James Thompson Robb

The Battle of Vimy Ridge

The Canadian Corps opened their assault on Vimy Ridge on April 9th, 1917. For the first time during the Great War, all four Canadian divisions fought together in a single action. The assault on Vimy Ridge Ridge was a smaller part of the Battle of Arras which was the British contribution to the larger French Nivelle Offensive. The Canadian Corps was further supported by British troops and artillery. Vimy Ridge was captured by the Germans in 1914, during the opening moves of the Great War and attempts were made to recapture Vimy Ridge by French colonial troops who almost succeeded in this task in 1915. Eventually, responsibility for the Arras sector was given to the British who called upon the Canadian Corps to take Vimy Ridge in the spring of 1917. British Commander, Sir Julian Byng, led the Canadian Corps during the battle where extensive preparation was made including the digging of tunnels, practice on scale models and the extensive use of artillery. The Canadian bombardment of the Ridge began on March 20, and continued for two weeks.1

H-Hour was 5:30 am on April 9, Easter Monday of 1917 and every artillery piece opened fire as the engineers detonated pre-placed explosives below no-man’s land. Canadian soldiers leaned into the barrage following in behind the the curtain of artillery fire as it swept forward across Vimy Ridge. Although the German guns returned fire, many of the forward German defensive positions were quickly overrun by the Canadians who achieved their objectives as outlined in a number of phase lines. It would take a few more days to overwhelm the 'Pimple' a heavily defended German position. 3,598 Canadian soldiers were killed and there were over 10,000 Canadian casualties. Some claims have been made that the Battle of Vimy Ridge helped develop our sense of national identity. Unfortunately, Lieutenant James Thompson, was one of the fatal casualties of this battle.2

Lieutenant James Thompson Robb

James Thompson Robb was born on August 22, 1892, in Owen Sound, to Mrs. Margaret Robb. His father passed away in 1909. After attending the Owen Sound Collegiate Institute, Robb worked as a pharmacist in Owen Sound for Jack Campbell. James Robb was very well-liked in the community and was remembered for his good-humoured and caring personality. Prior to enlisting in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, Robb served for two years with the cadets. He married Miss Ethel Campbell on April 13, 1916.3

On February 9, 1916, Robb initially enlisted for service with the 147th Grey Battalion serving as a Lieutenant. On December 27, 1916, Lt. Robb was 'struck off strength' with the 147th Battalion and posted to the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion on December 29. During the month of January, 1917, the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion underwent rigorous training and the soldiers were equipped with new weapons and kit. On January 28, Lt. Robb was admitted to the No. 11 Field Ambulance with a case of tonsillitis. He returned to his unit on February 8.4

During the first days of April, 1917, the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion moved into position close to Vimy Ridge near a town called Ecoivres. The men were drilled on the manoeuvres that they would use in the upcoming battle. On April 9, 1917, the 4th Infantry Battalion advanced on Vimy Ridge with the rest of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division following the artillery barrage provided by their gunners. According to his Circumstances of Death Ceritificate, Lieutenant Robb was 'killed in action' during the 'attack' south of the French town of Thelus. Lt. Robb was one of the first local officers to serve on the front lines during the First World War. He was remembered by his men and fellow officers as a ‘gallant leader and general favourite’. Lieutenant James Thompson Robb is buried at the Ecoivres Military Cemetery in Northern France.5  

1, 2. Tim Cook, The Battle of Vimy Ridge warmuseum.ca

3, 4, 5. Library and Archives Canada: Soldiers of the First World War 1914-18