Today, marks the one hundredth anniversary of the last hundred days of the Great War. The Great War defined Canada as a country. With a population of 8 million and a military of only a few thousand, Canada was called upon by Great Britain to come to their aid. Sir Robert Borden’s Government called for 25,000 volunteers to go fight and by October 1914 over 30,000 Canadians had enlisted. By the end of the war, Canada would send over 630,000 soldiers, of those it is estimated that 2,000 came from Norfolk and 1,100 came from Haldimand.
By this point in the war, the Germans had learned that when they saw the Canadians coming it meant that an attack was imminent. On August 8th, the Canadians were tasked with spearheading an attack on a salient near Amiens, France. To trick the enemy into thinking that the attack was going to be elsewhere, part of the Canadian Corps went north to the Ypres section and made their presence known to the Germans and hurried back to Amiens. That night the Canadians prepared for their attack and without warning, flanked by the French and Australians and spearheaded with British tanks, the Canadians advanced 20 kilometres in three days. This amazing accomplishment destroyed the German forces’ morale, however, it came at a heavy price as over 9,000 Canadians perished.
Following this victory, the Canadians were sent to Arras, France and given the task of breaking through the Hindenburg Line—Germany’s main line of defence. This fierce and bloody battle broke out on August 26th, and lasted until September 2nd, which resulted in the Canadians taking the Canal du Nord and part of the main Hindenburg Line. This battle was viewed as one of the finest feats in Canadian history, but claimed the lives of 11,400 Canadians.
The Canadians in need of regrouping and rest held the Canal du Nord while waiting for the British to come up from the South. On September 27th, together with the British, the Canadians attacked three lines of German defences. They also captured Bourlon Wood. This along with British forces success elsewhere completely destroyed the German Hindenburg Line. The Canadians continued fighting and on October 11, the Canadian Corps took the Canal de la Sensée. This would be the last battle that the Canadian Corps as a whole would fight.
While Canada didn’t have a choice in joining this war, Canada had proven itself as a military force to be reckoned with and earned a spot at the negotiation table for the Treaty of Versailles.
As a result of these heroic Canadians defending the freedoms that we get to enjoy today, thirty Canadians and Newfoundlanders received the highest military honours that can be bestowed on them, the Victorian Cross. We owe these men, women, and their families a great debt of gratitude for their service. When someone serves in Canada’s armed forces, their whole family serves with them. This is as true today as it was a century ago.
The Honourable Diane Finley, P.C., M.P.