A Canadian Way of War: 1919 to 1939
by Stephen J. Harris
On November 11, 1918, forward elements of the Canadian Corps entered the Belgian city of Mons, symbolically closing the circle for the military forces of the British Empire on the Western Front in the First World War. For it had been at Mons, on August 24, 1914, that the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had begun its retreat to what eventually became the trench lines of France and Flanders and the bloody battles associated with them: Somme, Ypres, Arras, and Passchendaele.
That the citizen-soldiers of this corps — a homogenous Canadian field army more than four divisions strong — would secure the reputation as the shock troops of the British Empire had been unimaginable when the BEF’s “Old Contemptibles” had turned and marched south from Mons four years before. Although quick to heed the call to arms, in August 1914 Canada had no standing army to speak of: the first contingent of volunteers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) then gathering at Valcartier was woefully inexperienced, under-equipped, and under-trained, and it was led by officers who were in positions of authority more because of whom, than what, they knew. Indeed, although J.F.C. Fuller saw potential in the men when the CEF began to arrive in England later that autumn — they were healthy and strong compared to the average Englishman or Scot — he had only contempt for their leaders: “the officers,” he said, should be “all shot.”1
Four years later, however, and under a largely home-grown command and staff, the Canadians began the last 100 days of the war with their startling August 8 success at Amiens and then proceeded to best the better part of 47 German divisions in the complex conditions of nearopen warfare in the three months that followed. Already masters of the set-piece and bite-and-hold battle, they proved adept at flanking attacks off the line of march, and they had learned how to exploit. Moreover, they did it their way — although their doctrine and organization were