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France 1917: Battle of Vimy Ridge
Thélus, Zivy Crater Cemetery
Evacuated raving mad – Cemetery CB1
In 1917, after the Battle of Vimy Ridge in May, a Canadian burial officer decided to use shell craters as mass graves and in a crater at Zivy, near the village of Thélus, he buried 53 bodies. Of these 50 were of identifiable Canadian soldiers. Initially, the cemetery was simply given the designation CB1; today it is known as Zivy Crater and it lies on the D49 between the villages of Neuville-St-Vaast and Thélus to the right of the road shortly before it crosses the A26 Autoroute.
Zivy is a cemetery without headstones. The names of those who are buried here are inscribed on seven panels beneath the Cross of Sacrifice and the CWGC register shows that all of them died on 9 April 1917, the day of the opening of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. They served in infantry battalions raised from places such as Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia but the great majority are from Ontario.
Zivy Crater is now grassed and surrounded by a wall of napped flint with a coping of French limestone. It is no longer full of mud and water but, clearly and compellingly, it is still a crater. Standing here, it is possible to feel something of the sheer destructive power of World War I shells and to understanding the fear and dread of those who suffered, perhaps for the rest of their lives, under the full force of an enemy bombardment and its lottery of death:
One of our men … went suddenly demented. The s.s. [shell shock] had an electrifying effect upon him … [he] dropped his rifle and rushed out over the front line trench into no mans land, the Germans blazing away at him: then he turned and ran down between the lines of the two armies; no one seemed able to bring him down. Then he turned again and raced into our system, down overland through the support trenches … where men from the Battalion pursued him, overpowered him, and forcibly rolled him in blankets and tied him up with rope … he was unwounded but evacuated raving mad.
Captain Roy Goldrick, 33rd Battalion, of Parramattta, New South Wales, letter, 13 April 1917, quoted in Bill Gammage, The Broken Years, Melbourne, 1990, p.199
Between April 1916 and the end of the war in November 1918, the official history of the Australian Army medical services on the Western Front records that just over 50 percent of all wounds suffered by members of the AIF were caused by bursting German shell fragments and shrapnel pellets. A further 34 percent were caused by bullets from rifles and machine guns and only 0.28 percent by bayonets. Just under 12 percent were casualties from poison gas. This is convincing evidence of the killing power of artillery on the Western Front.
© 2013 Department of Veterans' Affairs and Board of Studies NSW :: Last update - December 2010