To date it is the bloodiest of any Canadian conflicts in history, claiming more than 60,000 Canadian lives. Just like WWII, “the Great War” is replete with both stories of horror and tales of honour. Here are a few things you may not have known about this colossal war and Canada’s role in it. And as the title suggests, you’ll love some of what you hear, but some will surely make you shudder.
- Much of Canada’s involvement in the First World War was driven by volunteers. Young men who sought to become fighter pilots in the early stages of the war got their flight training and licenses on their own dime.
- Ever hear of Conn Smythe? He built Maple Leaf Gardens and is honoured every year at close of the NHL playoffs when the most valuable player is awarded in his name. Well, he fought for us in the First World War. Germans had attacked his battery (a small fortification equipped with artillery) but he and his men pressed on and made it through leading to his being awarded the Military Cross.
- Lt-Col John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields in honour (and memory) of a friend who died fighting in the Battle at Ypres.
- Parliament did not decide to go to war. Britain had declared war so we were automatically a part of that. We were joined by Serbia, Russia and France.
- Approximately 4,000 Aboriginal Canadians volunteered and served in the war.
- Before this war, Canadians proudly held that they would never lend money to their own government. In 1915, that all changed. And in 1917 a War Income Tax was instituted, and we still pay it annually, over 100 years later.
- WWI united Canadians, especially considering military accomplishments by Canadian soldiers at Passchendaele, Vimy, and Ypres.
- The war also divided Canadians, however. This was mainly the case with French and English Canadians over issues like imperialism, conscription, and accusations of each side not doing their share in the effort.
- Ypres is pronounced “EE-press” or “EE-prah.” However, for most Canadians fighting there it was called “wipers.”
- Before Canadians saw any battle, the 1st Newfoundland Regiment had gone before them. On July 1 of 1916 they were almost completely annihilated. Out of the 800 men in that regiment, only 68 were at roll call the next morning.
- When Canadian Lt-Gen Arthur Currie was ordered to pick up where the British left off at Passchendaele, he warned that he estimated it would cost 16,000 of his 120,000 men. He was pretty close. There were 15,654 casualties.
- The final phase of the war was tough for Canada. The Halifax explosion occurred in 1917 killing 16,000 people, and this was followed by the worst snowstorm the area had seen in years.
- Of all Canadians—both women and men—involved in the First World War, 37% were either killed or wounded.
- The Germans had two nicknames for Canadian WWI fighter pilot Billy Bishop: Hell’s Handmaiden and The Blue Nosed Devil.
- Also fighting for our country in the Great War were John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson, and Frederick Banting (famed Diabetes ass-kicker).
Congratulations War Horse. This is your week.
And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actor: Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen.
Best Quote: “By the authority granted to me by his Imperial Majesty Kaiser Wilhelm the Second I pronounce you man and wife—proceed with the execution..” — Cpt Louisa, The African Queen.
I just watched a new-to-me war movie tonight. It was a Russian film from 1985 called Come and See. It’s intense to say the least, in the vein of Saving Private Ryan. I was reminded anew of the horrors of WWII. I do recommend the movie, but remember, you’ve been fairly warned…
In memory the 60,000+ who died for our freedom in WWI and to countless others in the years that followed… I will never forget.