Sunday, July 03, 2005


A friend of mine went up to Canada recently and got into a bit of an altercation with the management of a strip club whilst there. Words were exchanged (natch) regarding Canada's somewhat milquetoast standing in the world. Hard to disagree nowadays, as Canada has, for the last thirty years since the awful Pierre Trudeau, decended into the same pit of feelgood spinelessness that Western Europe (with its average unemployment of approx. 10% and stagnant GDPs) is now afflicted with. But it wasn't always thus. David Frum, former speechwriter for President Bush and a Canadian, while pondering Canada's contribution to the Great War (World War I), jotted down these thoughts:

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.

Troops engaged
Americans: 650,000
Canadians: 105,000

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)
Americans: 46

Canadians: 47

Average Number of Casualties Suffered per German Division Defeated
Americans: 2,170

Canadians: 975

Total Casualties
Americans: 100,000

Canadians: 45,830

“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.

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