June 1917
A Near Canadian Corps Scandal

Lt.-Col. Cosgrave showing Gen. Currie a battered Hun steel helmet picked up after a recent advance. July, 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001532

Sir Arthur Currie, Commander of the Canadian Corps 

Just as Sir Arthur Currie took command of the Canadian Corps, a fault from his past haunted his success. A senior member of the pre-war 50th Gordon Highlanders militia unit in Victoria, B.C., Currie had diverted $10,883.34 of regimental funds to pay off debts incurred with the collapse of his real estate investments at the start of the war. When Currie left Canada for overseas deployment, the 50th Highlanders were still short of their diverted funds.

In the years since his departure, successive commanding officers of the 50th Gordon Highlanders had slowly traced the missing funds to Currie, coincidentally catching up to him in June 1917, just as he achieved his most senior promotion. Raising the issue with Minister of Militia and Defence Sir Edward Kemp, who had just replaced Sir Samuel Hughes, the government officials desperately sought to resolve the issue without a public scandal. Even Canadian Overseas Minister in London, Sir George Perley wired Prime Minister Borden asking if Kemp would “be willing put up half the money personally if I do same” (Brown, Morton, The Embarrassing Apotheosis of a ‘Great Canadian’: Sir Arthur Currie’s Personal Crisis in 1917 in The Canadian Historical Review, p. 60).

Fortunately for Currie, his momentary lapse in judgement was superseded by his outstanding military leadership qualities and the Canadian Corps’ clear dependence on his success. In an interesting twist to the story, it appears Currie’s ability to obtain the faith and trust of his subordinates carried him through the scandal; indeed, it was only through loans from Major-General David Watson and Brigadier Victor Odlum that Currie was able to repay the $10,883.34, staving off his dismissal and avoiding bringing public disgrace to the Canadian Corps (Zuehlke, Brave Battalion, p. 168, & Brown, Morton, The Embarrassing Apotheosis of a ‘Great Canadian’: Sir Arthur Currie’s Personal Crisis in 1917 in The Canadian Historical Review, p. 58).

9 June 1917
A Canadian Corps Commander

Lieutenant-General Currie (middle) and His Majesty King George V (left) tour the Vimy Ridge battlefield in July 1917 with General Horne (right).
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001502.

June 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of Sir Arthur Currie‘s appointment to command of the Canadian Corps. On 6 June 1917, Sir Arthur Currie was summoned to Canadian Corps Headquarters and notified of his promotion as Lieut.-General Sir Julian Byng was vacating the position by taking over the British Third Army. However, without consulting the Canadian government, Currie‘s command had not received official approval. A burst of messages passed back and forth across the ocean between Prime Minister Borden and Canadian Overseas Minister Sir George Perley. Quickly reaching a consensus that they desired a Canadian in commandCurrie‘s promotion was made effective from 9June 1917 (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 283-284).  

It would the first time a Canadian took command of the entire Canadian Corps, but it was not without controversy. Next week we will look at a scandal that nearly brought down Currie’s command.

Download our poster commemorating the 100th anniversary of Sir Arthur Currie’s appointment here.