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Canadian Military Journal

A Canadian Remembrance Trail for the Centennial of the Great War?

Pascale Marcotte
Pascale Marcotte, Ph.D., is an associate professor and Director of the graduate-level programs committee in the Department of Recreation, Culture and Tourism Studies at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières.
Abstract :

The centennial of the First World War is fast approaching. It will be a very important anniversary for Canada and the rest of the world, given that more than 10 million people, including 60,000 Canadian service members, died as a result of that war. Some parts of Europe were particularly hard hit: several countries were occupied or ravaged, in whole or in part, by years of fighting. More than 600,000 Canadians served in Europe during the First World War; that represents almost one-sixth of the approximately four million men in the Canadian population at the time. Those men fought in France and Belgium, but they also shared the lives of the people of those countries for four years. It was the first time in history that so many Canadians had stayed that long in a foreign country.1

The centennial of the First World War will be marked by high-profile commemorative ceremonies in the parts of Europe where the war had devastating effects. Canadian soldiers fought mostly in three regions: near the Belgian town of Ypres, and in Picardy and Nord–Pas-de-Calais in France.2 They took part in the Battle of Ypres—the second battle of that name—in 1915, the Battle of the Bois du Sanctuaire (Sanctuary Wood) in 1916, and the Battle of Paschendaele in 1917. Canadians and Newfoundlanders also fought in Belgium in 1918, at Mons and Courtrai respectively. However, they spent most of their time in France: at the Somme in 1916 and 1918 (Amiens), and especially in Nord–Pas-de-Calais, where so many Canadians and Newfoundlanders fell on the Artois and Cambrai battlefields. From Festubert in 1915 to Valenciennes in late-1918, the maple leaf and caribou symbols were seen at Vimy, Lens, Arras, Monchy-le-Preux, the crossing of the Canal du Nord, Cambrai, Douai, and Denain, and in many other towns and villages in the region. Much of Nord–Pas-de-Calais was liberated by the Canadian Corps during the Hundred Days in late 1918.

In addition to their combat activities, the Canadians lived in those regions for several years, side-by-side with the local people, sharing their suffering and their hope. When they were not on the front lines, the soldiers lodged in towns and villages, and the headquarters and support units were set up there. The hospitals and the logistics and supply services maintained daily contact with the Belgians and the French. For four years, the Canadians forged deep and lasting bonds with the local citizens. When the Canadian Corps left France to press on into Belgium at the end of the Hundred Days Offensive in 1918, war correspondent John Frederick Bligh Livesay wrote, “Behind is France and a people Canadian soldiers have learned in these four years to love and revere.”3 There is no doubt that the Canadians had more frequent and constant contact with the French than with the Belgians, particularly in Nord–Pas-de-Calais. Even when they were fighting in the Ypres area, the Canadians often had their rear lines set up in the nearby French Department of Nord. That was where they quartered, trained, and had numerous interactions with the local people.

Keywords :
A Canadian Remembrance Trail for the Centennial of the Great War?

Date Deposited : 08 Apr 2015 11:23

Last Modified : 08 Apr 2015 11:23

Official URL: http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/arc/index-eng.asp

Volume 14, Number 1, - 2014

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