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What is the significance of the Dury Canadian Memorial in France?

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The Dury Canadian Memorial is a First World War battlefield memorial that commemorates the hard-fought actions during the Second Battle of Arras to break the Drocourt-Quéant Line – a heavily fortified system of defences extended northward as a switch-line from the main Hindenburg Line just south of the town of Dury. This German Army's defensive position made use of the difficult terrain which included deeply cut valleys and ridges that crossed the battle area and was fortified with concrete shelters and thick belts of wire in order to contain any Allied advance into the Douai plain. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig (1861-1928), who commanded the British Expeditionary Force, had directed the First Army to strike eastward from Arras with the Canadian Corps to spearhead the attack. The Corps Commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie (1875-1933), had been given the important and difficult task to assault astride the Arras-Cambrai road with the 51st Highland Division forming the left flank, the 3rd Canadian Division in the centre between the road and River Scarpe and the 2nd Canadian Division on the right, south of the Cambrai road. As inscribed on the Dury Canadian Memorial, "THE CANADIAN CORPS 100,000 STRONG ATTACKED AT ARRAS ON AUGUST 26TH 1918, STORMED SUCCESSIVE GERMAN LINES AND HERE ON SEPT. 2ND BROKE AND TURNED THE MAIN GERMAN POSITION ON THE WESTERN FRONT AND REACHED THE CANAL DU NORD." In the first three days of the battle the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions had advanced more than eight kilometres and had captured 3,300 prisoners and a large number of guns. Among the nearly 6,000 casualties in the two divisions was Major Georges-Philéas Vanier (1888-1967), a future Governor General of Canada, when as the senior surviving officer he took over command on 27 August of the 22nd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force near Chérisy. On that day, Vanier was hit in the chest by a machine gun bullet and while being tended to on a stretcher, a German artillery shell exploded nearby. The stretcher bearer was killed, and Vanier's right leg was shattered by shrapnel, and it had to be amputated. In the fierce fighting of 2 September, Canadians attacked the Drocourt-Quéant Line supported by tanks and aircraft, during the Hundred Days Offensive. On that day, the Victoria Cross was earned by seven Canadians. The enemy had withdrawal during that night into the Hindenburg Line and the following day, 3 September, the Canadian Corps had further advanced six kilometres in the face of very little opposition to reach its next obstacle: the Canal du Nord. Following the Armistice of 1918, the Canadian Battlefields Memorials Committee, chaired by Major-General the Honourable Sidney C. Mewburn, C.M.G., K.C., M.P., had recommended to a Special Committee of the House of Commons that Dury be chosen as one of eight Great War Canadian memorials of a permanent character and worthy of the events to be commemorated. The memorial site is located south of Dury, halfway between the cities of Arras and Cambrai. As shown in the photograph, the monument consists of a solid octagonal block of Canadian granite weighing nearly 15 tonnes and is set within a beautifully landscaped park, surrounded with stately maples.

On this day, 26 August 2022, we commemorate the 104th anniversary of the hard-fought actions of the Canadian Corps in the Second Battle of Arras to break the Drocourt-Quéant Line.

André M. Levesque

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