When the year 1914 dawned, there were few Canadians who dreamed that the year was destined to usher in what would become the greatest war in history to that point. The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo went almost unnoticed in Canada. There had always been problems in the Balkans. What concern was it to Canada? And even if war did break out in Europe, it would be short and sharp, and would probably be over before any Canadian troops could reach the theater of operations.
The outbreak of war between Great Britain and Germany on August 4, 1914, therefore, found Canada completely unprepared. Canada had only 3110 permanent troops, a few outdated machine-guns and artillery pieces, and a militia system so inadequate that it had roused the scorn of German military writers, who had pronounced it a negligible factor as far as a European war was concerned.
When Great Britain accepted Canada's offer to send an infantry division on Aug 06, 1914, it was expected that it would be comprised of some of the 60,000 members of the Canadian militia. Instead Colonel Sam Hughes, Minister of Militia and Defense from 1911-1916, decided to organize volunteers into new consecutively numbered battalions.
As the war progressed and casualties began to mount, it became necessary to replace losses in the field with fresh troops. New battalions were now being trained and sent to England as fast as possible. Upon arrival in England, most of the new battalions were absorbed into reserve battalions. From there, troops were sent where they were needed, either as reinforcements for the 1st and 2nd Divisions or to the 3rd and 4th Divisions as they were being formed in England.
By the end of the war, there were 3 contingents of numbered battalions that went overseas, numbers 1 to 260. There were 5 Canadian Divisions. However, only four were active, as the fifth was authorized but was broken up to reinforce the Canadian Corps in the field.
The armistice of November 11, 1918, brought relief to the whole world. Never before had there been such a conflict. For a nation of eight million people, Canada’s war effort was remarkable. It was this immense sacrifice that lead to Canada’s separate signature on the Peace Treaty. No longer viewed as just a colony of England, Canada had truly achieved nation status. This nationhood was purchased by the gallant men who stood fast at Ypres, stormed Regina Trench, climbed the heights of Vimy Ridge, captured Passchendaele, and entered Mons on November 11, 1918.
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