Canada Enters the War

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Canada Enters the War
The assassination in Sarajevo went almost unnoticed in Canada. Few Canadians expected it would lead to war; fewer still anticipated the sacrifices Canada would be called to make. Yet the war was to change the world they lived in, and in a very real sense the Canadian nation was born on the battlefields of Europe.

The fact that Canada was automatically at war when Britain declared war in 1914 was unquestioned from coast to coast. In a spirit of almost unbelievable unanimity, Canadians pledged support for Britain. Sir Wilfrid Laurier spoke for the majority of Canadians when he proclaimed, “It is our duty to let Great Britain know and to let the friends and foes of Great Britain know that there is in Canada but one mind and one heart and that all Canadians are behind the Mother Country.” Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden, calling for a supreme national effort, offered Canadian assistance to Great Britain. The offer was accepted, and immediately orders were given for the mobilization of an expeditionary
force.

With a regular army of only 3,110 men and a fledgling navy, Canada was ill-prepared to enter a world conflict. Yet from Halifax to Vancouver, thousands of young Canadians hastened to the recruiting offices. Within a few weeks, more than 32,000 men had gathered at Valcartier Camp near Quebec City; and within two months, the first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was on its way to England in the
largest convoy ever to cross the Atlantic. Also sailing in this convoy was a contingent from the still separate self-governing British colony of Newfoundland. A suggestion that Newfoundland’s men should be incorporated into the Canadian Expeditionary Force had earlier been politely but firmly rejected.

Upon reaching England, the Canadians endured a long, miserable winter of training in the mud and drizzle of Salisbury Plain. In the spring of 1915, they were deemed ready for the front line. The first Canadian troops to arrive in France were the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, which had been formed at the outbreak of the war and was made up entirely of ex–British Army regular soldiers. The “Princess Pats” landed in France in December 1914 with the British 27th Division and saw action near St Eloi and at Polygon Wood in the Ypres Salient. Early in February 1915, the 1st Canadian Division reached France and was introduced to trench warfare by veteran British troops. Following this
brief training, they took over a section of the line in the Armentières sector in French Flanders.