World War I

World War I

            The summer of 1914 was a very eventful time in history. It all began when The Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated. This was the start and excuses the world super powers of the time needed to got to war. Finally on August 4 1914 Germany in an attempt to take France over invaded Belgium forcing Great Britain to honour a treaty they had with Belgium protecting Belgium’s neutrality. By Great Britain getting involved for the first time the world would see a true war fought on all sided of the world. By Britain getting involved all of her colonies and many of her old ones declared war. Canada for the first time since confederation was involved in a conflict which would have many terrible; but often bittersweet and consequences which would help play a vital role in creating a national and international identity for itself.

            These consequences were seen on the battlefield as many battles took place in large open fields but with a modern twist. The wars of the past were fought in a very similar matter and many of the generals and field commanders felt this was the way to approach it as well. But many new weapons and other tactics made these tactics obsolete. Machine guns and heavy artillery made it near impossible to come across a field but also making it difficult was coming out of the trenches and crossing over many obstacles like barb and razor wire. Soldiers would often get tangled or fall while in formation running to take an opposing trench. This would often make it hard to see who actually won the battle due to the casualties suffered on both sides and most times the battle would often end in a stalemate or a terrible victory with heavy costs due to a practise called attrition which meant that one side would try to make the other side to back down and surrender due to heavy losses. Most battles in WWI were fought over several weeks and sometimes months due to the trench system.  

            In 1915 the Germans introduced the use of chlorine gas as a weapon. This is one of the first places where Canada gained its status as being one of the hardest and bravest armies in the entire war. The second battle of Ypres saw Canada do something the British tried in 1914 in which they failed. The Canadians were hit hard with gas but managed to hold their lines and force the German troops back which led to Canada going on the counterattack and actually taking the German line.  

            Many of these tactics had to change in order for success but the British along with the Canadians figured this out the hard way in 1916 with the Battle of the Somme. This first began on July 1 and wouldn’t end until November 18. This battle saw very high casualties on both sides. In future battles instead of trying to take whole trenches and lines a new tactic of bite and hold was introduced. This meant that troops would instead take small sections of the line and hold it, than move on to the next objective. This was done very well by the Canadian forces.  

            1917 saw Canadians achieve great success with the battle for Arras in which they took Vimy Ridge staring April 9 and ending April 12. This is the most important battle for Canada because it was the first time all four Canadian divisions fought together. This was a major success as the Canadians utilised the tactic of the creeping barrage as well as very good preparations were taken. Instead of having one or two major goals like that seen in the Somme of the previous year Canadians had several small objectives in the case of a commanding officer being killed or the lines of communication being broken. All these things led to Canada taking a near impossible ridge heavily fortified by the German army.

            The mood and would change drastically in the fall when the Canadians were sent to Ypres for the battle of Passchedaele. This was a muddy and bogged down area which made it impossible to use tanks and other equipment which would have made mobility a lot easier. There were many casualties before the battle even started due to the muddy landscape. Many soldiers would fall and even drown in the mud. Canadians replaced and relieved the Australians and New Zealanders on October 18. The battle began on October 26 and ended on November 10 with the Canadian army securing the village and surrounding area of Passchendaele.

            In 1918 Canada was involved in many allied victories in the Hundred Days Offensive. This was a series of attacks which saw the allies go on the offensive to try and break the German lines. This tactic gave the allies the edge when it came to creating the armistice which would be signed and ratified in the fall of 1918. The end of World War I saw many changes in the world. For one it made for the creation of new nations as well as changes to how the worlds nations would meet and discuss things through the creation of the League of Nations in 1919. Canada from all its successes in the war would have its own seat at the table and was finally in charge of its own foreign affairs for the first time in its nationhood.

            World War I saw what could happen if war breaks out. It was the first war of its kind. It was fought all over the world with various nations fighting in it. The people needed to fight the war was an important aspect and one that is sometimes overlooked. Everyone from large urban centres to small rural settings like those of PEI were all affected by the war in different ways such as volunteers joining the war also another change was in the wartime industries. Small communities would see fairly large numbers of people join and fight in the war, and some communities would see whole troops not come back like those in the Newfoundland regiment on the first day of the Somme. It’s these reasons why we have Remembrance Day and other memorials to commemorate the courage and valour of these individuals and why we should never forget and do what we can to reserve the memories and stories of those who were involved in the Great War.