A 100th anniversary with significant meaning
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 Canadians paid in the process was high. Almost 620,000 men served. More than 66,000 died and more than 172,000 were wounded, often horribly so.
The culmination of World War One brought an end to one of the nastiest, most horrific, and terrible conflicts fought under inhumane conditions, but 1918 also signified the beginning of a new era for Canada. Historians generally agree that Canada, through bloodshed, had won its rightful autonomy.
Following the war, a new attitude prevailed where public admiration and support for old school imperialism had faded and lost its appeal. The toll of the war forever tarnished the allure of fighting for glory. But on a more positive note, Canada’s image at home and her status abroad were enhanced. At Prime Minister Robert Borden’s insistence, Canada signed the Treaty of Versailles independently of Great Britain.
Thus began our journey to assuming our rightful place as an autonomous nation on the world stage. No longer would Canada be content to be treated as a subordinate by other countries.
According to historian Arthur Lower, “Canada entered the war a colony, she emerged from it close to an independent nation.”
On this 100th anniversary, let us remember the sacrifices that were made not only to end World War One and secure peace in the world, but also to firmly establish our nationhood.