The Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was created in 1914, and is known as Canada’s first fighting division in Europe. it was made by Canada to serve overseas in the First world war. More than 600,000 Canadians enlisted between 1914-1918.
Most of them were volunteers. More than 400,000 of the Canadians went overseas as part of the CEF. The rest of the volunteers served outside the Corps including “The Canadian Cavalry Brigade” that were based in France, The Canadian Railway Troops that were located on the Western Front, and the Canadian Forestry Corps located in both Britain and France cut and supplied wood for the war. Canada was automatically into war with Germany and its allies in August of 1914. With Canada being part of the British empire they had to duty to aid them. Canada didn’t really have a lot to offer in terms of army power in WW1 all they had was a small navy and a small army full of professional soldiers of only 3,000.Prime Minister Robert Borden created the CEF planning to make it up though volunteers. Due to the members of the Canadian Militia the troop count was up to 30,000.
Since the soldiers were mostly full of volunteers they lacked experience and training. In 1915 after a small training session in England. The soldiers were sent to France for the Second Battle Of Ypres the battle took place from from 22 April to 25 May 1915. This was the first major battle fought by Canadian troops the soldiers saw with their own eyes the fear of war.
Canada’s troops were victim to the first and the second large scale gas attack by the Germans. The first one happened on April 22 1915 where the Germans released more than 160 tonnes of chlorine gas, and the second one on April 24th directly hit the Canadians. Some Canadians managed to get out of the gas, many looked for ways to hide from the gas by lying in the crevices of their trenches, the gas eventually caught up to the soldiers which resulted in death. But many others survived by soaking their clothes in urine and covering their noses and mouths to prevent more gas from entering their systems. The chlorine gas was the reason for the high casualty rate. A quote from Lester Stevens, a member of the Eighth Battalion from Winnipeg, who witnessed the second gas attack “Two fellows, one on my right and one on my left, dropped. And eventually they got them to hospital, but they both died. .
.. I was a bit of an athlete in those days and a good swimmer, and I could hold my breath …
as soon as I saw that gas coming, I tied a handkerchief over my nose and mouth. ..
. That saved my life.”Canada didn’t have a “commander” for the corps they took overall orders from Britain for being a part of their empire at the time. They would take orders from British generals, Edwin Alfred Hervey Alderson, then in May 1916 by Julian Byng then was replaced again two years later to Arthur currie. Arthur currie was an exceptional commander, in June 1916, Currie’s division took part in a planned out successful counterattack against German forces at Mount Sorrel. Canada had struggled during this part of the war due to the Ross rifle. The Ross rifle was a weapon that was very unreliable, it would consistently get jammed.
But Sir Sam Hughes was persistent on making sure all Canadian troops must carry this weapon. At this point the CEF would keep growing. More and more volunteers would step up and join the CEF by the summer of 1916 the corps had four divisions. The Battle Of The Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in world history which changed everyone’s perspective of the war. It occured from July 1, 1916 to November 18, 1916, when Britain decided to execute a large scale attack on the Germans. more than 57,000 casualties (killed or wounded) occurred on the first day of the Somme. British troops on July 1st went “over the top” expecting to easily get on to German lines, they were met with massive attacks from the German rifles, artillery, and machine gun fire. Canadian troops had no part in this attack they were being occupied at Beaumont Hamel on July first where the 1st Newfoundland Regiment were hailed by German machine gun fire.
After 30 minutes of continuous machine gun fire the regiment endured 801 casualties. This battle showed everyone just how bad war was, recruitment levels drop significantly by the end of 1916. With Canada being desperate for troops Prime Minister at the time Robert Borden issued the military service act. The act gave the authority for the government to forcefully draft citizens into the war 24,132 troops made it to the battlefields of the Western Front. Battle of the SommeCanadian soldiers returning from trenches during the Battle of the Somme.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge was the most important battle for Canada in national independence. April 9 1917 was the first day of Vimy Ridge, it was the first time all four divisions of the CEF fought together. They all were ordered to fight against the German sixth army. Lieutenant-General Julian Byng was the reason for victory of Vimy Ridge He made sure all the divisions were ready for the battle.
Byng learned from the Somme new tactics and strategies which came in handy. He set a plan for all four divisions to simultaneously attack the Germans, getting a certain amount of time to make it to a marked point and regrouping. The plan was followed though down to the letter which ended in Canada’s victory. Vimy MonumentThe Canadian National Vimy Ridge Memorial in France.
The CEF was created in 1914 and resigned in 1916, more than 600,000 enlisted, more than 234,000 casualties and more than 10,000 Canadians who gave their lives in the First World War and who have no known grave. They all bravely participated in the CEF which was the one of the biggest reasons to Canadian national independence