Rendez-vous at Zivy Crater - Thélus

  • © S.Dhote

    © S.Dhote

Rendez-vous at Zivy Crater - Thélus Route de Thélus à Neuville-Saint-Vaast 62580 Thélus fr

Today the fields between Thélus and Neuville-Saint-Vaast show no sign of the battles fought there during the Great War.

And yet for the Canadian soldiers preparing to attack the German positions in April 1917, the lowlands before Vimy Ridge were a desolate expanse marked by mine craters and shell holes from the fierce fighting that had taken place there, in particular the French offensive of May 1915 and the German advance during the British relief a year later.

The German Army had held the 140-metre-high Vimy Ridge from the outset of the war and it provided them with an excellent view of the coal basin, which they occupied, and the Artois Plain which was held by the Allies. Under the command of Lieutenant General Julian Byng, the four Canadian Divisions of the Allied Army carefully prepared their forthcoming attack on the heavily-defended Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Canadian sappers dug twelve 10-metre-deep tunnels which ran right up to the enemy lines to give their soldiers the best possible start. They also built a replica of the German lines so they could practice their attack. Allied artillery had been pummelling the German positions since the middle of March and underground mines were exploded in no man's land on the morning of 9th April. At the moment the Canadians launched their attack, the British opened the Battle of Arras. Within 30 minutes the Canadian infantry had overwhelmed the German's first line of defence; the following day they took control of the ridge.

During the operation and in the months to come the officer in charge of burials used two mine craters to inter 100 of his fallen comrades. Initially called CB1 and CB2A, the burial grounds were renamed Zivy Crater and Lichfield Crater. They are the only Commonwealth War Cemeteries on the Western front to be circular in shape. Zivy Crater is the final resting place of 53 soldiers of whom five were unidentified; Lichfield Crater holds 57 graves including 15 unknown.

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