This November marks the 100th anniversary of the end of one of the bloodiest and most horrific conflicts of the 20th century. World War One was particularly significant for Canada as by its conclusion our country would have proven her worth as a valuable ally, thereby gaining global recognition and more autonomy as a nation.
In August 1914 Canadians found themselves automatically involved when Great Britain declared war on Germany. As a member of the British Empire, Canada had no say in the matter. And so it was that young men from Saskatchewan, found themselves enthusiastically enlisting for a war that they believed would end successfully and quickly. In fact, many believed that they would be back home by Christmas and that their participation was no more than a grand adventure. They had no idea of what horrors lay ahead.
The Second Battle of Ypres saw the first major engagement of Canadian troops. It was here on April 22, 1915, that Germans waited until the wind blew in the right direction and then released chlorine gas. When the sickly greenish-yellow cloud wafted over the Allied line, the French contingent broke and ran, leaving a huge hole in the middle.
Canadian troops quickly moved in to defend the exposed gap in the defensive line. They stayed strong even while enduring another hit of the deadly gas. Men soaked their handkerchiefs in muddy water or even their own urine to avoid breathing the deadly air. The Canucks held the line until British reinforcements were able to assist. Many believe, had the Germans broken through and advanced, the war might have come to a quick and devastating end.
From then on, Canadian forces would be regarded as storm troopers, not only tough and formidable on the battlefield, but also reliable. But that reputation would come at a high cost – 6,000 dead, missing, or wounded within the space of a few short days.
Canadian troops would go on to distinguish themselves many more times – at the Battle of the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, and the final breakthrough at Amiens. British Prime Minister Lloyd George would note, “Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line, they prepared for the worst.”
The four divisions of the Canadian Corps had earned this high regard by defeating 47 German divisions, which was one quarter of the German army. As they fought, they liberated more than 200 cities and towns and captured more than 30,000 enemy soldiers.
But the price Canadia