The Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms
Do not mistake our quiet and polite nature as being passive. That would be a big mistake. When called upon Canada has always been there!
2nd Boer War: 1902
In 1899, fighting erupted between Great Britain and two small republics in South Africa. The two republics, settled by Boers, descendants of the region's first Dutch immigrants, were not expected to survive for long against the world's greatest power. Pro-Empire Canadians nevertheless urged their government to help. The war, they argued, pitted British freedom, justice, and civilization against Boer backwardness.
While many English-Canadians supported Britain's cause in South Africa, most French-Canadians and many recent immigrants from countries other than Britain wondered why Canada should fight in a war half way around the world. Concerned with maintaining national stability and political popularity, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier did not want to commit his government. Yet the bonds of Empire were strong and public pressure mounted. As a compromise, Laurier agreed to send a battalion of volunteers to South Africa.
Over the next three years, more than 7,000 Canadians, including 12 women nurses, served overseas. They would fight in key battles from Paardeberg to Leliefontein. The Boers inflicted heavy losses on the British, but were defeated in several key engagements. Refusing to surrender, the Boers turned to a guerrilla war of ambush and retreat. In this second phase of fighting, Canadians participated in numerous small actions. Gruelling mounted patrols sought to bring the enemy to battle, and harsh conditions ensured that all soldiers struggled against disease and snipers' bullets. The Boers were finally defeated. Of the Canadians who served in South Africa, 267 were killed and are listed in the Books of Remembrance. The Canadian government claimed at the time that this overseas expedition was not a precedent. History would prove otherwise. The new century would see Canadians serve in two world wars, the Korean War, and dozens of peacekeeping missions.
The Canadians arrived in Flanders in mid-October to relieve Australian and New Zealand troops and were shocked by the terrible battlefield conditions. Currie ordered the construction of new roads, the building or improvement of gun pits, and the repair and extension of tramlines (light railways). Horses and mules transported hundreds of thousands of shells to the front to prepare for the artillery barrage that would prepare for the infantry’s attack. The Germans atop Passchendaele ridge fired continuously on these efforts, killing or wounding hundreds.
His preparations ready, Currie launched a deliberate or ‘set-piece’ attack on October 26, the first of four phases in a battle he estimated might cost 16,000 Canadians killed or wounded. By mid-November, having captured the ridge, his estimate proved eerily accurate, with 15,654 Canadian fallen.
Vimy Ridge: Within minutes Canada became a Nation
In the week leading up to the battle, Canadian and British artillery pounded the enemy positions on the ridge, killing and tormenting defenders. New artillery tactics allowed the gunners to first target, then destroy enemy positions. A nearly limitless supply of artillery shells and the new 106 fuse, which allowed shells to explode on contact, as opposed to burying themselves in ground, facilitated the destruction of hardened defences and barbed wire. The Canadian infantry would be well supported when it went into battle with over 1,000 artillery pieces laying down withering, supportive fire.
Attacking together for the first time, the four Canadian divisions stormed the ridge at 5:30am on 9 April 1917. More than 15,000 Canadian infantry overran the Germans all along the front. Incredible bravery and discipline allowed the infantry to continue moving forward under heavy fire, even when their officers were killed. There were countless acts of sacrifice, as Canadians single-handedly charged machine-gun nests or forced the surrender of Germans in protective dugouts. Hill 145, the highest and most important feature of the Ridge, and where the Vimy monument now stands, was captured in a frontal bayonet charge against machine-gun positions. Three more days of costly battle delivered final victory. The Canadian operation was an important success, even if the larger British and French offensive, of which it had been a part, had failed. But it was victory at a heavy cost: 3,598 Canadians were killed and another 7,000 wounded.
The capture of Vimy was more than just an important battlefield victory. For the first time all four Canadian divisions attacked together: men from all regions of Canada were present at the battle. Brigadier-General A.E. Ross declared after the war, "in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation." BGen A.E. Ross
While Canadians remain bitterly divided as to what our role in the war against ISIS should be, the one indisputable fact is this: We will never allow those we have shared our home with to harm our Canadian troops.
Rest in Peace
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. The entire Nation mourns your passing.
It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw, not because she is Canada but because she's something sublime that you were born into, some great rugged power that you are a part of.
- Emily Carr (1871-1945)