Canadian National Vimy Memorial
Canadian National Vimy Memorial, designed by Walter Seymour Allward and unveiled in 1936

100 years ago, at 5:30am on Easter morning, Sunday, April 9, 1917, the Battle of Vimy Ridge began. It was part of a larger British offensive known as the Battle of Arras, in which for the first time all four Canadian Divisions of the Canadian Corps, comprising 97,184 soldiers, were to fight together as one.

As noted by author Tim Cook of the Canadian War Museum, “Many historians and writers consider the Canadian victory at Vimy a defining moment for Canada, when the country emerged from under the shadow of Britain and felt capable of greatness.”


View of the statue of “Canada Bereft”
View of the statue of “Canada Bereft” (Mother Canada) mourning her dead; looking to the east. The view helps show the strategic advantage the Ridge provided to the British after the Canadian Corps succeeded in taking it.

The Ridge had been taken by the Germans in October 1914. Several attempts had been made in 1915 by the French to retake it, at a cost of over 150,000 killed or wounded. In 1916 the British relieved the French 10th Army in the Vimy area, and in October 1916 all four Canadian Divisions were brought in. During the planning of the attack, the British 5th Infantry Division was added to the Canadian Corps. The success of the Canadian Corps in achieving the high ground of the Ridge came with a heavy toll. Of the 97,184 Canadian soldiers that fought in the Battle over 10,000 were killed or wounded.

Canadian Cemetery No. 2, Vimy Ridge
Canadian Cemetery No. 2, Vimy Ridge

During the war, roughly 56 Presbyterian ministers served in France & Belgium as chaplains to the Canadian soldiers. Two of these were Rev Charles S. Oke and Rev. George Petrie Duncan. The quotes at the beginning of this small exhibit are from their hand-written accounts, written for the Assistant Director of Chaplain Service shortly after the Battle. These first-hand accounts are part of the Chaplain Service records held at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Along with these reports we’ve provided some photographs of both men, as well as some additional records relating to the Battle, which are housed within our own Presbyterian Church Archives.

We hope these documents relating to just two men of the many that served that day, will be of interest and reflection to you.


Rev. Charles S. Oke

Rev. Charles S. Oke was born in Sunderland, Ontario in 1883. He graduated from Knox College in 1914 and served as minister at Chalmers Presbyterian Church, Toronto, until he entered the War.


Rev. Charles S. Oke
Rev. Charles S. Oke (Photo G-532-MC)
Rev. Charles Oke, seated 4th from the right.
Rev. Charles Oke, seated 4th from the right. (Photo G-532-MC)

Rev. George Petrie Duncan

Rev. George Petrie Duncan was born in Scotland in April 1867, the year of Confederation. Shortly after he moved to Canada he entered Knox College, Toronto, graduating in 1897. He served pastorates in Unionville, Whitechurch and Langside, and Port Credit, all in Ontario, before enlisting as a Chaplain. He turned 50 years old just four days before the Battle of Vimy Ridge began.


Rev. George Petrie Duncan
Rev. George Petrie Duncan (Photo G-2923-FC-1)
Rev. George Petrie Duncan
Rev. George Petrie Duncan (Photo G-2923-FC-3)

Read excerpts on how the Battle was reported in the various Presbyterian magazines that existed in 1917

Presbyterian Record
The May 1917 issue of the Presbyterian Record didn’t specifically comment on the Battle of Vimy Ridge, however, the opening editorial alludes to the recent achievement and corresponding loss of life in a simple and poignant memorial to Canada’s soldiers.

Click here to read the editorial “Canada’s Manhood”.

The Presbyterian and Westminster
The Presbyterian and Westminster was a weekly magazine published out of Toronto, Ontario. At the time of going to press for their April 12th issue, news of the Battle had just arrived, and a first update was provided. The April 19th issue then covered the Battle in more detail. Both updates were provided in the section titled “The Story of the Week”.

Click here to read the commentary on the Battle in the April 12th, 1917 issue

Click here to read the commentary on the Battle in the April 19th, 1917 issue

The Presbyterian Witness
The Presbyterian Witness was published out of Halifax, N.S., and like “The Presbyterian and Westminster” was also a weekly magazine. The Battle of Vimy Ridge was covered on the front page of the April 14, 1917 issue under a section titled “The Progress of the War”. The article begins “The past week will rank as one of the most memorable in the war….”.

Click here to see a digitized copy of the front page of the April 14, 1917 issue.


Relevant Links

Veterans Affairs Canada – 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge
http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/first-world-war/vimy-ridge/100-anniversary

Canadian War Museum
http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/vimy/index_e.shtml

The Vimy Foundation
http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/learn/vimy-ridge/

Canada’s Great War Album – Vimy Ridge
http://greatwaralbum.ca/Great-War-Album/Battle-Fronts/Vimy-Ridge

“Voices from the Front: Canada’s Presbyterian Padres and the Great War” by Duff Crerar (2014). Paper presented to the Canadian Society of Presbyterian History
http://www.csph.ca/assets/csph2014-crerar.pdf

“Presbyterian Chaplaincy during the First World War” by Bob Anger (2002). Paper presented to the Canadian Society of Presbyterian History
PDF version

Library and Archives Canada – Records relating to the First World War
http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/Pages/introduction.aspx


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