After the success at Canal du Nord, the Canadians faced their main objective, the city of Cambrai. Cambrai was a key railway centre for the German army, and the site of a bloody battle the year before that saw the first major use of tanks. Now tanks were once again rolling towards the town.
By September 30, the 3rdand 4thDivisions had reached the outskirts of Cambrai, though efforts to capture the city stalled as the Corps circled it and Currie tried to work out a plan to take the city. Urban warfare was not something in which the Canadians, or most of the Allied armies, had experience, and fighting the German Army house-to-house was going to be not only extremely difficult, but also likely to result in very high casualties.
Cambrai itself was very lightly defended as German troops were pulled out to reinforce other areas, but the Canadians still had to contend with land mines and booby traps left behind. The city was liberated by the Allies on October 9, 1918. The Canadian Corps incurred over 10,000 Canadian casualties in the advance on and liberation of Cambrai.
Late at night on October 8th, 1918, Coulson Mitchell of Winnipeg saved a bridge from demolition during the Battle of Cambrai. The bridges across the Escaut Canal were key crossing points for Canadian soldiers and artillery, but the Germans had been blowing them up to slow the Allied advance. In a midnight patrol, Mitchell cut demolition wires and fended off an enemy attack, saving a key bridge. For his heroic actions, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Read his full service file here: http://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.item/?op=pdf&app=CEF&id=B6248-S044.
The Battle of the Canal du Nord 27 September to 11 October 1918
After retreating from the Drocourt-Quéant Line, the German Army withdrew to their final defensive lines in the Hindenburg system. The sector along the Canadian front included the city of Cambrai, an important logistical centre for the Germans, the Canal du Nord, and Bourlon Wood, a fortified defense position. For nearly a month after their victory at the Drocourt-Quéant Line, the Canadians waited, while Currie planned how to get the Corps across the canal, through the wood and onward to Cambrai.
The canal itself was dry, but still presented a significant obstacle; the banks were several metres high and it was unclear what awaited the Canadians on the other side. The area around the canal had been deliberately flooded by the German Army, leaving a small area roughly 2km wide that was still dry. To cross the canal, the Corps would be squeezed into a small front, and then would have to fan out to secure the rest of their section. Additionally, while tanks and infantry could cross quite easily, the artillery could not; Currie’s plan required the Canadian Engineers to install several portable bridges, likely under heavy fire, to allow the artillery across.
Currie’s plan was ambitious, and he was warned by many, including Byng, that it might not work. However, Haig and Foche wanted to push the German Army as much as possible, to see if they would crack, and an incursion near Cambrai would drain men from the rest of the German lines. At 5:20 am on September 27, the creeping barrage opened up and the initial advance of only four Canadian battalions went forward across the canal. They reached the other side successfully, and more battalions began to leap frog over their positions, slowly moving forward and fanning out to objectives along an over 9000m front.
With the opposite bank secured, the engineers could begin installing bridges, the first guns attempted a crossing at 8:40 am before being pushed back; however, by the middle of the afternoon several were in place and artillery was crossing regularly. By the end of the day, the Corps had secured the canal, Bourlon Wood and the village of Bourlon, before digging in for the night. Massed German attacks were expected for the morning and the Canadian battalions were spread thin trying to control over 10 000m of frontage.
The second day was slower and harder, as the Canadians tried to cross the Marcoing Line, which they did not manage until September 29. By September 30, the 3rdand 4thDivisions had reached the outskirts of Cambrai, though efforts to capture the city stalled as the Corps circled it and Currie tried to work out a plan to take the city. Urban warfare was not something in which the Canadians, or most of the Allied armies, had experience, and fighting the German Army house-to-house was going to be not only extremely difficult, but also likely to result in very high casualties.
During the Canadian preparations, the German Army pulled out of Cambrai on October 8, leaving behind a burning city, riddled with booby traps and trip wires. The Corps occupied Cambrai and continued to advance carefully, following the Germans as they made a fighting retreat further and further east. Though another stunning victory for the Canadian Corps, the Canal du Nord further depleted their strength; over 10,000 Canadians were killed, wounded, or missing, bringing the total number of casualties for the Hundred Days Campaign to that point to over 42,000.
The successful crossing of the Canal du Nord and advance towards Cambrai relied on a strong creeping barrage and the ability of the artillery to continue their barrage as the infantry moved deeper and deeper into German territory. The coordination between the infantry, now moving quite quickly over large distances, and the artillery was a problem that plagued Currie and the Corps throughout the Hundred Days. In the days after the initial successes, the pace of battle slowed or even stopped due to spotty bombardments.
To deal with the problem posed by the canal itself, the Canadian Engineers spent the weeks leading up to the battle building portable bridges behind the lines, which were laid in place once the far bank was secured and allowed the passage of artillery pieces, and the crews that manned them. Placing the bridges was extremely dangerous work, and throughout the day on 27 September, the bridges were frequently shelled. Like at Vimy the year before, the Engineers played a very important role in ensuring the success of the battle; without their bridges, the Corps would have quickly outpaced their artillery and bogged down, costing many more lives that they could not afford to lose.
Currie also employed a creeping barrage that moved in two directions, both forward and back. As the Corps reached their objectives, the barrage could jump forward like it usually did; however a backward moving barrage would give German gunners the impression that they were firing on their own positions. As usual, Currie also employed counter battery work to pick off German guns in advance; in total 785 guns were used on the first day of the Canal du Nord battle, most of which would follow the infantry on to Cambrai.
Like the previous Hundred Days battles the fighting at the Canal du Nord was hard and required a considerable amount of personal bravery. Canadians were awarded eight Victoria crosses during the fighting; the recipients are:
The Battle of the Drocourt-Quéant Line, 2 September 1918
Known by the German Army as the Wotung Stellung, the Drocourt-Quéant defensive system posed a significant obstacle to the Allies as they attempted to push their offensive further eastward. The rush of the Arras battles had pushed the Corps to the D-Q Line, but they had little time to prepare and Haig was not able to provide extra artillery or tanks. In fact, there was doubt amongst the Corps commanders that the attempt would succeed at all; the survivors of August were worn out, and the new reserve troops, many of whom were conscripted, had little combat experience. Nonetheless, for the French Army to move forward in the south, the D-Q Line had to be broken.
The original plan called for the Canadians to break through the D-Q Line, then a swift advance to the Canal du Nord using Raymond Brutinel’s group of armoured cars, all within a single battle. As Currie and the 1st and 4th Division found out, this was not possible. The two divisions did take the D-Q Line, after a day of tough fighting; however, the armoured cars were unable to advance as quickly as needed and artillery support was very thin. The Corps dug in for the night, expecting a counter attack, which in the end never came. As at Amiens, the troops advanced behind a concentrated artillery barrage and was faced with lines of machine gun nests, fortified bunks and barbed wire, much of which had to be taken out in hand to hand fighting.
The victory at the D-Q Line, though unexpected, was another mark for the Corps very successful Hundred Days. Currie believed the fighting during the Arras battles to be the most difficult that the Corps had ever faced; however, the pace would not be slowed. Canadian losses for the D-Q Line fighting were 5 622 killed or wounded on 2 September alone, German losses are not known.
Currie’s original battle plan called for the use of the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, organised and commanded by Raymond Brutinel. The CMMGB had been raised in 1914 but had rarely been used in a battlefield setting until the Hundred Days, since the conditions of the fighting area in the early years had not been suited to vehicles. The cars of the CMMGB went into battle at 8AM on the morning of 2 September, through a 900m gap in the creeping barrage and failed to break through. Their cars were not able to negotiate the rough terrain, and many fell under the hail of machine gun and artillery fire from the enemy lines.
Seven Victoria Crosses were awarded to Canadian soldiers for their bravery on 2 September 1918: Bellenden Hutcheson, Arthur George Knight, William Henry Metcalf, Claude Nunney, Cyrus Wesley Peck, Walter Leigh Rayfield and John Frances Young. Read more about them from Veterans Affairs Canada.
Brig. General Raymond Brutinel was a French business man and journalist who settled in Western Canada before the war. Brutinel believed that armed motorised vehicles were the future of modern warfare and when the war broke out raised one of the foundation motor machine gun groups that eventually formed the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade. Brutinel commanded the brigade and was involved in their actions during the German push in March 1918, as well as the Hundred Days.
Part of the Battle of the Scarpe, the battle for the village of Chérisy was an example of the bloody fighting that the Canadian Corps faced in the days leading up to the battle for the Drocourt-Quéant Line. The 5thBrigade was part of an advance meant to break through the Frenses-Rouvroy Line, another fortified defence leading up to the larger D-Q Line. The 22ndBattalion (the Van Doos) were assigned to capture Chérisy, along with the 26thand 24th Battalions. Rain and poor conditions delayed their jumping off time, and the battle did not start until 10 am.
They were fiercely resisted by the German 132rd Infantry Regiment, whose machine guns mowed down the advancing Canadians, but the village was captured by midday. The Van Doos lost many of their officers in the initial attack on Chérisy and defense of their position was organised by the highest-ranking officer left, Major Georges Vanier, in cooperation with the 24th Battalion. That night, divisional command informed the officers of the 5th Brigade, that they would not be relieved and would be expected to fight on the next morning to keep driving the Canadian sector further towards the D-Q Line.
In the attack on 28 August, Vanier was wounded and command of both battalions passed to the commanding officer of the 24th Battalion, Lt-Col. William Clark-Kennedy, who continued to hold a position in front of Chérisy until they could be relieved the next day. At roll call on 29 August, only 39 members of the 22nd Battalion answered; casualties were 634 killed, wounded, or missing, including all the officers.
Chérisy was one of a series of smaller set-piece battles, smaller engagements to move across large distances, that bridged the gap between Amiens on August 8 and the Drocourt-Quéant Line on September 3. Currie and the Allies in general made use of set-piece engagements to avoid the problems that came with distant objectives; they were increasingly employed after the Somme in 1916 and employed the idea of ‘biting and holding’ to chip off small pieces of enemy territory.
The battle at Chérisy illustrated however, one of the challenges facing the Corps in the days after Amiens. The pace of battle since August 8 made it increasingly difficult to co-ordinate support, and in combination with the poor weather on August 26 meant that the battalions participating in the battle for Chérisy did not have sufficient counter-barrage support.
The German artillery was able to continue to fire on them, and embedded machine gun nests in the village created havoc for the advancing troops as they were delayed by uncut barbed wire and uneven ground. If Currie’s Corps was to succeed in the battles to come, which moved even more quickly, the question of providing timely support was a crucial one.
Chérisy was a desperate battle and there were many acts of bravery that have gone unrecorded during the two days of conflict; however, two Canadians stand out.
Major Georges-Philéas Vanier, the highest-ranking officer left at the end of the August 27 advance. Vanier organised the attack for the next day, knowing that it was not likely that he would survive, and led his soldiers over the top at 12:30 on August 28. He was shot in the stomach and his leg shattered by a shell, but was evacuated and survived the battle. Vanier recovered from his wounds and went on to serve as Governor General of Canada. Click the image below to access his service file from Library and Archives Canada.
Lt-Colonel William Clark-Kennedy, the remaining senior officer of the 24th Battalion, gathered the remains of the 22ndBattalion and held their position outside of Chérisy until they could be relieved. Though seriously wounded, Clark-Kennedy refused to leave his men and continued to command the battle until both units were removed. He was awarded the Victoria Cross and lived out the rest of his life in Montreal. Click the image below to access his service file from Library and Archives Canada.
The Canadian Corps had just finished their victorious battle at Amiens on 14 August when they were charged with participating in the actions to break the German trench systems around Arras. With an estimated 12,000 casualties that needed replacing with fresh troops, the Corps was still feeling the effects of their initial entry into the Allies’ August push, but they had little choice. Currie had to prepare his men for another assault.
Unlike Amiens, the Corps did not have the element of surprise and with less than a week to plan it was going to be a tough fight that relied on heavy artillery, infantry mastery, and personal courage. Once again, counter battery work was extremely important to the success of the battle, and Canadian gunners worked to ensure that German artillery had been disabled as much as possible on the day of the battle.
Currie compensated for the lack of surprise by planning a night battle, which began under darkness on 26 August at 3 AM, in the pouring rain. The Corps advanced against German machine gun crews, each of which needed to be taken out to ensure forward movement. By the end of the day, the Corps had advanced 5 kilometres and retaken Monchy-le-Preux, however, it was not the end for them. The smaller attacks leading them towards the fearsome Drocourt-Quéant Line cost the Corps at least 6,000 casualties and drained precious man power; experienced soldiers that Currie could not afford to lose. German casualties are thought to be at least 3,000 prisoners, with an unknown number of dead and wounded.
Arras was another opportunity for the Corps to use the techniques that they had been perfecting for the past year. Currie used the Royal Air Force and his counter battery units to devasting effect, knocking out enemy guns before the day of the battle, and the infantry divisions advance quickly and freely behind a creeping barrage. The first day of Arras also made use of a night attack, a tactic that Currie had used before when the element of surprise was missing and would use again in the coming weeks.
Like Amiens, the Canadian portion of the Second Battle of Arras was planned quickly; organisation for Vimy the year before took over a month, for a typical Hundred Days battle, Currie usually had less than a week, and as the Corps advanced further and further intro German-held territory, that time shortened.
Lt. Charles Smith Rutherford, of the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles received a Victoria Cross on 26 August 1918, after attacking two pill-boxes and taking almost 100 prisoners. Rutherford survived the war and was later the Sergeant at Arms of the Ontario Legislature. Click the image below to access his full service file from Library and Archives Canada.
Pte Howard Douglas Graham,was only 20 when he fought with the 21st Battalion at Arras as part of their intelligence section. He survived the war and 21 years later was a Lieutenant General in the Canadian army that returned to Europe to fight the Second World War. Click the image below to access his full service file from Library and Archives Canada.
Characterised by General Erich Ludendorff as “the black day of the German Army”, the first day of the Battle of Amiens set the tone for the last one hundred days of the First World War. At 4:20 AM on 8 August, the Canadian creeping barrage opened, and all four divisions of the Corps began their advance behind a whirring cloud of shrapnel, poison gas, and smoke.
Amiens had been planned in strict secrecy in the summer of 1918 by Field Marshal Haig, building on a proposal submitted by the Australian commander John Monash, that called for a combined infantry and tank approach to breaking the German lines strung out on the front after the halted Spring Offensive. The attack was planned without an initial bombardment; the first shots would be ranged on German guns to take them out by zero hour, with a creeping barrage for protection.
The Canadian Corps were secretly moved to the Amiens front, to conceal that an attack was about to take place. A diversionary force was sent to Flanders, leading the German Army to think that the offensive would begin there, and the final Canadian units did not arrive in place until 7 August.
The advance on the morning of 8 August was swift and brutal; most of the German artillery pieces were knocked out, but the Canadians still had to deal with dangerous machine gun nests all along the German defensive lines. The Corps had four lines to cross, which they achieved by the end of the day, before the German defense hardened and the battle slowed down. Canadian gains for the day were 13 km deep across a total frontage of over 20 kilometres.
Amiens was an astounding success, the largest one of the war so far for the Allies, and showed that the German Army was beginning to lose morale, as thousands were taken prisoner, some without shots fired. However, the eventual victory came at a very heavy cost; Canadian casualties on 8August alone were 1036 killed, and 2803 wounded. The Amiens battle would cost the Canadian Corps 11,822 casualties, which they could ill-afford. German casualties are recorded at 75,000 killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.
The success at Amiens was partially the result of techniques perfected by the Canadian and Australian forces in 1917 and 1918, which included:
coordinated infantry, tank, artillery, and air attacks on the enemy, making use of all the technological advances of the war in high concentration
continued use of counter-battery work, including sound ranging and aerial intelligence to knock out located artillery pieces before they could be used
an extremely fast creeping barrage, which advanced at 200 metres per minute, allowing the Corps to proceed at a run towards their targets, overwhelming the defensive lines
Corps soldiers received 10 Victoria Crosses and 3000 other bravery decorations for their fighting at Amiens. Victoria Cross winners include:
Jean Brillant, 22 Battalion (Van Doos). Already a recipient of the Military Medal, Brillant led his company against machine gun nests on three separate occasions and was wounded three times. He died of his wounds on 10 August.
Cpl Herman Good, 13thBattalion, who single-handedly captured a German machine gun nest, and later the same day organised the capture of 3 German artillery pieces. Good survived the war and worked as a fish and game warden.
Srgt Robert Spall, PPCLI,who provided cover for his isolated platoon with a Lewis gun, allowing them to retreat, before he was killed on 13 August 1918.
In November 2016, the Vimy Foundation was contacted by a Value Village in Ajax, ON. A large scrapbook of photos and travel souvenirs had been turned into them some months earlier. Staff had recognized its historic value, and held on to it for months in the hope that a family member would come to reclaim it. They reached out to us at the Vimy Foundation for help, as some of the photos were taken at the Vimy Memorial in France.
This photo album is incredible. It is a scrapbook put together from the original Vimy Pilgrimage in 1936, when veterans and their families from all over Canada travelled to France for the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial. This was the largest group of Canadians to have travelled to France since the First World War ended. Even more special, within the scrapbook was the original Vimy Pilgrimage Medal awarded to all those who made the journey overseas, back to the battlefields and cemeteries in Europe.
We believe it was originally created by Miss E. Lancaster, a staff member of Eaton’s at the time with a relative in the war. We have spent months pouring over the images, looking for additional clues that would help us identify her relative from the war, connect with her extended family, and contacting people and organizations that may have been able to help. However, to date all roads of inquiry have led to a dead end – we have not been able to make any current family connections.
If this scrapbook was donated accidentally or was not in the hands of family members, we would love to return it to the rightful owners. There are also photos contained here with many other people – others who travelled on the same ship (HMS Champlain), others within the Eaton’s contingent, and other Vimy Pilgrims. Perhaps you’ll spot a photo of a relative who also made this historic pilgrimage to Vimy Ridge!
Thank you to our amazing Facebook follower Debbie Lee Jiang! Through some research she was able to discover some additional family details about our mystery scrapbook of Miss. E. Lancaster.
Miss E. Lancaster’s relative who served in the Great War: her father, Mr. Hubert B. Lancaster, of Toronto. She was his only child, being 14 when her 35 yr old dad went off to serve in 1915 with the 123rd Battalion. Hubert Bertie Lancaster, a carpenter by trade, was born in Yorkshire, England, son of William Lancaster.
It appears that Elsie Marion Lancaster, Vimy Pilgrim, never married and was buried with her parents at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto in 1994.
The Tour de France has strong connections to the First World War. The 12th Tour in 1914 began the same day Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, setting off a string of events that led to the outbreak of war. Of the 145 cyclists who started the 1914 Tour de France, 15 would die during the First World War, including three previous Tour champions: Lucien Petit-Breton Mazan (winner in 1907 & 1908), François Faber (winner in 1909) and Octave Lapize (winner in 1910). The 13th edition of the Tour de France took place in 1919, and due to the years of war and the poor conditions of roads, the average speed of riders and the number of officially finishing cyclists (ten) were the lowest in history.
Cyclists themselves made an important contribution to the war effort 100 years ago. “It was during the last 100 days of the war that the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion came into its own. Freed from their earlier manual labour, the cyclists began to perform the intelligence work for which they had been trained. Sent in advance of the infantry to keep in touch with the retreating enemy, the cyclists acted as battalion runners, dispatchers and scouts, as well as soldiers who took part in direct combat.” John McKenty, Canadian Cycling Magazine (link)
Unable to ride his cycle through the mud caused by the recent storm. A Canadian messenger carries his “horse”. August, 1917.Library and Archives Canada/ PA-001581 (modified from the original).
Saturday’s Tour de France stage ends in Amiens. Nearly 100 years ago, theCanadianCorpsweresecretlymovedtotheAmiensfront and the Battle of Amiens began on August 8. Amienswasanastoundingsuccess,thelargestoneofthewarsofarfortheAllies. However,theeventualvictorycameataveryheavycost: 11,822 Canadian casualties.
During the First World War, thousands of Indigenous soldiers served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Like most Canadians, many Indigenous men served in the infantry with the Canadian Corps in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Indigenous peoples’ military roles were influenced by their traditional hunting and military skills combined with the racial stereotypes held by recruiting officers and military officials. Many served as snipers or reconnaissance scouts, some of the most hazardous roles in the military. Others served in support units in the CEF, including railway troops, tunneling companies and forestry units.
Despite close camaraderie with non-Indigenous soldiers, their return home was plagued with unequal treatment and marginalization. In 1919, Lieutenant F.O. Loft, a Six Nations veteran who had served with the Canadian Forestry Corps during the war, founded the League of Indians of Canada. It sought to improve conditions on reserves and believed that a unified stance through a political organization could challenge the Indian Act that governed the lives of First Nations people.
Camp Borden was founded in 1916, training nearly fifty thousand soldiers for service in The Canadian Expeditionary Force. For many of those soldiers, their first action was during the Battle of Arras, and specifically the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
In 2016 CFB Borden celebrated its centennial year, and through the enduring partnership of the Base, the City of Barrie and the surrounding communities, the Borden Legacy Monument was erected to mark the occasion. Unveiled on June 9th by PM Trudeau, with Mayor Leturque, Mayor of Arras, contributing to our ceremony.
The Borden Legacy Project began in 2014, and in June 2015, sacred soil was removed from the Battlefield at Vimy Ridge and patriated to Canada. This soil symbolically holds the DNA of all those fallen and wounded in the 1917 Battle.
This was one of the important steps that saw the creation of Borden Legacy Park –three distinct pieces that serve to commemorate our past and inspire the future. First, a white and black granite wall, a tribute and inspiration to each and every member of the Canadian Armed Forces that passes through our gates. Etched into the main wall is a powerful tribute to all past and current serving Canadian Armed Forces members: Through these gates the sons a daughters of a grateful nation pass – serving Canada with Honour, Duty, and Courage, so that all may live with Freedom, Democracy, and Justice.
The wall also encases an urn, in which the sacred soil is held. The promise of General Sir Arthur Currie to his troops is etched into the wall that holds the soil, and reads: “To those who fall I say: you will not die, but step into immortality. Your mothers will not lament your fate, but will be proud to have borne such sons. Your names will be revered forever and ever by your grateful country, and God will take you unto himself.”
The second piece of the park is the restored WWI trenches that were used to train infantry soldiers before their departure to the Western Front. Connected to the Legacy Wall via short wooded trail, these trenches are a reminder of the importance of training, and the conditions of the First World War.
Finally, a Bronze Bugler stands in the park, calling to his companions, calling visitors to the monument, and calling to the now-empty trenches that once trained soldiers before they left for battle overseas.
To commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a second bugler was created, and will be donated to the Vimy Foundation, to stand in the shadow of Walter Allward’s magnificent monument. The Twin Bugler currently stands in the Hotel de Ville in the City of Arras.