World War I (Canada)

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World War I (Canada)

As a dominion of the British Empire, Canada joined World War I when the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914. In the ensuing months, numerous volunteers joined the ranks of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and headed to the Western Front. During the war, these troops fought in key battles at Ypres and the Somme, securing important victories for the Allies and keeping the Germans from advancing further into France. When the Hundred Days Offensive began in August 1918, Canadian troops helped capture several cities in northern France. Hostilities ended on November 11, 1918, when Germany signed the armistice. The formal treaty to end the war was signed in Versailles, France, in June 1919.

After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austria-Hungary and Germany declared war on Serbia, France, and Russia. Germany quickly mobilized forces and marched through Belgium toward France, preparing for a quick invasion. The United Kingdom delivered an ultimatum to Germany, asking them to withdraw. When German forces remained in Belgium, the UK declared war on August 4, 1914, and asked its overseas dominions, including Canada, to provide troops.

At the time, Canada had a standing army of 3000, but when the war began, tens of thousands of men volunteered to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The first contingent of 33,000 troops left in October 1914 and arrived in Europe for the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. Despite being outnumbered and enduring the first use of chlorine gas in the war, the Canadian forces were able to keep the Germans from breaking through.

As more men volunteered to fight, Canadians on the home front contributed to the war effort as well. The Canadian Patriotic Fund collected monetary donations to support the families of soldiers. Women joined the Red Cross, worked at hospitals to care for the wounded and sick, and even went overseas to serve as nurses on the battlefield or in Canadian Corps hospitals. Factories focused production on foodstuffs, raw materials, and munitions, employing large numbers of women to supplement the dwindling labor pool.

Supplemented by fresh troops, the newly-minted Canadian Corps moved from Ypres to the Somme. On April 9, 1917, Canadian forces captured Vimy Ridge in one of the great military successes of the war and earned the Canadian Corps respect and trust within the Allied forces. Subsequently, they were sent to Passchendaele, where they were able to recover a disastrous British offensive and accomplish the objective, though they suffered enormous casualties.

Despite a growing sense of national pride and identity, volunteers began to dwindle, and the Canadian government began to consider instituting conscription. The idea was met with fierce opposition from French-speaking Canadians and English-speaking farmers, union leaders, and pacifists who argued that Canada had done enough in a war that was not theirs. Those opposed to conscription protested, and riots broke out in Quebec. Despite fierce opposition, the Military Service Act went into effect in January 1918, and conscription of able-bodied Canadian men began.

Shortly after, Germany launched its Spring Offensive along the Western Front, hoping to overwhelm the ragged Allied forces before reinforcements from the US could arrive. The Allies resisted the German advance and launched the Hundred Days Offensive on August 8, 1918. Canadian forces played a key role in attacks at Amiens and Cambrai, breaking through the German lines and advancing into Belgium. On November 11, 1918, Germany signed the armistice, bringing hostilities to an end. When the formal Treaty of Versailles was finalized in June 1919, Canada was one of the signatories, despite being a part of the British Empire.

More than 600,000 Canadians fought in World War I, serving in the CEF and the Royal Air Force and Navy. Almost 60,000 lost their lives, and another 170,000 were wounded.