Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - 80 - 13 Things About Canada's Role in the Two World Wars


1 - Vimy Ridge, WWI

"The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a military offensive by the Canadian Corps against the German Sixth Army. It took place along the Western Front, part of the opening phase of the Battle of Arras as a diversionary attack. The Corps' objective was to take control of the German-held high ground at the northernmost end of the advance to permit the southern flank of the Arras offensive to advance.

The Canadian Corps captured the majority of the ridge during the first day of the attack. This was the first occasion where all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force participated in an action as a composite formation. The battle thus became a Canadian nationalistic symbol of achievement and sacrifice.

In 2003, the Government of Canada declared April 9th as Vimy Ridge Day, to honour and remember the battle that took place at Vimy Ridge in 1917." - Wikipedia


2 - Vimy Ridge Memorial

Designed by Toronto sculptor and designer Walter Seymour Allward, the Vimy Ridge Memorial is situated on the site of the battlefield in Givenchy-en-Gohelle, near Vimy, France. This piece of land has been granted to the people of Canada in perpetuity. The two main structures can be seen as France and her ally, Canada standing side by side, as well as forming a trench where most of the soldiers spent their days and nights under fire.


A male and female mourner flank a set of stairs, gazing down in sorrow for the loss of so much of Canada's youth.


This figure is named Canada Mourning, and represents a shift in consciousness that had never been portrayed before this Vimy monument:

"There are no signs of victory there at all. It expresses our obligation to the dead, and the grief of the living — sentiments of sacrifice that you do not see in war memorials until this time." - Jacqueline Hucker, Ottawa art historian



3 - The Somme, WWI

"This was in the summer of 1916. In the plain on our right the flash and rumble of guns was unceasing. It was the beginning of the Somme offensive we learnt afterwards, but even if we had known one of the big battles of the War was in progress at our elbows I doubt if we should have been deeply stirred. To every private in the line the War was confined to his own immediate front." - Harold Saunders, English WWI veteren, 14th London Regiment (London Scottish), 2nd Battalion

"The Canadians were asked to secure the town of Courcelette. In the major offensive which began at dawn on September 15th, the Canadian Corps, on the extreme left of the attack, assaulted west of the village of Courcelette. By November 11th, the 4th Canadian Division finally secured most of the German trenches in Courcelette and then rejoined the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge.

The Battle of the Somme gave Canadian units the reputation of a formidable assault force. As British Prime Minister Lloyd George wrote, 'The Canadians played a part of such distinction that thenceforward they were marked out as shock troops. For the remainder of the war they were brought along to head the assault in one great battle after another.' " - Wikipedia


4 - The Wars by Robin Phillips, based on the novel by Timothy Findley

This 1982 film by Robin Phillips takes a look at World War I through the eyes of a single combatant: Robert Ross, a Toronto lad who comes of age in this moving story. I saw it when I was in high school and have never forgotten it.

"Robert Ross (Brent Carver)lives a protected adolescence in a well-off Toronto suburb. Secretive and withdrawn, he shares his thoughts only with his sister Rowena, who is mentally retarded.

He feels compassion for his weak and conventional father. He avoids any confrontation with his mother, a dominating woman whose despondency at having given birth to a handicapped child has turned to bitterness. Rowena occupies a central position in Robert's existence of daydreams and make-believe.

When she dies, Robert clashes openly with his family, and decides to take himself in hand. It's 1914. He enrolls in the Canadian army, and, after training in Alberta and Montréal, he finds himself in England and France. The war becomes another way for him to resolve his conflicts, his dramas, his passions - his wars." - National Film Board of Canada



5 - Billy Bishop Goes to War by John Gray

One of Canada's most celebrated pieces of musical theatre, an "often funny, often very sad story of Canadian WWI flying ace (Eric Petersen,) his feats of daring and his tribulations.

The myth of the man is parsed as he tells of crossing swords with commanders, the Germans, the British in general (who treated him as somewhat of a colonial pip-squeak) and all those who saw war as a good time.

The story is recounted as a series of anecdotes by Bishop as he leans on a piano and occasionally sings and occasionally straps on an 'airplane' and recounts his battles and the ecstasy of flying." - Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia

Billy Bishop Goes to War won the Los Angeles Drama Critics' Award in 1981
Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award in 1982
Governor General's Award for English Drama in 1983
Actra Award for Best Television Program


6 - Canadian troops' reputation

The First World War marks Canada's emergence on the global scene as a country of its own, rather than as a colony of Britain. For the first time, Canadians fought under their own identity. Soon the Canadians were known as the go-to regiments when the odds were stacked against the Allies.

"Wherever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into their line," wrote Prime Minister Lloyd George, "they prepared for the worst."

Ypres, 1915 - "Canadian troops were moved from their quiet sector to a bulge in the Allied line. This was the notorious Ypres Salient, where the Germans held the higher ground and were able to fire into the Allied trenches. Here on April 22, the Germans sought to remove the Salient by introducing a new weapon, poison gas. (Julia's note: This was the first gas attack ever mounted.) With a gaping four-mile hole in the Allied line (due to Allied retreat in the face of the eerie menace of the gas), German troops pressed forward. All through the night the Canadian troops fought to close the gap. In addition they mounted a counter-attack to drive the enemy out.

St. Julien, 1915 - The target was the Canadian line. Here, 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, they held on until reinforcements arrived. In their first major appearance on a European battlefield, the Canadians established a reputation as a formidable fighting force." - Veterans Affairs Canada


7 - Canada's 100 Days - the end of the fighting for WWI

"The victories at Ypres, the Somme and Vimy Ridge gave Canadian soldiers a reputation as fighters able to overcome the most difficult obstacles. The last 100 days of the war confirmed that reputation.

The desperate slaughter of trench warfare also forced the Canadian Corps to alter its tactics, employing rapid attacks supported with concentrated artillery bombardment. Freed from prolonged battles waged for a few square metres of ground, the Canadian army quickly achieved victory after victory. They relentlessly pushed the German army further and further back towards Germany.

Marshall Foch, the Supreme Allied Commander, and Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief, based their campaign on using their 'shock troops' to crack the German defences. Of all the 'shock troops' at their disposal the Canadian Corps was given the biggest role.

The Hundred Days Campaign began on August 8 with the Battle of Amiens. On that first, decisive day of the battle, the Canadian Corps advanced 8 miles and took 5,033 prisoners. German supreme commander General Ludendorf said it all with the comment 'August 8 was the black day of the German Army in the history of this war.'

One offensive followed another in rapid succession, wearing down the German enemy. Between September 26 and October 11, the Canadians advanced twenty-three miles through the heart of the German defences. From the beginning of Canada's Hundred Days, the Canadian Corps reclaimed over 130 kilometres of French and Belgian territory.

At dawn on November 1, 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, suffering only 80 men lost and 300 more wounded.

The Canadian Corps pursued the German army to Mons, Belgium. At times, the Germans fought furious rearguard actions. But the German army was on the verge of collapse. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated his throne on November 10. The new German government 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, November 11, the war was over." - Cost of Freedom


8 - Royal Canadian Navy

During the First World War, the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve formed, though most sailors served as Royal Navy personnel for England.

The Second World War saw "the Royal Canadian Navy expand. By the end of the war it was the third-largest navy in the world, behind the United States and the United Kingdom. The Canadian navy was made up of men from all across the country, including many who had never before seen a large body of water.

Like the Canadian land forces, it proved capable of exceeding the expectations of its Allies. By the end of the Battle of the Atlantic, the RCN was the primary navy in the northwest sector of the Atlantic Ocean. It was responsible for the safe escort of convoys and the destruction of U-boats — an anti-submarine capability that the RCN would build upon during the post-war years." - Wikipedia


9 - Royal Canadian Air Force

During the first World War "the creation of a small aviation unit to accompany the Canadian Expeditionary Force to Britain was approved. On September 16, 1914, the Canadian Aviation Corps was formed with two officers, one mechanic, and $5000.00 to purchase an aircraft from the Burgess Company in Massachusetts, USA.

Most Canadians served with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. These British units produced such aces as William Barker, W.A. 'Billy' Bishop, Naval Pilot Raymond Collishaw, Roy Brown and Wilfrid 'Wop' May.

On April 1, 1924, the title 'Royal' was extended by royal proclamation and the Royal Canadian Air Force was formed. During the Second World War, "the RCAF played key roles in the Battle of Britain, antisubmarine warfare during the Battle of the Atlantic, the bombing campaigns against German industries and close support of Allied forces during the Battle of Normandy or D-Day." - Wikipedia


10 - Juno Beach, WWII

"Juno Beach was one of the landing sites for Allied invaders on the coast of Normandy during D-Day. It was assigned to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, with the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade.

(Julia's note: Remember Prime Minister Lloyd George's assessment of Canada's troops being chosen for difficult assault missions?) Juno was the most heavily defended of the five landing sites chosen. The seawall was twice the height of Omaha Beach's, and the sea was heavily mined. Aerial bombardment of Juno Beach in the lead up to D-Day caused no significant damage to German fortifications. Naval bombardment only managed to destroy 14 percent of the bunkers guarding the beach.


In the first hour of the assault on Juno Beach, the Canadian forces suffered approximately 50 percent casualty rates, comparable to those suffered by the Americans at Omaha Beach. Once the Canadians cleared the seawall, they pushed several kilometres inland to seize bridges over the Seulles River. The Queen's Own Rifles moved 15 km inland and crossed the Caen-Bayeux highway. However, this troop was forced to pull back because they had passed the supporting infantry.

By the end of D-Day the 3rd Canadian Division had penetrated farther into France than any other Allied force.


11 - The Victoria Cross

"The Victoria Cross of Canada is a military award for extraordinary valour and devotion to duty while facing a hostile force. It is the highest honour in the Canadian honours system, placed before all other orders, decorations and medals, including the Order of Canada." - Wikipedia

70 Canadian Servicemen were awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery during the First World War 1914 to 1918.

16 Canadian Servicemen were awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery during the Second World War 1939-1945.


12 - Ottawa's tulips and the liberation of the Netherlands
"The 1st Canadian Corps was responsible for the liberation of the area north of the Maas River. This region includes the major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, where the people were at the end of their endurance from the misery and starvation that had accompanied the Hunger Winter. Thousands of men, women, and children had perished.

An assault on Arnhem began on April 12, and, after two days of intense house-to-house fighting, the town was liberated. By April 28, the Germans in western Holland had been driven back to a line running roughly between Wageningen through Amersfoort to the North Sea, known as the Grebbe Line. On that day a truce was arranged, fighting ceased in western Holland.

Several days later food supplies began to move through for the starving people." - Veterans Affairs Canada


Photo by Romuald

"You can understand just how grateful the Dutch were - and still are - when the Canadians came to liberate them. The fact that it was those same Canadians that kept the Dutch Royal Family safe from the Nazi occupation only reinforced the gratitude and feelings of friendship between the two nations.

As a symbolic token of its appreciation, the Dutch government sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa right after the war ended. In 1946, Juliana added 20,000 bulbs as a personal gift. To this day, the Dutch Royal Family still sends 20,000 bulbs each year as a token of gratitude and friendship." - René Trim


13 - Canada's War Brides
"Surrounded by falling bombs, strict rationing and nightly blackouts, a generation of young women found love.

They were the war brides: British and European women who married Canadian servicemen in the Second World War. After tearful goodbyes to their families, they embarked on a grueling journey by ship and train to join their husbands and in-laws in a new country. Once they arrived, many war brides had to confront culture shock and desperate homesickness before embracing their new lives in Canada." - CBC Archives


1942-48 - 64,446 women and their children immigrated to Canada as wartime brides. This made up a third of all immigration for that time period. And Canada is the richer for it.

17 comments:

Brenda ND said...

Very interesting. I learned something. Canada Mourning is poignant and beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

bernieg1 said...

Extremely very interesting. Thanks for the special reminder.

Check out my TT: 13 Reasons Obama Won the Election

FickleMinded said...

my family just moved in here a few months ago and it's nice to read some important info abt my "new country" :D

Nicholas said...

An excellent post, as ever. Does Canada have its own VC now?

Linda said...

Very interesting post.

My TT is in honor of U.S. Veterans Day.

Lori said...

Wow...that was a big post! Great info. Thanks for sharing. Happy TT.

Ann said...

Great post. Very interesting.
Happy TT. :)

Shelley Munro said...

Really interesting post, Julia. A NZ soldier was awarded a VC last year. It was a really big deal, and the soldier who won it is so humble.

Annette said...

Wow, this is fabulous, Julia. I learned way more than I ever did in any of my history classes!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

VERY cool stuff, my friend. I never knew any of it before!

Kelly Boyce said...

Great post. Very interesting. I loved the Canada Mourning.

On a limb with Claudia said...

This is wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing it. It's embarrassing how little I know about Canada - yet they do so much for my country and the world.

Thanks for sharing - I love the photo of the mourning Canada. I may steal it! :)

Darla said...

Very interesting. Thanks, Julia! I love the story of the tulips. What a lovely memorial.

Heather said...

Very nice TT with Remembrance Day coming up. Thank You for all the research you put into a blog posts. Nice new colour and layout BTW

Wylie Kinson said...

Thanks for reminding us that we have some incredible people to thank for our freedom :)

I've been to Vimy Ridge, felt the monument, saw the mounds of grassy fields - still scarred by the battles of past.
Cried my eyes out.
I'd never felt so close to pain and death before.

Amy Ruttan said...

My great grandfather survived Vimy Ridge.

My grandfather still has his helmet where a bullet just grazed the top. :)

Julia Smith said...

Nicholas - Canada does have its own version of the British Victoria Cross medal, the Victoria Cross of Canada. There is a brand new medal in the works: The Sacrifice Medal.

Shelley - that must have been something. There have no VC's awarded to Canadians since the Second World War. And we've been peacekeepers in Bosnia, Rwanda and Afghanistan.

Wylie - I would love to visit the memorial at Vimy. How amazing that you've seen it in person.

Amy - bravo to your great-grandfather. And whatever you do, hold onto that helmet!