The Last Hundred Days – Day 4-18

The decisive final one hundred days of World War I and the important role played by Canadian Corps.

12-25 August – Holding off attacks and drawing up battle plans.

Special thanks to University of Calgary history professor Dr. David Bercuson.

Canadian troops shelter in a ditch along the Arras-Cambrai road.

While performing dangerous clean up operations after the battle, contact with enemy troops resulted in another two Victoria Crosses awarded to Canadians for actions on August 12th and 13th.

  • Pte. Thomas Dinesen, 42nd Battalion, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division
  • Sgt. Robert Spall, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, 3rd Canadian Division

By the 20th of August the Canadians had advanced more than 22km capturing more than 9,000 enemy prisoners, as well as a large number of weapons along the way. There are some 11,800 casualties up to this point from the 8th of August.

On August 22nd Lt.Gen. Sir Arthur Currie outlines his plans for an attack to the east in Arras. It is to be known as the Battle of the Scarpe and is set to begin four days later on the 26th.

Arthur Currie – From boyhood to the beginning of the war.

Anonymous – Archives of Strathroy Museum
A 1919 photograph of the farm homestead of Arthur Currie, located near Strathroy, Ontario, Canada. The photograph was taken on the occasion of his homecoming, following the First World War. The house eventually fell into disrepair, and was demolished in 2016.

Arthur William Curry wasn’t born into the officer class or aristocracy of the late 19th century. He was born on his grandfather’s humble homestead farm on the 5th of December, 1875. It was a strict Methodist household he grew up in, the third of eight children, but revealed his sense of humor and an infectious laugh at school. He proved to be a good student and had convincing oratory skills which had many believing he should pursue a career in law or perhaps medicine.

His family were of modest means however and after father died in 1891 he would attend teachers college in Strathroy earning a third-class teacher’s certificate. Finding little luck finding work he went back to school in an effort to get an honours certificate so that he could gain entrance to university. He would leave the school before graduating amid rumors of a dispute with one of his instructors and in May of 1894 he made his way west in the hopes that fortune awaited him on the coast of British Columbia. The building of the transcontinental railway had resulted in a construction boom and Curry had hopes of cashing in.

Division III, Boys Central School, Victoria; teacher is Sir Arthur Currie; J.B. Clearihue and pupils - 1899
Division III, Boys Central School, Victoria; teacher is Sir Arthur Currie; J.B. Clearihue and pupils – 1899
https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/bc/fortroddhill/culture/general-currie

It wasn’t long before he realized that the opportunities he had been dreaming of were not to be found and so he would have to rely on teaching to earn a living. After receiving his British Columbia certification he landed a job teaching on Vancouver Island and it was there in May of 1897 that he joined the Canadian Militia. He started at the lowest rank, gunner, in the 5th (British Columbia) Field Artillery Regiment.

It was also in 1897 the he would change the spelling of his name to Currie, the rumor being that he didn’t like being the object of jokes about spicy Indian food. He continued to teach and work part-time in the militia but he was becoming increasing dissatisfied with his prospects as a teacher, and in 1899 stomach issues left him briefly hospitalized. After this he decided to abandon teaching and try his luck as an insurance salesman in Victoria.

Officers of the 5th Regiment at Macaulay Point in 1909, Currie seated on bench third from left https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Currie#/media/File:Officers_of_the_5th_Regiment-Macaulay_Point-1909.jpg

In 1900 Currie was promoted to corporal and had so impressed his superiors that he was being offered a commission. This would certainly be a great move for him as it would begin to open doors for him within society circles, however there would be costs involved. Among other things officers were expected to provide their own tailored uniforms, not to mention the fact that he was engaged to be married. These things would provide the impetus for Currie to succeed in the insurance business and he did in fact succeed, taking over the insurance business he worked at in 1904.

He worked hard at both pursuits, becoming established within the local business community and making a name for himself, while taking whatever courses were available to him in the militia and would read whatever he could in an effort to advance his military career. By 1909 Currie had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was now in charge of the regiment he had joined only a dozen years before as a gunner.

Portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Arthur Currie, 1909
Portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Arthur Currie, 1909
https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/bc/fortroddhill/culture/general-currie

His business prospects were starting to take off as well. In 1908 he partnered with another local businessman, R.A. Power, to form a venture they called Currie & Power. Seeking to take advantage of a real estate boom Currie invested heavily speculating on the market, with the business initially proving to be a success. But in 1912 the real estate market began to soften and Currie soon found himself in deep financial trouble. In 1913 the market collapsed and Currie was facing the prospect of having to retire from the militia due to his age.

It was around this time that he was offered the command of a newly formed regiment, the 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders of Canada). In addition to having to plan and organize its formation Currie would have to foot the bill for the regiment’s uniforms along with other expenses. Ultimately the government would allocate funds for new uniforms in the amount of $10,833.34, however Currie was still in a state of financial crisis. He was facing the prospect of having to declare personal bankruptcy, a move which would see his militia career end in disgrace and leaving his social status in ruins. Currie would spend the money but not to buy the uniforms. Instead he diverted the proceeds into his own account and used the funds to pay off his own personal debts.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Arthur Currie with regiment
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Arthur Currie with regiment
https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/bc/fortroddhill/culture/general-currie

At the time he did this, Currie had been under the impression that the regiment was going to be underwritten by the Gordon Highlander’s honourary colonel, William Coy, to the tune of $35,000. Currie had anticipated that he would be able to cover the funds he had embezzled using these proceeds. Unfortunately for Currie, Coy didn’t honour his committment and it was likely only a matter of time before his creative accounting scheme was uncovered.

The man serving as Currie’s third in command of the “Gay Gordon’s” as they were called was Garnet Hughes, who also happened to be the son of the Minister of the Militia in the Borden government, Sam Hughes. Having seen the younger Hughes in action Currie concluded that although he was a good and capable cadet Garnet Hughes was incompetent not fit for military command.

Meanwhile, when war broke out the senior Hughes began handing out plum command positions within the 1st Division and he would offer Currie, his son’s CO, command of the 2nd Brigade. Although he considered it, Currie decided that it would be best to remain in Victoria in order to address his dire financial situation. But he would later change his mind after he was approached by Garnet Hughes, who convinced him to accept the position. Currie was promoted to Brigadier General in late September of 1914 and soon after left for England with the rest of the 1st Division.

Around the time that Currie was arriving in England, the details of his embezzlement scheme had become known to Prime Minister Robert Borden. Rather than recalling the Brigadier back to Canada, Borden instead chose to do nothing.

This struck me as odd, since Currie was an unknown at that time and had no battlefield experience which might influence Borden’s decision. I talked with University of Calgary history professor Dr. David Bercuson, an expert in Canadian military history, to see if perhaps he could shed some light on this. Despite looking through Borden’s diaries and papers extensively he could find no mention about this. He did offer me his theory about though and he believes that it was because Borden trusted Sam Hughes to do the right thing. He may have thought that Hughes had known about the embezzlement and promoted him anyway. It’s speculation and we will never really know but this explanation is the most plausible.

Sources

Veteran’s Affairs Canada – The Last Hundred Days

https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/first-world-war/last-hundred-days?filter=range&start=1

Dictionary of Canadian Biography

http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/currie_arthur_william_16E.html

The Canadian War Museum

https://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/people/generals/sir-arthur-currie/

firstworldwar.com

https://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/currie.htm

Wikia.org

https://military.wikia.org/wiki/Arthur_Currie

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