|Only some of the following people are mentioned in the Battlefields section of this web site, but all have an important place in Canada's history in the Great War. Many are also mentioned in the six-part documentary series For King and Empire.|
Sir Robert Borden was elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1896 as
a Conservative party member and became leader of the Conservative
opposition in 1901. He was elected prime minister in 1911 and is regarded
today as one of the most successful politicians of the 20th century.
During World War I, Borden's ministry maintained vigorous support of the efforts of the Allies and obtained, for members of the Commonwealth of Nations, a voice in British policymaking. Largely through Borden's efforts, Canada secured independent membership in the League of Nations. In 1917 Borden sponsored the Military Service Act instituting conscription, which he considered necessary to the war effort. The measure was opposed by the French-Canadians and contributed to the growing antagonism between the French- and English-speaking Canadians. Borden formed a coalition government in 1917 and remained prime minister until ill health forced him to resign in 1920. As prime minister, Borden took part in the Imperial War Conference in London in 1917 and in the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. He also represented Canada at the Washington Conference on naval disarmament in 1921-22.
Sir Julian Byng was commander of the British and Canadian Corps during the
Great War. As commander of the Canadian Corps in France, he was responsible
for one of the most famous Canadian victories in the Great War, the capture
of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917. Byng "Bungo" to his friends, taught
Canadians that training and careful staff work saved lives.
As commander of the British 3rd Army (from June 1917) he conducted the first large-scale attack by tanks in history at Cambrai Nov. 20, 1917. His army broke the German Hindenberg Line on Sept. 27, 1918. Byng was promoted to full general in 1917 and was made a field marshal in 1932. After World War I he served as governor-general of Canada (1921-26) . In 1925 Byng's wife, Evelyn, donated the Lady Byng Trophy, the NHL's award for sportsmanship combined with excellence.
Sir Arthur Currie was the first Canadian commander of Canada's
overseas forces in World War I. While Currie did not look the part of a
professional soldier, he is generally thought by historians to be the best
military commander that Canada has produced.
Curries was given command of a battalion in the first Canadian contingent sent to assist Britain in 1914, in spite of his then minimum experience. He advanced steadily, winning distinction at the battles of Ypres and Saint-Julien in Belgium and at the battle of Vimy Ridge in France. Within three years (in 1917) he became lieutenant general and commander of the four divisions of the Canadian Corps, succeeding the British general Sir Julian Byng. He lead the Canadian troops at Passchendaele, as well as other major battles. Currie was knighted in 1918. After the war he served as inspector general of the Canadian militia and became the first general in the Canadian Army. In 1920 he accepted the position of principal and vice chancellor of McGill University, Montreal, and retained this post until his death.
Sir Douglas Haig was British field marshal, commander in chief of the
British forces in France during most of World War I. His strategy of
attrition (tautly summarized as "kill more Germans") resulted in enormous
numbers of British and Canadian casualties but little immediate gain in
1916-17. This made him a subject of much controversy.
On the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, Haig led the 1st British Corps to northern France, and, early in 1915, he became commander of the 1st Army. On December 17 of that year he was promoted to commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force and again promoted, this time to field marshal late in 1916.
Throughout July-November 1916, Haig committed great masses of troops to an unsuccessful offensive on the Somme River, which cost 420,000 allied casualties. Again in the resulting battles at Passchendaele (July-November 1917, also called The Third Battle at Ypres) the total number of casualties shocked the British public - as the Somme death toll had done. But, although Haig failed to reach his objective - the Belgian coast - he did weaken the Germans and helped prepare the way for their defeat at Passchendaele by the Canadians.
|Founder of the the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, Gault was a 33-year-old Montreal millionaire who had served with the Canadian Mounted Rifles in South Africa. He was committed to starting an elite military unit composed of men who had already seen active duty in other wars. When the Princess Pats were formed he served as the senior major. Other prominent members were Agar Adamson and Talbot Papineau.|
Talbot Papineau was born into a privileged and famous family (his
grandfather was Louis-Joseph Papineau, leader of the patriote rebels in
1837), and was a 31-year-old Montreal lawyer when war broke. He
immediately joined the regiment that his friend Hamilton Gault had formed,
the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. As a member of the
Princess Patricia's he fought at St. Eloi and Bellewaerde Ridge. He
received a Military Cross for bravery during a trench raid at St. Eloi.
Papineau was well connected both in Canada and in England. In Canada his reputation as a promising politician was secure. He engaged in debates with his cousin Henri Bourassa over French Canada's role in the war. While in London these connections provided him with a safe job working for Max Aitken as an Eyewitness for the Canadian War Records Office in the summer of 1916.
Papineau rejoined the Princess Patricia's for the Battle at Passchendaele, well aware that death was the likely result. He was uncomfortable watching from the sidelines as the Princess Patricia's fought at Mount Sorrel and the Somme and were successful at Vimy. Papineau also knew that he needed to rejoin the regiment and be involved in one more big battle, in order to be successful in politics after the war.
On October 30, 1917 the Canadians made their first attack in their efforts to secure Passchendaele Ridge. Minutes later Papineau was killed by a direct hit from a German shell. He is commemorated by name only on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.
Agar Adamson joined the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in
1914 as captain - even though he was 48 years old and blind in one eye. He
served continuously overseas with the PPCLI until the end of the war.
Adamson commanded his regiment a number of times owing to casualties among
his superiors. In October 1916 he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and
commanding officer of the PPCLI, and successfully and skillfully led his
regiment at both Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.
Adamson wrote daily to his wife, Mabel Cawthra, while serving in France and Belgium. These letters are unique in their detail of events, personalities and of day-to-day life at the front. Quoted frequently in the Battlefields section, they give us one of the most thorough accounts in existence of the Canadian soldier's experience in the Great War.
When war broke in 1914 Stephen Bird, Will's younger brother, immediately
enlisted, and made sure that Will's application to enlist was turned
down. When Stephen was killed in a mine explosion near Ypres in October of
1915, Will enlisted in the 193rd Battalion, Nova Scotia Highlanders. The
193rd was a locally raised battalion, the men were all from the same area
in Nova Scotia. When Will arrived in France he and members of his
battalion were sent to reinforce the 42nd Battalion, The Black Watch of
Canada, in the front lines. Will fought at Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele,
Amiens, Arras and Cambrai. He was awarded a Military Medal for bravery in
the capture of Mons, on the last night of the war.
His memoir, Ghosts Have Warm Hands, was first published in 1930 under the title And We Go On. As Norm Christie writes in his preface to Ghosts Have Warm Hands: "It is remarkable how Will Bird has recorded his war in such exceptional detail, and how the characters of his comrades shine. His story reflects the power of the camaraderie felt by the soldiers of the First World War, specifically their loyalty to each other and their pride of being in the trenches.
Will wrote in the preface of And We Go On that the book was an effort to reveal the psychic or supernatural effects war had on its participants. The visions of his dead brother Stephen, who visits him on many occasions during the war, and in fact saves his life on a number of occasions, makes for fascinating reading.