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The Great War, as told by soldiers themselves

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BerichtGeplaatst: 21 Feb 2009 21:14    Onderwerp: The Great War, as told by soldiers themselves Reageer met quote

The assassination of archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on June 28, 1914, is often referred to as the “shot heard ’round the world” and, indeed, Canada immediately felt the impact of the Sarajevo Crisis.

At the outset of the Great War, Canada was still a British colony, yet the call to duty was strongly felt and the Canadian contribution to the war was above and beyond any sacrifice required for king or colony. Most Canadians had family overseas and felt pressure to join the cause. In fact, although the United States remained neutral until 1917, those Americans ready to fight found Canada their early avenue to adventure.

In Shoestring Soldiers: The 1st Canadian Division at War, 1914-1915, Andrew Iarocci provides a riveting account of the rag-tag, under-trained Canadian 1st Division, which started the war as “colonial amateurs and finished it as elite shock troops.” Made up of Canadians from every walk of life, the volunteers ranged in age from teenagers to men over 45, all anxious to do their part.

J.L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer’s book Battle Lines: Eyewitness Accounts From Canada’s Military History, gives eyewitness accounts in communiqués between soldiers and their friends or family back home. Pte. William Peden enlisted on Aug. 14, 1914 with the 99th Manitoba Rangers. Not a supporter of the Canadian minister of militia and defence, Sir Sam Hughes, Pte. Peden wrote, “This stupid bastard into whose care the Canadian people had entrusted the lives of some 30,000 men must have had the idea that these were his personal contribution to the Great War… and in pursuing this idea, was continually at odds with the British.”

From the awful conditions of basic training, the soldiers document conditions that inevitably worsen to a deplorable state of affairs at the front. Soldiers such as Pte. Peden recalled arriving in the Ypres trenches in 1915, where “it was hard to fill a sand bag without disturbing the remains of someone buried a little too close to the surface.”

In January 1917, Canadian soldiers began preparing for the first ever united frontal attack. Ted Barris’ Victory At Vimy: Canada Comes Of Age April 9-12, 1917 chronicles the battle of Vimy and the months of preparation before the all-out, all-Canadian attack. Canada had been called upon to do what others had failed to do. Both the French and the English had tried and died in their own “baptism of fire” before it was Canada’s turn.

Haunting testimonies told by Canadian boys, chronicled by authors like Barris, Iarocci, Granatstein and Hillmer bring to the forefront a Canadian soldier’s life of sacrifice over 90 years ago.

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