The final one hundred days of World War One was marked by a series of important Allied victories, and Canadian Corps would be leading the way.
The Battle of Amiens 8 August 1918 – 11 August 1918
The 8th of August marked an important day in Canadian history. August 8th, 1918 was the beginning of the final one hundred days of World War One, a period which is highlighted by a number of key allied victories against the Germans. Canadian troops would go on to play a pivotal role at this time, and it would also be when they would become feared by the enemy for their savagery. It is often said that Canada became a country after the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April of 1918, and if this is the case then the last 100 days are when we started to form an identity. The effort would prove costly however as Canada would suffer over 45,000 casualties, an incredible 20 percent of the overall total, during those final bloody days of the “War to end all wars”.
Those final days also saw many acts of incredible bravery and heroism by soldiers of the Canadian corps. Out of the 64 Victoria Crosses that were awarded to Canadians during the first world war almost half of them (30) were awarded during those last one hundred days.
The attrition of trench warfare
Prior to World War I, wars were essentially fought the same way. Two armies would meet on the battlefield and would fight in full frontal clashes much in the way it had been done in the Roman era. There was artillery of one form or another as well as mounted cavalry elements, but for many hundreds of years throughout history battles essentially all looked alike. Masses of troops converged together to fight it out until there was a winner and a loser, inevitably resulting in the loss of an incredibly large number of men on both sides. There was something of a chivalric code of honour that ruled warfare and this continued on into the Great War.
The net result would be millions of men dead in a war that had seen neither side make any significant gains. It was the conflict that ushered in the modern era of weaponry as the machine gun, the tank, poison gas, and high explosive artillery, were introduced to the field of battle. Yet for all of this, the tactics that were employed were anything but modern and would result in carnage on a monumental scale.
The Canadian Corps
When Great Britain declared war on Germany in 1914 it automatically meant that Canada was too since Canada was then a Dominion of Great Britain. Canadian troops were part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and were placed within British units under the command of British officers. At the outset of hostilities, the British were confident that the war would be short even going so far as to say that it would all be over by Christmas. But as the war continued past 1915 it was becoming more apparent that there would be no easy victory any time soon.
By this time political pressure was beginning to mount in Ottawa to have more autonomy from Great Britain, especially as far as the Canadian Corps was concerned. When it was formed in 1915 it was commanded by Gen. Sir Edwin Alderson then taken over in 1916 by Gen. Sir Julian Byng, who would later go on to become the Governor General of Canada. The pressure was its highest following the Battle of the Somme, which lasted from July 1st until mid-November and saw thousands of Canadians killed, wounded, or missing in action.
Canada was beginning to assert itself as a nation within the British Empire, and if its sons were going to be sent off into harm’s way, then it should have more of a say about it. As a result, in 1917 the Canadian Corps was placed under the command of Gen. Arthur Currie and the rest as they say is military history.
General Sir Arthur Currie
Arthur William Currie was born on December 5th, 1875 on a farm near Napperton, Ontario. His career began as a part-time citizen soldier in the militia in 1897 as a gunner while also working jobs as a teacher and later selling insurance as well as being a speculator in real estate. In 1900 he received his commission and began to rise quickly through the ranks, achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1909. In September of 1914, a month after war was declared, Currie was made a Brigadier General and placed in command of the 2nd Canadian Brigade.
By the end of the war, he would be the commander of the Canadian Corps and knighted by King George V. As I write about the hundred days I will also be telling the story of the man considered to be one of the best field commanders of World War I and perhaps in history.
The Battle of Amiens
Early in the morning of August 8th, the Allies began their attack behind a creeping barrage of artillery. By the end of the day, French and Australian troops spearheaded by the Canadian Corps had made the greatest advance of the entire war to that point, moving 13 kilometres across a 20 km line and catching the Germans completely by surprise. More than 5,000 were taken prisoner and they would 161 guns. General Erich von Ludendorff called it “the black day for the German army in the history of this war”, and it would deal a demoralizing blow to German troops.
The plan called for the Germans to be deceived into thinking that the Canadians were someplace that they weren’t in order to catch them by surprise. Detachments from two infantry battalions, a wireless unit and a casualty clearing station, were sent to the front near Ypres while making an effort to ensure that the Germans saw them as they did so. They would then surreptitiously return to their units which were being sent to Amiens secretly.
Four Canadians would distinguish themselves that day and be awarded the Victoria Cross.
- Cpl. Harry Garnet Bedford Miner, 58th Battalion, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division
- Pte. John Bernard Croak, 13th Battalion, 1st Canadian Infantry Division
- Cpl. Herman James Good, 13th Battalion, 1st Canadian Infantry Division
- Lt. James Edward Tait, 78th Battalion, 4th Canadian Infantry Division
9 August, Day 2 Battle of Amiens
Another hard-fought day as the Corps advance another 6.5 km and suffered over 2,500 casualties. Four more Canadians earn the Victoria Cross.
- Lt. Jean Brillant, M.C., 22nd Battalion, 2nd Canadian Infantry Division
- Sgt. Raphael Louis Zengel, M.M., 5th Battalion, 1st Canadian Infantry Division
- Cpl. Frederick George Coppins, 8th Battalion, 1st Canadian Infantry Division
- LCpl Alexander Brereton, 8th Battalion, 1st Canadian Infantry Division
10-11 August, End Battle of Amiens
The battle officially ends on August 11th after three German counterattacks are held off.
Veteran’s Affairs Canada – Canada’s Hundred Days
Veteran’s Affairs Canada – The Last Hundred Days
Canadian War Museum
Gregory Blaxland, Amiens 1918: From Disaster To Victory. 2018 p.161