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Where Canada fought

Valcartier Camp 1914

Valcartier is one of the oldest military training grounds in Canada. Located a few kilometres north of Quebec City, it was founded just before the First World War in 1912. During the war, it was the primary training base for the First Canadian Contingent before it departed for overseas service. To handle this influx of new recruits, the army needed a camp that could provide accommodation, training areas and firing ranges for 25,000 to 30,000 men prior to being sent overseas. Today it is one of the Canadian Army’s major bases and is known as 2nd Canadian Division Support Base Valcartier.

map of Valcartier camp, 1914
-- “The History of the Canadian Forces Volume 1”, Colonel A. Fortesque Duguid

Canadian Encampment on Salisbury Plain, England 1914 - 1915

The First Canadian Contingent sailed for England in October 1914 with over 30,000 volunteers, an extraordinary achievement in such a short time. A separate force of several hundred Newfoundlanders accompanied the First Canadian Contingent on the two week voyage to England. After arriving at Plymouth, they disembarked and boarded trains for Salisbury Plain to the south where they were to be trained further in the art of trench warfare. At Salisbury, the Canadians trained for four months, most of it in terrible mud, as England experienced one of its wettest winters in decades. While most of the troops stood up well to the awful conditions, Canadian equipment did not. Much of it was soon discarded in favour of British types. The Canadians learned basic soldiering in England after a hasty mobilization and a difficult, uncomfortable winter. Their real training would come at the front.

Further reading: Life on Salisbury Plain.

map of the Canadian encampment on Salisbury Plain, England 1914 - 1915
-- “The History of the Canadian Forces Volume 1”, Colonel A. Fortesque Duguid

The Battle of 2nd Ypres

The Second Battle of Ypres was fought from 22 April to 25 May 1915 and was the first major battle fought by Canadian troops in the Great War. The battle took place on the Ypres salient on the Western Front, in Belgium, outside the city of Ypres. The untested Canadians distinguished themselves as a determined fighting force, resisting the horror of the first large-scale poison gas attack in modern history. Canadian troops held a strategically critical section of the frontline until reinforcements could be brought in.

The second battle of Ypres would for another month after the Canadians were relieved, it was fought largely by British units — and by a battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry — who re-established control of the Ypres salient.

For holding the line amid the gas attacks of the first critical four days of the battle, the Canadians were praised for their courage and tenacity, a reputation that would grow as the war continued. The price, however, was high. Overall, British forces lost 59,000 men — dead, wounded or captured — in the month-long battle. More than 6,500 of those casualties were Canadian, including more than 2,000 Canadian dead.

The lines at midnight April 22/23, 1915

map of Battle of Second Ypres from April 22/23, 1915
-- “The History of the Canadian Forces Volume 1”, Colonel A. Fortesque Duguid

The lines at midnight 23/24 April, 1915

map of Battle of Second Ypres from April 23/24, 1915
-- “The History of the Canadian Forces Volume 1”, Colonel A. Fortesque Duguid

The lines at midnight 24/25 April, 1915

map of Battle of Second Ypres from April 24/25, 1915
-- “The History of the Canadian Forces Volume 1”, Colonel A. Fortesque Duguid

The lines at midnight 25/26 April, 1915

map of Battle of Second Ypres from April 25/26, 1915
-- “The History of the Canadian Forces Volume 1”, Colonel A. Fortesque Duguid

The lines at midnight 26/27 April, 1915

map of Battle of Second Ypres from April 26/27, 1915
-- “The History of the Canadian Forces Volume 1”, Colonel A. Fortesque Duguid

Canadian Grenadier Guards positions at 2nd Ypres, April, 1915

map of Grenadier Guards positions at 2nd Ypres, April, 1915
-- “History of the Canadian Grenadier Guards 1760-1964”, Colonel A. Fortesque Duguid

The Battle of Festubert

The Battle of Festubert was the second major engagement fought by Canadian troops in the First World War. The First Canadian Division was part of a wider British offensive against German lines near the village of Festubert, France, from 15–25 May, 1915. The result was slaughter on all sides, and precious little gained.

The attack near the village of Festubert was a renewed attempt to punch a hole in the German frontline in northeastern France in the spring of 1915, following the failed Allied assault on nearby Aubers Ridge a week earlier. The offensive also came on the heels of recent heavy fighting carried out by Canadians during the Second Battle of Ypres in April.

When the main attack commenced on 18 May, troubles began almost immediately. The artillery barrage was late, as was the initial Canadian assault across muddy, open ground — a frontal attack that was met by fierce enemy machine-gun fire.

Severe rain mired the assault, and fresh trenches were dug in the thick mud to claim the limited ground covered by Turner's First Brigade. On 20 May, the brigade took the orchard, but casualties mounted as soldiers were chewed up by machine-gun fire and artillery.

The Second Brigade’s assault was far worse. Error-riddled trench maps crippled the attack before it started, and Currie asked that it be halted it before it became a total failure. He was refused, with disastrous results for his men.

The Battle of Festubert was a bitter failure and a hard lesson in the brutality of trench warfare and poor offensive planning. Nearly 2,500 Canadians were killed, wounded or went missing in the battle.

Canadian positions at Festubert, May 18 - June 1, 1915

map of Canadian positions at Festubert, May 18 - June 1, 1915
-- “The History of the Canadian Forces Volume 1”, Colonel A. Fortesque Duguid

March to the Rhine - November/December 1918

The Occupation of the Rhineland came as a consequence of the collapse of the Imperial German Army in 1918, after which Germany’s provisional government was obliged to agree to the terms of the 1918 armistice. This included accepting that the troops of the victorious powers occupied the left bank of the Rhine. Furthermore, the left bank of the Rhine and a 50-kilometre-wide strip east of the Rhine was declared a demilitarized zone. The purpose of the occupation was on the one hand to give France security against a renewed German attack, and on the other to serve as a guarantee for reparations obligations.

Route of the British Army of Occupation from Mons to Germany

map of the route of the British Army of Occupation from Mons to Germany in November/December 1918
-- “Sir Douglas Haig’s Despatches”