A Nation Is Born: Canada in World War I

Topics: Canadian Corps, World War I, Battle of Vimy Ridge Pages: 5 (1768 words) Published: November 17, 2012
On August 4th 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany. “When Britain is at war, Canada is at war,” said Prime Minister of Canada Sir Wilfred Laurier in 1910.[1] His comments reflected the view of most Canadians at the time; an identity firmly planted in British sovereignty. Canadians did their part and made their contribution initially consisting of one division, later followed by three more, creating the first Canadian Corps. The performance of the Canadian Corps at the battles of Ypres and Somme during the war, instilled pride in soldiers, and that of the Nation they fought gallantly for. The battle of Vimy Ridge in particular “symbolized Canada’s coming of age as a Nation.”[2] Canada saw the evolution of its army from a single division under the command of the British to a remarkable fighting Corps under the command of one of her own people. The performance of her militia as well as the experiences and contributions made by Canada during the war, inspired the transformation of the colony to a proud Nation.

In 1914 Prime Minister Laurier spoke on behalf of a great many Canadians when he said: “It is our duty to let Great Britain know and to let the friends and foes of Great Britain know that there is in Canada but one mind and one heart that all Canadians are behind the Mother Country.”[3] The Canadians considered themselves a colony of Britain, and showed immediate support for Britain as they went to war. With a contingent of 3,110 men the Canadian expeditionary force was off to Britain. After an accelerated training during the winter of 1915, the Canadians deployed to France with a false sense of preparedness. The battle fields as they had pictured it and the glory they had dreamt about, quickly faded as they embraced the cruel reality of the cold and muddy French battlefields.

On April 22 1915, during the second battle of ypres, the 1st Canadian division under the command of a British general were given the difficult task of reclaiming a gap in the allied defensive line. At the loss of many men, the Canadians were able to regain the gap. Days later, on April 24, 1915 the Canadian line came under attack from the Germans. German artillery bombardments were followed by the infamous chlorine (poison) gas. “Through terrible fighting, withered with shrapnel and machine-gun fire, hampered by their issued Ross rifles which jammed, violently sick and gasping for air through soaked and muddy handkerchiefs,” the Canadians held the line until reinforcements arrived.[4] In their first appearance on the battle field, the 1st Canadian division made a significant impact, and showed the world it was a formidable fighting force. The Canadian public was proud of the great courage and performance displayed by their militia. The British were singing Canadian praises in the form of congratulatory messages sent to the Canadian government.[5]

After the second battle of Ypres, during the spring of 1915, the 1st Canadian division were joined by the 2nd Canadian division. This marked the formation of the first Canadian Corps. The 3rd Canadian division composed of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and the Royal Canadian Regiment joined the Canadian Corps shortly thereafter. Each of the Canadian divisions were now under the commands of Canadian Major Generals. A milestone for the Canadian military as they proved competence in commanding their own divisions. The multiple divisions of the Canadian Corps however, remained under British command.

In late August 1916 the Canadians Corps were moved to the French river Somme to take over a section of the front line pushing back an invading German force. The Canadians Corps “ran into heavy fighting and suffered some 2,600 casualties before the full-scale offensive even got underway.”[6] September 15, 1916 marked the beginning of the major offensive against the German forces at the river Somme. “Advancing behind a creeping barrage, the canadian...
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