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Summary of the War, Victoria County, Ontario Canada

A Brief Summary, Beginning from 1914

Adequately to describe the course and context of the conflicts in which these lives were offered up would transcend the limits of several volumes of history. There are compensations, however, in the brevity here found necessary. We are still so close to the World War that it is easy to become confused at the complexity of the military operations of vast armies on numerous and extended fronts. In making a rigid summary of the salient events of the campaigns, especially in so far as they affected the Canadian troops, we shall introduce a simplicity, which, though somewhat artificial, will enable us better to comprehend and remember our country's share in the colossal struggle.

With the outbreak of war Germany deliberately violated Belgian neutrality in order to pour her armies up the valley of the Meuse and crush the French from an unexpected quarter. They ravaged Belgium most foully and drove their way through Northern France to within fifteen miles of Paris. Then, from Sept. 5th to Sept. 10th, at the Battle of the Marne, the French shattered the great German attack and drove the invaders back to the Aisne. There ensued a struggle for position which by the end of October left the opposing armies entrenched against east other all the way from Nieuport (on the North Sea) to Switzerland. In the east Russia was worsted by Germany but was successful against Austria. Turkey entered the war on the German side on November 3rd, thus threatening Britain's position in Egypt and India. Canada had no share in the operations of 1914.

Canadian Share in War in 1915

In February, 1915, the First Canadian Division crossed to France. On April 17th they took up their position in the trenches before Ypres. Five days later, on April 22nd, the Germans planned a tremendous drive to break through at this point, disrupt the whole line, and gain the channel ports. The diabolical invention of poison gas was now first employed by the enemy. French colonial troops on the Canadian left broke under the torment, leaving a gap of several miles in the allied line. Only the superhuman audacity, bravery, and endurance of the Canadians under circumstances unparalleled in warfare, saved the day. Their casualties were 8,000 or more than half their number.

Four weeks later, on May 18th, the Canadians took part in a British offensive at Festubert which sought to break through to Lille. Ground was won to a depth of 600 yards on a front of four miles, but further progress failed through a lack of munitions. This proven shortage of munitions precipitated a political crisis in England and helped to bring in a Coalition Government. The Canadian casualties at Festubert totaled 2000.

On June 15th the First Division incurred 900 more casualties in a frontal attack on the German trenches at Givenchy. They took their objective but were obliged to fall back because the British troops on the left did not meet with like success.

In September 1915 the Second Canadian Division arrived in France and a Canadian Corps was formed. This Canadian Corps was supplied with a Third Division in January, 1916, and a Fourth Division in August 1916.

During 1915, while this inconclusive fighting went on on the western front, Germany inflicted stupendous defeats on the Russian army ,and over ran 5,000 square miles of Russian territory. The British failed ignominiously in an attempt to capture Constantinople. Bulgaria thereupon entered the war and cooperated with Germany and Austria in the conquest and extinction of Serbia. The only Allied gain in 1915 was the entry of Italy into the war on May 23rd.

Canadian Share in War in 1916

In 1916 the Germans decided to smash the French army by one terrific, irresistible blow against the stronghold of Verdun. The storm of battle broke on February 21st, but though it raged till the following October the French line did not give way.

On July 1st an Anglo-French army opened a great counter campaign known as the Battle of the Somme. In this the Canadians had no share until September. Earlier in the year they had incurred heavy casualties during reverses at St. Eloi in April and at Sanctuary Wood on June 2nd and during a most successful counter attack at Hooge on June 13th. Now they were to capture a series of German positions: Moquet Farm, Courcelette, and Fabek Trench on September 15th; Zollern, Hessian, and Kenora Trenches on September 26th; Regina Trench on November 11th; and Desire Trench on November 18th. The Canadian casualties in this share in the Somme offensive totaled 21,179. The total area won by the Allies was small, about 120 square miles.

Other events in 1916 were: A successful Russian campaign in Galicia; the belated entry of Roumania into the war and her speedy subjugation by Germany; and the inconclusive naval battle of Jutland between British and German fleets in the North Sea.

The War's Progress in 1917

The chief events in 1917 were: the collapse of Russia through mutiny, revolution, and final ruinous domination by the Bolsheviki on November 7th; the compensating entry of the United States into the war on April 6th; the serious reverses in Italy in October; the British capture of Bagdad and Jerusalem; and the moderate gains made in the west by the Allies in the battle of Arras (April-June), the battle of the Aisne (April-November), and the British offensive in Flanders (July-December).

In the first stage of the battle of Arras the Canadian Corps captured the almost impregnable fortifications of Vimy Ridge on April 9th, Hill 145 on April 10th, and "The Pimple" on April 12th. The casualties totaled 9,966. Later the Canadians captured Arleux on April 28th and Fresnoy on May 3rd.

In August the Canadian Corps was employed in the sector opposite Lens, in Northern France. The Fourth Division captured the suburbs of La Coulotte and Avion on August 1st, and on August 15th the First and Second Divisions carried Hill 70, a bold hillock northwest of Lens. On August 21st a bloody but inconclusive struggle raged about a great, weed infested slag heap, known as the Green Crassier, southwest of the city. The capture of Lens was not yet completed when the Canadians were withdrawn and sent to join in an offensive in the Ypres salient.

On the 26th of October the Canadians launched their attack on the Passchendaele Ridge, and by November 10th, after one of the bitterest and costliest struggles they ever knew, obtained their objective and removed the menace of this commanding position from the British front. The Canadian casualties in sixteen days totaled 14,867. The total of Canadian casualties during the entire Boer War had been only 338.

The Closing Campaigns In 1918

In the spring of 1918 Germany exacted a ruinous peace from Russia and then turned to hurl at the armies in the west a colossal offensive that would end the war. From March 21st to July 18th they won tremendous successes but not ultimate victory. The Allies at last achieved unity of command and the new generalissimo, Marshal Foch, began on July 18th a sweeping counter offensive which did not halt until the capitulation of the Germans on November 11th.

In this great advance Canada played a glorious though costly part. In the Battle of Amiens (August 8th-17th) the enemy was driven back 14 miles from before the vital railway center of Amiens, and 25 villages were recaptured. Then the whole Corps was suddenly transferred to the north to fight the Battle of Arras (August 26-September 4th). Here they broke through the Drocourt Queant switch, a vast system of concrete fortresses connected by wired trench lines and huge subterranean tunnels, and advanced to the Canal du Nord, capturing some 50 square miles of territory. On the 27th of September the Canadians resumed the offensive in the Battle of Cambrai, which ended on October 9th with the capture of that city.

In the three great battles of Amiens, Arras and Cambrai, the Canadian casualty list reached the staggering total of 37,263. The captures included 490 heavy guns, 230 trench mortars, 3100 machine guns, and 29,400 prisoners.

In a subsequent march from Douai to Mons, lesser actions were fought at the capture of Denain on October 20th, of Valenciennes on November 2nd, and of Mons on November 11th.

Meanwhile Britain had eliminated Turkey in Mesopotamia and Syria, and an Allied army under d'Esperey had shattered the Bulgarians in the Balkans. Bulgaria signed a capitulatory armistice on September 29th. Turkey followed her example on October 31st. Austria was badly shaken by Italian attacks and gave in on November 4th. Revolution broke out in Germany; the Hohenzollerns fled; and the war closed on the 11th of November.

Such was the course and the termination of the War of the Nations, in which 205 sons of Victoria County died heroically in the cause of human freedom.

Military Annals

Victoria County

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