But I can’t let Canada Day pass on such a dubious note. There is another Canada, memorialized in a short but extremely valuable book I read in honor of the holiday: Shane Schreiber’s Shock Army of the British Empire: The Canadian Corps in the Last Hundred Days of the Great War. Between August and November 1918, the Allies inflicted a staggering series of defeats on the once invincible German army: the Battle of Amiens on August 8 (the “black day of the German army” in the phrase of the German commanader, Gen. Von Ludendorff), the Battle of Arras on August 26-29 the breakthrough to Cambrai on September 15, and culminating in the liberation of Valenciennes on November 2 and the German retreat out of France. (Those interested can find some useful summary maps here and here.)
Schreiber’s superb monograph in just 150 pages offers the most detailed account of the victory. Those victories were made possible of course by the long years in which the British, French, and Russian armies had bled Germany, and by the arrival of large numbers of American reinforcements in 1918. Acknowledging that, however, it is also true that the force that spearheaded the great final push was General Arthur Currie’s Canadian Corps, flanked by the Australian/New Zealand forces under General John Monash. The battles of those 100 days must stand as the most stupendous thing ever accomplished by Canadians and Canada’s single greatest impact on the history of this planet.
The final verdict:
In those 100 days, Canadian forces spearheaded the defeat of almost one-quarter of the entire German army remaining on the Western front, 47 out of 200 divisions. Add in the Australian/New Zealand forces, and the two Dominions together engaged some 40% of the German army. Over those three months, the Canadians suffered more than 45,000 casualties, killed and wounded – or about as many as in the whole year from D-Day to VE-Day in World War II.
Being a Canadian, of course, Schreiber underscores his point with a final statistical comparison to the US forces in the Meuse-Argonne region on the southern portion of the Western front.
Duration of Operations
Americans: 47 days
Canadians: 100 days
Maximum Distance Advanced
Americans: 34 miles
Canadians: 86 miles
German Divisions Defeated(Out of a total of 200)
Average Number of Casualties Suffered per German Division Defeated
“The ultimate conclusion that must be drawn,” he sums up, “is that … the Canadian Corps was able to make a highly significant contribution to the defeat of the German army on the battlefield at precisely half the cost in terms of life and limb as the American army.”
Yet the over-rated General John Pershing is celebrated with a magnificent modern monument on Pennsylvania Avenue – and Arthur Currie’s name is utterly obliterated among his own people.