20: Canada's Part in the World War
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The sailing of the First Canadian Contingent on October 2, 1914,
for England, en route to the theater of war, marked a noteworthy
epoch in Canadian history. For the first time the Dominion took
her place, not as a British colony, but as a component part of
the British Empire. This position was established by the
voluntary offer of expeditionary troops to be raised, equipped,
and paid by Canada for the defense of the British empire.
For many years a movement had been on foot to bring about this
attitude on the part of the Dominion by His Majesty's government.
No such action was taken by the Dominion in the South African
War, though a Canadian regiment was raised for the guarding of
Halifax so that the regiment of British soldiers doing garrison
duty there might be released for service at the front, and all
other troops who left Canada went simply as volunteers to join
the British army, though raised by the Dominion government.
When the situation in South Africa reached a critical stage and
there were fears of German interference on behalf of the Boers it
became clear that the British government strongly desired a
helping hand from Canada for political reasons. It seemed a good
time to show a solid front and a united Empire. Later, on
October 3d, there came a request for 500 men from the British
Colonial Secretary. No immediate action was taken on this, but
on October 13th, the government passed an Order-in-Council for
the raising of 1,000 volunteers and providing for their equipment
and transportation. But these men were really British
volunteers, not Canadian troops, as once at the front they became
British soldiers under British pay. This contingent was known as
a "Special Service Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment of
Infantry," and did not belong in any sense to the organized
troops of the Dominion, either regular or militia, although they
approached more nearly to that status than in any previous case
of assistance given by the Dominion to the Empire.
In the Indian Mutiny in 1857 a regiment was raised in Canada by
the British government known as the 100th Prince of Wales Royal
Canadian Regiment" and in the Empire's other wars, such as the
Crimean and the Soudanese, there were always Canadian volunteers
in the British forces.
The declaration of war by Great Britain on Germany made on the
night of August 4, 1914, found the people of the Dominion not
wholly unprepared for the situation. For some time ways of
helping the mother country had been the chief topic both in
government circles and among the people at large. This is best
instanced by the following telegram sent by His Royal Highness,
the governor-General, to the Secretary of State for the colonies,
Rt. Hon. Lewis Harcourt.
"Ottawa, August 1, 1914
In view of the impending danger of war involving the Empire my
advisers are anxiously considering the most effective means of
rendering every possible aid, and will welcome any suggestions
and advice which Imperial naval and military authorities may deem
it expedient to offer. They are confident that a considerable
force would be available for service abroad, as under section
sixty-nine of Canadian Militia Act the active militia can only be
placed on active service beyond Canada for the defense thereof.
It has been suggested that regiments might enlist as Imperial
troops for a stated period, Canadian Government undertaking to
pay all necessary financial provisions for their equipment, pay
and maintenance. This proposal has not yet been maturely
considered here and my advisers would be glad to have views of
Imperial Government thereon. Arthur"
This offer from Canada preceded similar offers from Australia,
India, South Africa and Egypt.
The response to this came in the following cable from His
"London, August 4, 1914
Please communicate to your ministers following message from His
Majesty the king and publish:
'I desire to express to my people of the Overseas Dominions with
what appreciation and pride I have received the messages from
their respective governments during the last few days. These
spontaneous assurances of their fullest support recalled to me
the generous self-sacrificing help given by them in the past to
the Mother country. I shall be strengthened in the discharge of
the great responsibilities which rest upon me by the confident
belief that in this time of trial my Empire will stand united,
calm, resolute, and trusting in God. George R.I. Harcourt"
Mr. Harcourt also cabled advising that although there was not
immediately need for an expeditionary force it would be advisable
to take all legislative and other steps necessary to the
providing of such a force in case it should be required later.
The declaration of the war by Great Britain was officially
recognized in Canada on August 5th, in a message from the
"Whereas a state of war now exists between this country and
On the following day came a call to the militia for active
service and Canada had gone on record as having accepted her
responsibilities as an integral part of the Empire. She was
sending troops to help England not as volunteers who were to
become British soldiers, but as Canadian soldiers, enlisted,
clothed, armed, equipped and paid by Canadian dollars.
Shortly after this came another cablegram from Mr. Harcourt
gratefully accepting the offer of the expeditionary force and
requesting that it be sent forward as quickly as possible. This
cablegram was supplemented by another suggesting one army
division as a suitable composition for this expeditionary force.
The terms of enlistment were to be as follows:
"(a) For a term of one year unless war lasts longer than one
year, in which case they will be retained until war is over. If
employed with hospitals, depots of mounted units, and as clerks,
et cetera, they may be retained after termination of hostilities
until services can be dispensed with, but such retention shall in
no case exceed six months.
"(b) To be attached to any arm of service should it be required
An army division of war strength consists of about 22,500 men
composing all branches of the service.
While the call to arms found Canada prepared morally and
financially, it found the country sadly unprepared from the
standpoint of equipment. It was necessary to buy or make rifles,
uniforms, guns and equipment of every description to increase the
limited supply on hand to the necessary point. The quantity and
variety of supplies required by an army division seems
mountainous to the civilian. They ran the entire gamut from shoe
laces to motor trucks, and these had to be purchased at the high
prices caused by sudden demand wherever it was possible to obtain
them in quantities with the greatest speed.
In this great work of mobilization Canada's fine railway
organizations played a great and necessary part. With their aid
and that of many prominent men in Canadian affairs the question
of the gathering of materials at selected points went ahead
The matter of enlistments held equally important sway. An order
in council authorized an army of 22,218 officers and men and the
recruiting officers wasted no time in setting about their work.
All over the Dominion men had been drilling ever since the danger
of war became acute. The organized militia was hard at work.
Volunteers were being rapidly gathered and after a thorough
medical examination were put in charge of a drill sergeant.
There was no difficulty in getting men and the recruiting
officers from the first were overwhelmed with applications.
Canada was going to the aid of the mother country, not
unwillingly, not with hesitancy, not with parsimony, but with a
great rush of enthusiasm to save the Empire, Our Empire!
THE GREAT CAMP AT VALCARTIER
The problem of concentrating this huge body of men soon became a
real one. A great mobilization camp was needed. A place not too
far from the Atlantic, with ample railroad facilities, large and
roomy enough for the maneuvering of large bodies of men as well
as their housing in tents, must be found. A further
qualification was that this great camp should be located in a
position of strategic importance and one which could be defended
should the necessity arise.
Such a place was found at Valcartier, a small village some
sixteen miles from the City of Quebec on the line of the Canadian
When the war was declared the government did not own Valcartier
and few people had ever heard of it. Soon, however, the name
began to grow more familiar with the newspapers and in a day or
two the place became government property. For the purpose it
Great expanse of level country provided an ideal maneuvering
ground. The site of the camp itself was high enough for good
drainage and the Jacques Cartier River provided an abundance of
But with the acquisition of the ground the work had just begun.
It was necessary to erect tents for the housing of 30,000 men. A
commissary for their subsistence must be provided. Stores and
storehouses had to be rushed to the spot and there was a huge
amount of work of a more or less permanent character in the shape
of water works with many miles of piping, shower baths, drinking
troughs, an electric light plant and the like. The engineers
were called upon immediately to lay out the camp and its many
auxiliary features. A rifle range, the largest in the world, was
immediately planned and put in operation for the training of the
soldiers, for few men unacquainted with military life are able to
handle modern high-powered military rifles with any degree of
success, although the average man, under capable instructors,
rapidly becomes proficient. Artillery ranges in the Laurentian
Hills were established for the training of the field artillery.
Here the big sixty-pounders, which throw a shell for nearly five
miles, first woke the echoes.
A great bridge-building record was made by the men of the Royal
Canadian Engineers under the direction of Major W. Bethune
Lindsay of Winnipeg. The Jacques Cartier River separates the
main camp from the artillery practice grounds at the base of
Mounts Ileene and Irene. Across this 350 feet of waterway the
Royal Canadian Engineers built within four hours a barrel-pier
pontoon bridge capable of carrying heavy batteries. The Major
and his three hundred men worked with that well-ordered
efficiency which characterizes the efforts of the British bred.
The race for the record started with the Canadian Northern
Railway. The materials barrels, planking, etc. were
freighted on to the ground with remarkable dispatch. The casks
were made watertight, the timber was made ready, the twenty-foot
bank cut down to provide an easy grade for traffic, and the
actual test was on.
There was never a hitch. One party of men lashed the barrels to
the heavy planks, and, as soon as that operation was complete,
another party lifted the pier and carried it down the bank.
Another squad of men conveyed it on to the water, where it was
taken in charge by still another party and floated out to the
front line. The pier was drawn quickly into position, and as
many men as could work with freedom soon had the flooring spiked
down. The actual bridging commenced at eight o'clock; the span
was complete at ten minutes after twelve. The extra ten minutes
were accounted for by the fact that on one or two occasions
passing bodies of other troops necessitated a temporary cessation
of carrying operations.
Col. Burstall, Director of Artillery at the Camp, visited the
work during the morning and expressed his astonishment at the
progress effected. Ordinarily it is a good day's work to throw a
bridge of this class across a three-hundred foot stream. Col. G.
F. Maunsell, Director General of Engineering Service in Canada,
who is attached to headquarters at Ottawa, also paid close
attention to the task and was vastly pleased with the result.
Col. Morrison, Ottawa, of the Artillery Service, hurried a gun
across the bridge when completed, establishing its efficiency at
once. Without doubt the brother officers of Major Lindsay, in
all branches of the service, were extremely gratified at the
efficiency and despatch of the men making up the Royal Canadian
Engineers at the big camp.
Of course, the railway problem of moving the thousand or more
troop trains which were rushing from all parts of Canada to
Valcartier was a huge one. In this they had to cope with the
great quantity of supplies and equipment which was daily
forwarded. At Valcartier it was necessary for the Canadian
Northern to form a loop for the rapid handling of these trains so
that a constant stream of trains was kept continually moving in
both directions without interruption.
Great hardships and inconveniences resulted in many cases from
the lack of proper equipment. It was colder down in Quebec than
in many other parts of the Dominion and a great many men were
without sufficient blankets to keep them warm. Uniforms were
scarce and army shoes fit for the work of drills and maneuvers
even scarcer. Gradually, however, these deficiencies were
supplied, recruits began to show amazing progress in the art of
soldiering and little by little the great camp lost its motley
appearance and became an efficient military organization in which
rigid discipline and high efficiency prevailed. In six weeks
Valcartier's 30,000 were ready, ready for England and the final
polish which was to fit them for the test of battle. They could
even have been sent to the front. It seemed that this was not
THE CANADIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
But it was decided that the time had come for this great body of
troops to leave. The original plan of sending a division of
22,500 men was supplemented by the dispatch of the remaining
7,500 as a reserve to prevent the delay in getting them to the
front should the necessity arise suddenly. Members of the
government spoke of a possible second or third contingent, as
experience had taught them that it would be as easy to raise
100,000 men as it had been to raise 30,000. At a given time the
evacuation of Valcartier began. Thirty-two transports lay in the
St. Lawrence prepared to take the division to England, and soon
the first contingent began to move toward the sea. The British
fleet had cleared the ocean of all but a few scattered German
cruisers, and these were amply guarded against by the warships
which acted as escorts. And so, on the second day of October
Canada's first great pledge of loyalty left the shores of the
Dominion to go to the defense of the Empire.
On October 15th the transports reached Plymouth, England, and
were received with greatest enthusiasm. An English newspaper,
The Western Morning News, spoke of the arrival the next morning
in the following terms:
"The arrival of the fleet of transports with the first contingent
of Canadian forces on board was an event of good augury for the
future of the war. These splendid men have come, some of them
nearly 6,000 miles, to testify to the unity of the Empire and
take their share of the burden which rests upon Britons the world
over of being the stoutest champions of justice and liberty.
Even if their numbers were smaller we should hail their arrival
as a symbol of the solidarity of the British race, but they come
a large number in themselves, yet only the earnest of many more
to come if they are needed to help in defeating the imposition of
German tyranny and militancy on the world. The cheers they
raised for the old country as they steamed into the harbor
yesterday, and the splendid vigor and spirit they displayed,
showed they have both the will and the power to give a good
account of themselves at the front and prove worthy comrades of
the dauntless band of heroes who, under Sir John French, have won
the unstinted admiration of our French and Russian and Belgian
allies and, indeed of the whole world."
Then followed long weeks of hard training on Salisbury Plains.
At last they were considered fit for the front and the contingent
was transported to France. Of their conduct there, under the
baptism of fire, the following letter from General French at
Headquarters of the British Army, dated March 3d, to His Royal
Highness the Duke of Connaught, is an ample testimonial.
"The Canadian troops having arrived at the front, I am anxious to
tell your Royal Highness that they have made the best impression
on all of us.
"I made a careful inspection of the division a week after they
came to the country, and I was very much struck by the excellent
physique which was apparent throughout the ranks. The soldierly
bearing and the steadiness with which the men stood in the ranks
(on a bleak cold snowy day) was most remarkable.
"After two or three weeks preliminary education in the trenches,
attached by unit to the Third corps, they have now taken their
own line on the right of that corps as a complete division
and I have the utmost confidence in their capability to do
valuable and efficient service.
"The Princess Patricia's Regiment arrived with the 27th Division
a month earlier and since then they have performed splendid
service in the trenches.
"When I inspected them (although in pouring rain), it seemed to
me I had never seen a more magnificent looking battalion Guards
"Two or three days ago they captured a German trench with great
dash and energy and excellent results.
"I am writing these few lines because I know how deeply we are
all indebted to the untiring and devoted efforts your Royal
Highness has personally made to ensure the despatch in the most
efficient condition of this valuable contingent."
The first contingent had evacuated Valcartier only a short time
when the second contingent began to move toward the great
mobilization camp, for a similar process of training to that
followed in the first case.
When the second contingent sailed away from Canada to take its
place with the allies on the battlefields of Europe, it was
accompanied by a battery of the most complete and efficient
armored motor car rapid-fire machine guns ever devised. Indeed,
they are, so far as is known, the first motor car machine guns in
the ranks of the allies in any way comparing in point of up-to-
dateness and efficiency with those now being employed by the
German army. For up till recently Germany was the only power
which had given any attention to armored motor car machine guns.
The Germans had been experimenting for several years upon this
latest development in field weapons, and when the present war
broke out they had a type of armored motor car rapid-fire gun
that has enabled them to do a kind of work that would not be done
by any other sort of artillery. Great Britain, France and
Belgium began hurriedly experimenting, and hastily put together a
number of machine guns mounted on armored motor cars. These were
but tentative weapons, however, quickly designed to meet an
exigency for which the allies had not, like the Germans, already
prepared. It has remained for Canada to evolve a type of armored
motor car battery that is said to be the most perfect and
effective that has ever been constructed.
This ultra-modern battery of forty guns was a part of Canada's
contribution to the Empire at war. Fifteen of the guns were made
possible by the patriotic generosity of Mr. J. C. Eaton,
Toronto's well known millionaire department store owner, and were
designated as the Eaton Battery. They were completed right in
Toronto, where both the experimenting and designing were carried
on, and the cars and guns put together, under the supervision of
Mr. W. K. McNaught, C.M.G., who undertook the task of directing
the work for the government. The corps of officers and men who
man the battery had a special course of training under Capt. W.
J. Morrison at Exhibition Camp.
It is only necessary to recall to mind certain pictures that have
appeared recently of motor car machine guns in action to realize
with what deadly effectiveness these weapons may be employed in
present-day warfare. They combine all the terrific killing power
of the rapid-fire machine gun with the swift mobility and
tirelessness of the gasoline-driven motor car. Protected behind
almost impregnable steel armor plate, the driver may dash ahead
of the advancing lines and enable the gunner, almost completely
protected, to mow down the ranks of the enemy with a sweeping
stream of rifle bullets, played along a line of men much as one
would play a stream of water from a fire hose. The car may be in
motion all this time, or may stop only for an instant, so that
the enemy has no time to train its artillery upon it. It may
dash into what would be for infantry or cavalry or ordinary
gunners the jaws of death, distribute its deadly sting, and then
dash out again unscathed. Thus it may be of incalculable service
in the field. Or it may be used in a town where whole masses of
defenders may be driven back, and the streets completely cleared
by the rapid sweep of its bullets.
The armored motor car guns which were constructed in Toronto are
built on a motor truck chassis. The wheels are made of pressed
steel, and have heavy tires of solid rubber. All the rest of the
car is effectively covered with Harveyized steel plates, which
were severely tested. This armorplate was rolled in Canada by
Canadian workmen, and was made from iron ore mined in Nova
The distinctive fighting feature of the car is the revolving
turret of this armor-plate in which the offensive apparatus is
situated. This turret rises above the four-foot armored body at
about the center of the car. In it is the new model Maxim rapid-
fire gun, mounted very strongly on an apparatus of steel and
phosphor bronze, the invention of Canadian engineers. This gun
mount really carries the revolving turret which surrounds it, and
which revolves so easily on ball bearings that a mere touch of
the hand will move it. It can make a complete revolution, so
that the gun has a clear sweep. It can be locked by means of a
lever operated by the gunner. The gunner sits on a seat fastened
to the frame which supports the turret. The running machinery of
the car which comes below the floor, is, of course, protected by
a steel skirt, which extends around the car. The machine gun is
aimed through a loop-hole in the steel turret. It can fire from
300 to 600 rifle bullets a minute, and has an effective range of
a mile and a half. The bullets are held in a belt which runs
through the gun automatically. The armor-plate on the rear of
the car is loop-holed so that rifles can be used. Each of the
machine guns has two extra barrels, the reason for this being
that with the bullets passing through the barrel so rapidly it
naturally becomes very hot, and so must be changed frequently.
Another feature of the car is that it is protected overhead as
well as around the sides and front, and rendered immune from
shrapnel fire, missiles from aeroplanes, and dropping bullets, by
the same kind of armor-plate that is used on the sides. Thus the
drivers and all the fighting men are completely protected by
Each car, in addition to its fighting equipment, carries picks,
shovels, wire rope, repair tools and provisions. Attached to the
battery are two workshop cars, with turning lathes and repair
machines driven by motor spare parts, etc. These stay behind the
firing line. Each car carries a complement of five men,
including the two men who drive and the gunner who operates the
machine gun. The extra two ride in the rear and may use rifles
through the loop-holes. But there is no real specialization, for
each man must be competent not only as a soldier but as a
chauffeur, machinist and gunner. If there is only one man left
in the car, he must be able to operate the machine gun, run the
car, and make repairs if necessary. And he must be a man who can
keep his head, observe intelligently, and plan for himself and
his regiment. Those in charge of the recruiting for the Eaton
Battery expressed themselves as well pleased with the type of men
secured. Many had seen service before; there were several expert
telegraphers, several expert signalers, and one an ex-lieutenant
in the British navy.
POLITICAL EFFECT OF CANADA'S ACTION ON FUTURE OF DOMINION
As had been outlined in the early portion of this chapter, the
World War produced a result in the Dominion long sought by the
British government. From the position of a British Colony
independent in all but name and free to send or withhold military
aid, Canada has voluntarily advanced step by step in the
direction of stronger unification of the British Empire. In each
of the wars fought by Great Britain the part to be taken by
Canadian soldiers has received more and more formal recognition
from the Dominion government, advancing from a mere permission to
volunteer, through various stages to the actual enlistment,
equipment and dispatch of a purely Canadian Contingent under
Canadian officers and Canadian pay to the support of the British
Though each step had been in this direction few thought that
Canada would ever take such action. It has been admitted that if
Canada herself was attacked Canadians would, of course, defend
themselves to the last. It was even admitted that aid might be
sent in case of an attack on the British Isles, as a part of the
Empire, but so far as to raise an army to take part in a campaign
in Europe seemed far beyond the range of imagination.
Notwithstanding this, however, the Dominion has made the move
without hesitation and in so doing has established a precedent
which is apt to prove of huge importance in the future history of
Great Britain's enemies must consider not merely a war on Great
Britain but a war on the British Empire, for Canada as well as
Australia, India, South Africa and Egypt, having once sent aid
could not again refuse it and make their position tenable. The
Empire now presents a solid front to the world and her strength
is vastly increased hy the loyalty and devotion of the Overseas
This military unity must also produce results in other directions
tending toward a closer union between the Dominion and the Mother
country. We venture to predict that the future will witness a
strengthening of the bonds of loyalty, of commercial and
educational ties without the least abatement of the complete
autonomy enjoyed by the great Dominion.
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