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Canada's 100 Days

In Canada, conscription produced some of the results for which it was designed. Some 125,000 men were raised, but less than 25,000 made it to the battlefront by the end of the war.

City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection, A98-96, Box 4).

Canadian Soldiers Guard German Prisoners of War, n.d.

 

Nonetheless, Canadian soldiers contributed greatly to the ultimate defeat of Germany in what is known as Canada's Hundred Days. The Hundred Days Campaign coincided with the Allies final counter-offensive, leading to the defeat of the German army. Marshall Foch, the Supreme Allied Commander, and Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the Imperial forces, based their campaign on using their "shock troops" to crack the German defences. It is clear that of all the "shock troops" at their disposal the Canadian Corps was given the biggest role. The Corps' commander, Sir Arthur Currie, willingly accepted this heavy burden. He saw the chance to end the war before Christmas and therefore avoid the slow attrition of life in the line where the Corps could expect to lose two hundred men on a quiet day.

The Hundred Days began on 8 August with the Battle of Amiens. There, the Canadian Corps played a prominent role in the initial counter-offensives that would eventually end the war. On that first, decisive day of the battle, it advanced 8 miles and took 5,033 prisoners at a cost of 1,036 dead, 2,803 wounded, and 29 prisoners. German supreme commander General Ludendorf said it all with the comment "August 8 was the black day [der Schwarze Tag] of the German Army in the history of this war." While subsequent days of fighting did not produce the dramatic successes of 8 August, the Canadian Corps and the other Allied divisions tenaciously pressed on with the offensive.

The Canadian troops enjoyed no respite during these final battles; one offensive followed another in rapid succession, wearing down the German enemy. Between 26 August and 3 September, the Canadians continued the attack during the Battle of Arras. In hilly terrain and against trenches that had been established the year before at the Battle of the Scarpe -- a landscape that was ideally suited to the defender -- Canadian troops took on the toughest defence lines and some of Germany's finest troops -- and triumphed.

Canada; An Illustrated Weekly Journal, 19 October 1918. ©Chinook Multimedia Inc

"Canadians Passing Blazing Buildings in Cambrai on Their Way to the Line."

 

The next battles were at Canal du Nord and Cambrai. The attack of 26-27 September at Canal du Nord was, except to the right of the British line, an overwhelming victory for the Allies. Under the command of General Arthur Currie, the Canadian Corps made a extraordinary contribution. It was responsible for starting the massive flow of guns, tanks, and supplies across the canal only three hours after the battle had begun. After the Battle of Canal du Nord and a week's rest, the Canadian Corps resumed its attack on the night of 8-9 October. Its assault on Cambrai caught the enemy as it prepared to withdraw. The Corps easily reached its main objective, the bridges leading into the city. By 8:30 a.m., 9 October, the deserted town was in Canadian hands.

DocumentDocument
Fred James, Canada’s Triumph (London: Charles and Son, 1918), pp. 42-44, 46.

Canal du Nord.

These accounts by military correspondent Fred James testify to the efficiency of the Canadian attack at Canal du Nord.

Between 26 September and 11 October, when the Canadian Corps achieved the final objectives of the Battle of Cambrai, the Canadians advanced twenty-three miles through the heart of the German defences. From the beginning of Canada's Hundred Days on 8 August, the Canadian Corps had suffered 30,000 casualties and reclaimed over 130 kilometres of French and Belgian territory. Some historians have argued that the innovative Canadian tactics for rapid attack influenced the Blitzkrieg tactics that Germany employed in the Second World War during the Polish campaign and the invasion of France.

Currie's troops were exhausted. Despite substantial losses and battle fatigue, however, the Canadians continued to pursue the retreating defenders. The Battle of Valenciennes highlighted the Pursuit to Mons, the final phase of the Hundred Days. At dawn on 1 November, the Canadians pounded German defences at Valenciennes with a devastating series of artillery barrages. Although the Germans defended the city with five divisions, the Canadians captured Valenciennes relatively easily. They suffered 80 men lost and 300 more wounded.

DocumentDocument
Fred James, Canada's Triumph (London: Charles and Son, 1918), pp. 49-50.

Occupation of Cambrai.

In this brief excerpt, Fred James provides a rapid-fire summary of Canadian operations at Cambrai.
Virtual SceneVirtual Scene
National Archives of Canada (PA-003213).

Cambrai.

Busy scene at an advanced dressing station during attack on Cambrai. Advance East of Arras. October, 1918.

This image shows the variety of activities that went on at a First World War casualty station. To the left of the image, vehicles (including a Red Cross ambulance) are bringing new casualties. Stretcher bearers, including Chinese labourers and German prisoners of war, then move the casualties to where they can be treated. As evidenced by the cross in the lower right corner, some of the casualties were fatal. Indeed, some of the casualties are shown encased in "body bags." At the top of the image, several soldiers are shown resting, a stretcher-bearer is bringing in another casualty, and a German prisoner is transporting an empty stretcher back to the battlefield.
The Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum, Griesbach Gallery.

Mons Bugle.

Used on 11 November 1918 at Mons, Belgium, this bugle signalled the end of fighting for Canada in the First World War.
Copyright Canadian War Museum (CN-8969).

The Return to Mons, by Inglis Harry Jodrel Sheldon-Williams.

 

After Valenciennes, the Canadian Corps pursued the German army to Mons, Belgium. At times, the Germans fought furious rearguard actions. Right until the end of the war, the Canadian Corps and the rest of the Allied troops encountered stiff resistance. But the German army was on the verge of collapse. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated his throne and fled to neutral Netherlands on 10 November. The new German government desperately wanted peace and requested an armistice. Late that same day, companies of the Royal Canadian Regiment and the 42nd Highlanders moved into Mons. At 11:00 the next day, 11 November, the war was over.

Canada had paid a very high price for her commitment to the war effort. Over 650,000 Canadians had served, including 620,000 in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Almost 60,000 men were killed and another 172,000 were wounded. Statistics, however, tell little of the sacrifice that these Canadian soldiers and their families made.

DocumentDocument
H. C. Singer, History of the 31st Canadian Infantry Battalion, C.E.F. (n.p., [1939?]), pp. 429-431.

Mons.

After so many years of fighting, the end of hostilities seemed almost like a dream.
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