Now that we are approaching Remembrance Day, it is an ideal time to reflect on the many sacrifices and achievements made by the many men and women who have valiantly served our country. The year 2008 marks the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War and compels us to remember the many sacrifices made by Canadians who served our wonderful country and to never forget the great debt we owe them.
The First World War was the largest war the world had ever seen up until that time. It arose as a result of political and economic tensions, the nationalism of new countries, and various military alliances at the time. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the summer of 1914 was the spark which began the international crisis that erupted into war across Europe. In August 1914, the fighting began and would last for four years and would involve Britain and its Empire (including Canada), France, and Russia, who formed the Triple Entente against the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy).
When the war began in 1914, Canada was considered part of the British Empire, which meant that once Britain declared war, Canada was also automatically at war. Tens of thousands of Canadians enlisted in the military in the first months of the war and by the end of the war in 1918, over 600,000 Canadian men and women would fight to protect the peace and freedoms we enjoy today. Approximately 66,000 of these Canadians would give their lives and another 170,000 would be wounded.
After four grueling years of fighting that included high-explosive shells, powerful machine guns, poison gas, submarines, and war planes, the War would end with the death of more than 10 million people.
The First World War would also come to be known for trench warfare on the Western Front with the front line zigzagging for almost 1,000 kilometeres from the coast of Belgium to the border of Switzerland. This type of fighting tested the morale of every soldier, as they faced cold temperatures, deep mud, and rats in the trenches. Outside of the trenches, the soldiers faced the enemy across a very narrow strip of land between the opposing trenches, also known as “No Man’s Land.” This area was composed of barbed wire, mud, shell craters with machine gun fire surrounding soldiers as they inched forward.
Despite the awful fighting and living conditions, battles such as Vimy Ridge, developed a new and stronger Canadian identity when divisions of the Canadian Corps worked together as one formation and triumphed. Our military’s achievements during the First World War garnered international recognition and helped our country earn a separate signature on the Treaty of Versailles that ended the War.
The triumph of Canada came at a great cost. By the end of the War, a country of less than eight million citizens would see more than 600,000 serve in the military. The conflict would claim the lives of more than 66,000 Canadians and 170,000 would be wounded. We must remember the huge cost of this War and honour the struggles faced by these courageous men and women for the protection of the freedoms and rights we enjoy today.
It has been 90 years since the First World War ended. Much has changed in our world, but the Canadian values of the peace, freedom, and justice that our country’s finest fought to protect are still the same. By remembering the sacrifices of this War and the many other conflicts Canada has participated in, we ensure we recognize and preserve the long Canadian tradition of freedom our fine young men and women fought so hard to defend.