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Chapter: Canada’s History

Topic: The First World War

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World War I

There was a significant number of patriotic Canadians who readily volunteered to join the South African War, which ran from 1899 to 1902. The Boer War claimed more than 260 lives. Subsequently, Canadians were a part of the Lillefontein and Paardeberg (otherwise known as ‘Horse Mountain’) in 1900, which further boosted nationalism in the country due to resounding victories on both campaigns.

The nation of Ottawa formed an expeditionary force (which was later called the Canadian Corps) in 1914 when Britain moved against Germany’s attack on France and Belgium. At this time, more than 600,000 Canadian citizens enlisted and served. Canada’s population was then eight million, and a significant number of the enlistees were volunteers.

The Canadian army proved themselves resourceful and tough. The Canadian Corps (originally the Canadian Expeditionary Force) retook Vimy Ridge with a casualty of 10,000 wounded or killed in April 1917. Their brave actions on the battlefield earned them the reputation of ‘British Empire shock troops’. During the war, a Canadian officer stated that ‘It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade’, and further mentioned how he witnessed the birth of a nation’. In commemoration, April 9 is known as Vimy Day.

For six years starting from 1914, the army interned in what they considered ‘enemy aliens’ in labour camps and among 8,000-plus Austro-Hungarian individuals against Britain’s policy. A significant portion of the interned subjects were Ukrainian men.

In 1918, General Sir Arthur Currie led his men alongside British and French troops in the war’s last 100 days, which include the Battle of Amiens on August 8. The victory was so painful for the Germans that they called it the ‘German army’s black day’. Soon, Arras, Cambrai, Canal du Nord, and Mons followed.

November 11, 1918 marked the end of the war and Austria and Germany’s surrender. The casualty for the Canadian Corps numbered 60,000, and around 170,000 were wounded. The victory further reinforced imperial and national pride, English Canada withstanding.

Canadians remember November 11 as Remembrance Day, honoring the brave sacrifices and the veterans who took part in the war. On the said day, countrymen observe silently and wear the symbolic red poppy on the 11th month and 11th day at the 11th hour to remember the sacrifices of more than a million men and women, as well as the 110,000 who lost their lives. The poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae is often recited as part of the tradition.