WWI was the bloodiest war the world had ever seen. Snipers, artillery and machine guns made passing the enemy line difficult, and military leaders on both sides struggled to devise new tactics and strategies to deal with this kind of warfare. Many times, soldiers were simply sent “over the top” to charge the enemy trenches head-on in attacks that cost many lives with no significant gain. As a result, the Allies were struggling. In 1918, Germany started launching a series of major offenses that pushed the Allied lines back to within 70 kilometers of Paris. This was to be Germany’s last major effort to win the war because they had overextended their army. After years of war, their resources of men and supplies were getting low. At the same time, the Allied forces were being reinforced by American troops with the entry of the United States into the war. All of these circumstances combined allowed the Allies to regroup and begin making their own major push to end the war. Their efforts and successes would soon be known as The Hundred Days.
Canada’s success through battles such as Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele gave Canadian’s the reputation of the best attacking troops on the Western Front. Their abilities were so well-known that even their presence on a section of the front would warn the enemy that an attack was coming. This meant that secrecy was of utmost importance while moving Canadian troops in preparation for the attacks. Before a crucial fight in France that would mark the beginning of The Hundred Days, Canadian troops were sent Belgium in an attempt to trick the Germans into thinking that a major attack would occur their. This tactic was successful, and the Germans were completely caught off guard when the Canadians secretly rushed back to the Amiens sector for the real attack.
On August 8th, Canada led an offensive that advanced the Western Front twenty kilometers in just three days. This attack was launched without a long preliminary artillery bombardment as was usually done, which typically warned the enemy that an attack was coming, and the Germans were caught completely offguard. This breakthrough crushed enemy morale, with the Geman high commander at the time calling it “the black day of the Geman Army”. This victory and the hopes of the war ending soon motivated the Allies to continue their attack. The Canadian’s were moved to Arras with the goal of breaking the Hindenburg Line, the enemy’s main defense line at that time. After a week of fighting against some of Germany’s finest troops, in terrain that gave the enemy the advantage, the Canadians broke the Drocourt-Quéant Line in front of the Hindenburg Line by Sept. 2.
The next step was the Canal Du Nord, which formed part of the main Hindenburg Line. The Canal was only partially completed, which made it a difficult place to attack. But Canadian Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie and his men, along with a British division crossed a 2500 meter wide dry part of the canal. However, this spot was a bottleneck that could cause allied troops and equipment to bunch up and become easy targets. To cover the advance, Currie release the heaviest single-day bombardment of the entire war. The Canadians broke three lines of German defense and captured Bourlon Wood. With the help of other successes along the British front, the Hindenburg line was breached.
After further heavy fighting, Canadians helped capture the town of Cambrai and by October 11 the Corps had reached the Canal de la Sensée. This was the last action taken by the Corps as a whole but the individual Canadian divisions continued to fight, overcoming stiff German resistance and helping capture Mont Houy and Valenciennes by the beginning of November. The armistice was finally signed on November 11, 1918. Canadians fought to the very end with the war’s last Canadian combat death—Private George Lawrence Price—happening just two minutes before the fighting officially ended. The war was finally over.
The Canadian army was quite unique in several respects when compared to other countries’ troops involved in the first world war. For example, it was an all volunteer force.This meant that they had a very different profile to the industrialized ‘slum dwellers’ of Manchester or the estate workers of Germany. Canadians were “unaccustomed to showing respect and deference to anyone who could not stand firmly on their own two feet without the support of wealth or title.” (John J. Pershing). The Canadian troops strongly represented Canadian identity at the time. They were a young country full of misfits that immigrated from countries where they felt they couldn’t express themselves. Despite their ‘rag-tag’ nature, the Canadian troops were extremely successful throughout the world war. According to Arther Currie, the Canadian troops “[showed] that even in trench warfare it is possible to mystify and mislead the enemy”. The confidence that Canada gained through their successes in the World War would significantly impact their national identity, as it proved that Canadians were truly a force to be reckoned with.
All of the Canadians involved in the attacks during The Hundred Days were proud to represent their country and portray their national identity. When Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie was questioned about Canada’s role in the war, he replied: “I am a good enough Canadian to believe […] that Canadians are best served by Canadians.”. Furthermore, Stephan Leacock wrote that despite the growing losses and increasing intensity of the war, “ The spirit of Canada [rose] to meet the danger as the sea bird rises before the blackening storm.” This shows that although the war was full of tragedy and loss, the Canadian’s never gave up hope and continued to fight for the safety of their country and the rest of the world.
Between August 8 and November 11, more than 100,000 Canadians advanced 130 kilometres and captured approximately 32,000 prisoners and nearly 3,800 artillery pieces, machine guns and mortars. The importance of Canadian troops within the first world war significantly increased their social and political autonomy and independence. Although Canadians fought as allies of the British, Canada soon became well known for their own abilities. “By 1918, the self-governing colony that had trusted it’s fate to British statecraft was not only committed to speaking with it’s own voice in the world, it had won on the battlefield the right to be heard.” (Morton and Granatstein, 1989). Canada’s accomplishments had earned it a newfound respect, both at home and around the world, and a recognition as an independent country. An example of this is represented through Canada’s separate signature on the Treaty of Versailles that formally ended the First World War. The war also served as an example of the country’s commitment to defend peace and freedom, a value that they would continue to demonstrate in the years to come.
That being said, the Canadian triumphs during The Hundred Days came at a high price. More than 6,800 Canadians and Newfoundlanders were killed and approximately 39,000 wounded during the last three months of fighting. By the end of the First World War, Canada, which at the time was a country of less than eight million citizens, would see more than 650,000 men and women serve in uniform. The conflict took a great toll, with more than 66,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders dying and 170,000 being wounded. The sacrifices and achievements of those who gave so much in the effort to restore peace and freedom are not forgotten.