first day of a four-day campaign to take a long, sloping escarpment — key strategic high ground held by the Germans.

It was fought primarily as part of the Battle of Arras, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. It involved all four divisions of Canadian soldiers were involved, making it the first time Canadians fought as a nation.

Thus, not only was it a turning point in the First World War, it proved to be a watershed moment for Canada as a country.

Back in Cranbrook, in April, 1917, the Herald reported the deaths of Lieut. Harry Banfield and Private John Macdonald. Banfield was killed in action serving with the 54th of the 11th Canadian Brigade, Macdonald with the 29th Battalion of the 6th Canadian Brigade.

Banfield, who’d moved to Cranbrook from Somerset, England, worked as a carpenter and building contractor, and served as a city Alderman and member of the Masonic Lodge.

Macdonald was a machinist apprentice with the CPR in Cranbrook.The Herald reported the Banfield was a close friend of Bert Black — also with the 54th — who died of wounds received at Vimy Ridge.

A letter by Capt. J.J,. Martin reprinted by the Herald described the action in which Black and Banfield were killed:

“They were both assigned important objectives in the operation. Banfield had the further advanced post and Black was next to him. They both reached their objectives, but when Banfield reached his outpost he found that his party was being [enfiladed] with machine gun fire from both flanks. He retired his party slightly and was hit while covering the move of his men. He managed to get back to the main position. Ashcroft … a lad from Vernon, started to dress his wounds but found he was too far gone. Ashcroft then got a Lewis gun and started operating it himself, but was soon sniped. Meantime, Black, who was wounded three times, was taken in. He was absolutely fearless and fought like a lion.”

No details were available of Macdonald’s death on April 9, 1917, but the Cranbrook Herald extended its sympathy to his bereaved parents.