September 28 – Dr. Lee Windsor on Canada’s Hundred Days
First World War Centennial Speaker Series

First World War Centennial Speaker Series
Dr. Lee Windsor, Gregg Centre, UNB
Fredericton, New Brunswick
September 28, 2018

 

On September 28, 2018, Dr. Lee Windsor spoke with assembled guests at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, NB about Canada’s Hundred Days campaign and the events taking place in France exactly one hundred years earlier.

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 D-Q Line, the Canadians waited, while Currie planned how to get the Corps across the canal, through the wood and onward to Cambrai.

Canadian Signal Section laying cable. Advance East of Arras. September, 1918. Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/ PA-003080 (modified from the original).

At 5:20 am on 27 September, the creeping barrage opened up and the initial advance of only four Canadian battalions went forward across the canal du Nord. 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.

Montreal Gazette, Saturday September 28, 1918.

Dr. Lee Windsor takes us through the actions that followed, after the Canadians prepared to dig in for the night:

 

The second day was significantly slower and harder than the first; the Canadian battalions were spread thin trying to control over 10 000m of frontage as they tried to cross the Marcoing Line and reach Cambrai. “Mounting a second and even larger deliberate attack one day after one of the most complicated operations in Canadian military history, after penetrating 5km into a well-defended enemy zone is asking a hell of a lot.”

Watch as Dr. Windsor discusses that first view of the Marcoing Line for the Royal Canadian Regiment, who focused on a direct hit to Cambrai allowed the rest of the Canadian Corps to swing around to the north. He discusses some of the actions of Milton Gregg on September 28, reading excerpts from Gregg’s journal:

 

 

Dr. Lee Windsor continues: “The fight raged all day, but the RCR’s D Company’s actions helped hold open that breach. Gregg and Duplessis had fixed enemy attention on the regiment and all of 7 Brigade’s sector while the rest of the unit swung north through a widening gap on the Arras-Cambrai road. They opened the door to Cambrai. It would take several more days of hard fighting to crack it all the way open but they opened it.”

The successes throughout the Hundred Days campaign came at a heavy cost for the Canadian Corps, incurring over 10,000 Canadian casualties in the Battle of Canal du Nord and the advance on and liberation of Cambrai.

Canadian wounded enjoying a cup of tea at Advanced Dressing Station. Advance East of Arras. October, 1918. Library and Archives Canada/ PA- 003192 (modified from the original).

We remember the actions of Milton F. Gregg, VC during the Battle of the Canal du Nord. “The outstanding valour of this officer saved many casualties and enabled the advance to continue.” Read the full citation of his Victoria Cross. Find his attestation papers at Library and Archives Canada.

Milton F. Gregg, VC. Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-004877.

 

Discussion questions:

– The actions during the Hundred Days Campaign and particularly here on September 28 are described as happening very quickly. The Canadian Corps is moving forward without much time to plan, prepare, and bring supplies. How did this differ from other battles of the First World War?

– At Vimy, soldiers waited in chalk tunnels underground prior to the battle; here, we hear how soldiers ‘rested’ in mud holes, waiting to attack. What do you think was running through the soldiers’ minds at night?

– This page contains two photos that have been colourized. Use the Vimy 100 in the Classroom guide on ‘Photography in the First World War‘ to analyze the photos and the addition of colour.

– When studying the First World War, students generally encounter the same four battles: Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. While each was certainly critical to the war in its own way, Canadians served and made sacrifices in other, lesser-known battles, like at Canal du Nord and Cambrai. Use the Vimy Foundation’s resources from “Canada’s First World War Battles” and make a case for which battle was the most significant for Canada.

– Milton Gregg was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during this period, the highest award in the whole system of honours and awards in the British Empire. Do you think it was deserved? Why or why not? Find the full list of Canadians who have received the Victoria Cross at Veterans Affairs Canada.

– The Victoria Cross belonging to Milton Gregg is now on permanent loan at the Royal Canadian Regiment Military Museum. In Canada, military medals and decorations are bought and sold regularly and there are no rules against it. Is this practice wrong? Why or why not?