Too often history and our remembrance of the debt we owe for our freedom and rights is done with large sweeping overviews of the big battles, the machines used and the battlefields they were fought on. We need to remember individuals, those that died for this legacy we call Canada. This is the story of one man, not a general, nor an admiral, but a soldier who was one of the many we truly owe our gratitude to.
Sydney James Bevan was born in Newbury England on the 28th of January, 1891 to William and Hannah Bevan. William Bevan was a labourer in Newbury and with 5 children under the age of 9 the household was a busy one, and one with a hand to mouth existence. Somewhere just prior to his 10th birthday, Sydney was bound to a family of decent means living in Ontario, Canada, William and Annie Scott, who employed him as a domestic. One can only imagine the life that Sydney had to this point, his family still in England and his trip to Canada a new and terrifying experience in the lower bowels of the transport ship of the late 18th century. At the age of 19 however, he had completed his term as a bound servant and traveled to the United States as a labourer to seek his fortune. He became an American citizen, however hard times were had in the States and as war loomed on the horizon, Sydney moved back to his adopted country and ended up in Winnipeg, where he began his life as a full Canadian, a husband to Christina and a father.
In 1914 the war began in Europe, Canada being involved with the Canadian Expeditionary force, the Canadian Navy and the Royal Air Force (The Canadian Air Force would be born out of this conflict). In 1915 and 1916, the war in Europe was progressing slowly and the forces were being drained in the fight. Canada called for more men to come to volunteer and join the forces. As an American citizen, Sydney was not subject to conscription, but on January 25, 1916 Sydney James Bevan signed the accreditation paper to become a Canadian Soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary force. This upset his wife Christina as she had a young daughter and the war was wreaking a terrible toll on the soldiers. He was sent to training at Camp Hughes, here in Manitoba to learn the deadly techniques required in trench warfare. His regiment the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles (107th) was assigned to fight in France and on September 18, 1916 they sailed from Halifax to England. On December the 7th, 1916 he landed in France and the regiment joined its unit on the battlefield on February 14th. During the fighting, on April 9, 1917, on the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Sydney lost his life for Canada. He is buried in LA CHAUDIERE MILITARY CEMETERY in Pas de Calais, France.
In 1925 Christina received, from the war department, a locket that had been found on the battlefield. Inside it was a picture of her and the words Baby Bevan inscribed on the back. Canada became a true nation during this conflict due to its men who sacrificed everything they had for it. Sydney James Bevan's Great Grandaughter still lives in Winnipeg and enjoys one of the sports made possible by freedom, Geocaching. On Remembrance day, or any day when you see a memorial for our brave soldiers, remember that it was made up of individuals, who had their own stories to tell and never had the opportunity to complete...
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. Canadian troops also earned a reputation as formidable, effective troops because of the stunning success. But it was a victory at a terrible cost, with more than 10,000 killed and wounded.
The Canadian Corps was ordered to seize Vimy Ridge in April 1917. [Map] Situated in northern France, the heavily-fortified seven-kilometre ridge held a commanding view over the Allied lines. The Canadians would be assaulting over an open graveyard since previous French attacks had failed with over 100,000 casualties.
To capture this difficult position, the Canadians would carefully plan and rehearse their attack. To provide greater flexibility and firepower in battle, the infantry were given specialist roles as machine-gunners, rifle-men and grenade-throwers. These same soldiers underwent weeks of training behind the lines using models to represent the battlefield, and new maps crafted from aerial photographs to guide their way. To bring men forward safely for the assault, engineers dug deep tunnels from the rear to the front. Despite this training and preparation, the key to victory would be a devastating artillery barrage that would not only isolate enemy trenches, but provide a moving wall of high explosives and shrapnel to force the Germans to stay in their deep dugouts and away from their machine-guns. "Chaps, you shall go over exactly like a railroad train, on time, or you shall be annihilated," warned Canadian Corps commander Sir Julian Byng.
"In those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation."
BGen A.E. Ross
In the week leading up to the battle, Canadian and British artillery pounded the enemy positions on the ridge, killing and tormenting defenders. New artillery tactics allowed the gunners to first target, then destroy enemy positions. A nearly limitless supply of artillery shells and the new 106 fuse, which allowed shells to explode on contact, as opposed to burying themselves in ground, facilitated the destruction of hardened defences and barbed wire. The Canadian infantry would be well supported when it went into battle with over 1,000 artillery pieces laying down withering, supportive fire.
Attacking together for the first time, the four Canadian divisions stormed the ridge at 5:30am on 9 April 1917. More than 15,000 Canadian infantry overran the Germans all along the front. Incredible bravery and discipline allowed the infantry to continue moving forward under heavy fire, even when their officers were killed. There were countless acts of sacrifice, as Canadians single-handedly charged machine-gun nests or forced the surrender of Germans in protective dugouts. Hill 145, the highest and most important feature of the Ridge, and where the Vimy monument now stands, was captured in a frontal bayonet charge against machine-gun positions. Three more days of costly battle delivered final victory. The Canadian operation was an important success, even if the larger British and French offensive, of which it had been a part, had failed. But it was victory at a heavy cost: 3,598 Canadians were killed and another 7,000 wounded.
The capture of Vimy was more than just an important battlefield victory. For the first time all four Canadian divisions attacked together: men from all regions of Canada were present at the battle. Brigadier-General A.E. Ross declared after the war, "in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation."
Vimy became a symbol for the sacrifice of the young Dominion. In 1922, the French government ceded to Canada in perpetuity Vimy Ridge, and the land surrounding it. The gleaming white marble and haunting sculptures of the Vimy Memorial, unveiled in 1936, stand as a terrible and poignant reminder of the more than sixty thousand Canadians who died serving their country during the First World War.