1st Canadian Mounted Rifles - History

Officers Commanding 1st CMR:

Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Irving Stevenson from 07/11/1914 to 12/01/1916

Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Ernest Shaw from 12/01/1916 to 02/06/1916

Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Craven Andros from 03/06/1916 to 24/04/1918

Lieutenant-Colonel Burnett Laws from 24/04/1918 to 28/02/1919

(Dismounted - Arrived in France (less the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery) on 6 May 1915 as a dismounted unit: known as Seely’s Detachment. Became Canadian Cavalry Brigade on 22 July 1915.)

Mounted - Restored to horses on formation of Canadian Corps in September 1915. Seely’s Force formed on 3 October 1915, composed of Canadian Cavalry Brigade and 1st CMR Brigade. Seely’s Force disbanded on 9 October 1915.

Re-formed on 22 November 1915, composed of Canadian Cavalry Brigade, 1st and 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Brigades, ceased to exist on 10 December 1915.

The 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles Regiment was organized in December 1914 under General Order 36. They were mobilized in Brandon, Manitoba, from: Yorkton ("A" Squadron), Brandon ("B" Squadron), and Saskatoon ("C" Squadron) and were recruited from nine mounted regiments in Military District 10, including the 5th Princess Louise's Dragoon Guards, the 22nd Saskatchewan Light Horse, and the XII Manitoba Dragoons. The Regiment was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel H.I. Stevenson.

They left Montreal on 12th June 1915 aboard RMS 'MEGANTIC', arriving in England on 21st June 1915. Its strength was 28 officers and 602 other ranks. The battalion arrived in France on 22 September 1915, becoming part of the 1st Brigade Canadian Mounted Rifles (with the 2nd and 3rd CMR). Its designation was changed from Regiment to Battalion with the formation of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade on 1st January 1916. The Battalion returned to Canada on 20 March 1919, was demobilized at Brandon on 24th March 1919, and was disbanded by General Order 207 of 15th November 1920.

The Battalion supported a mounted pipe and drum band. The Battalion colours were presented at Bramshott in March 1919 by Brigadier General D.C. Draper. These colours no longer exist. From information contained in "Old Colours Never Die" (by Francis J. Dunbar and Joseph H. Harper) the King's and Regimental Colours of the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles were placed in safekeeping at St. John's Church, Lloydminster, Saskatchewan on 30th March 1919 by Burnett Laws. There was a special service of dedication on May 29th 1919 ('Bordering on Greatness: A History of Lloydminster's First Century, 1903-2003', page 38). In 1971 they were re-located to the Lloydminster Museum. Because of their inevitable deterioraton they were cremated and their ashes were returned to St. John's Church on 30th April 1981. The ashes were deposited in an urn enclosed in a glass case on the west wall of the church. (Brian Sutherland Directorate of History and Heritage)

The 1st Canadian Mounted Rifle Battalion was perpetuated by The Manitoba Mounted Rifles which converted to artillery in 1946. It was also perpetuated by The Saskatchewan Mounted Rifles which, in 1936, amalgamated with the 16th Canadian Light Horse to form The 16th/22nd Saskatchewan Horse.

                                                      Lt. William George Butson (4th CMR, mentioned below)

The Edge Of Hell (from Legion magazine)

March 1, 2007 by Tim Cook

Dear old Governor,
This is Good Friday, and I am spending the day girding myself for action. For our Easter Sunday, with peace on earth and good will towards men, I take part in the greatest battle in Canada’s history and perhaps in the history of the world. So this is to say farewell in case I go down.

This ‘last letter’ was posted on April 7, 1917, by Lieutenant Gregory Clark to his father, only a few days before he was about to go into his first battle. It was at Vimy Ridge, a name that he could not mention to his kin at home for security reasons, but also one that they would not have recognized either. That would change in the months and years ahead as Vimy took an epic place in Canada’s pantheon of national signposts and historical events.

In April 1917, however, Clark and his companions in the Canadian Corps only saw the ridge as a hulking obstacle, heavily fortified and nearly impregnable. Previous offensives against the seven-kilometre ridge by French and British troops had failed. The attempt by the French occurred in the early summer of 1915 while the Canadians were at Festubert and Givenchy. The French threw many divisions at the ridge and were repulsed in a bloody slaughter that saw the loss of more than 100,000 French and approximately 80,000 German soldiers.

Clark well understood the magnitude of the task facing the Canadians, and that there was a good chance they would be defeated and that he might not come home.

He was 24 when Canada went to war in August 1914. At the time, he was at his cottage with his girlfriend, Helen. They had been courting for about a year and cared deeply for one another. Gregory and Helen returned to Toronto on Aug. 15, and were more than a little surprised to find that the Dominion had been at war for almost two weeks. But they were nonplussed by the event and Clark, an inveterate writer and outdoorsman, returned to his post at the Toronto Star newspaper. He penned in his private diary: “The war is still raging. It does not stir us at all deeply…. It seems so far away.”

Clark worked on the newspaper’s crime beat throughout 1914, but increasingly he was interested in the families of soldiers. Toronto was rocked by terrible casualty figures after the titanic battle of Ypres in April 1915, where the Germans unleashed chlorine gas for the first time in the history of warfare and more than 6,000 Canadians were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Clark interviewed family members and publicized their stories through his articles. The war was coming home. His father and brother were deeply patriotic; brother Joe soon enlisted, while his father urged able-bodied men to do their duty in widely published newspaper editorials. Clark increasingly felt pressure to serve his country, but his love for Helen was strong, and he could not bear to leave her.

The strain of knowing that others were fighting on his behalf eventually drove Clark to make the gut-wrenching decision; he enlisted as a private in the 170th Battalion on March 27, 1916. Standing a mere five feet, two and a half inches, and weighing 110 pounds, he nonetheless had the education and bearing to be an officer. He was quickly promoted, then commissioned, and spent much of 1916 in officer training schools in Canada. He also married his beloved Helen. For a couple that had barely been apart longer than a day, he would ship out to England four days after the wedding, and not see her again for another 1,039 days.


By the end of 1916, Clark was transferred to the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, a former light cavalry unit that had been converted to gravel-crunches, as the Western Front proved that horsemen had little chance against high explosives, shrapnel and deadly small arms fire. Clark arrived in France at the end of 1916, immediately joining his unit in the strange, desolate, troglodyte world of the trenches.

Like most soldiers, Clark found the fighting on the Western Front alien and threatening. Throughout the winter of 1916-17, his trench experience consisted largely of dullness and drudgery, but he suffered through some of the terrible artillery bombardments that left men quaking and hugging the mud. “I had seen something of the terror,” he wrote in his diary, “the vast, paralyzing, terrific tumult of battle: a thing so beyond humanity, as if all the gods and all the devils had gone mad and were battling, forgetful of poor, frail mortals that they tramped upon.” But word came down that an offensive would be planned against Vimy, and all knew that the fighting there would be even more intense and lethal.

The 4th CMRs spent months preparing, planning and training for their role as one of the lead attacking infantry battalions in the forthcoming Vimy show. Clark would command 15 Platoon–about 45 men–in the battle. On the night of April 7, the Canadians began to form up in the rear trenches. For the last five days, shells had shrieked overhead, day and night, from the guns that pounded the enemy positions.

On Easter Sunday, April 8, 1917, the lead elements of the 4th CMRs set off for the front at midnight, moving through one of the engineering marvels of thebattle, Goodman Tunnel. During the long preparatory phase, the Canadians had built more than a dozen underground tunnels to bring troops close to the front for zero hour. Most were several hundred metres long, but Goodman was over a kilometre in length. It was tall enough for men to stand upright in, although it was not for the faint of heart or the claustrophobic.

In the cold, dark hours of April 9, Clark assembled his platoon in what were called the “jumping off trenches” outside of Goodman Tunnel. Every man was left alone with his thoughts. Would this be his last day on Earth? Prayers were said, lucky talismans fingered, last letters written for loved ones at home. Above them the shells hurtled over their heads towards the German lines, bursting in massive explosions. The minutes ticked down painfully slowly to zero hour.

Then, at 5:30 a.m. on Easter Monday, the full might of the artillery hammer crashed down on the German lines with 983 guns, howitzers and mortars unloading a continuous stream of death and destruction. The Canadians, who had rehearsed for weeks before the battle, would follow a creeping artillery barrage into the enemy lines. This moving wall of shells and explosions rent the air, as it slowly crawled over the battlefield. But there was a big difference from the pre-battle practice assaults where officers had carried flags to signify the barrage, moving forward a hundred yards every three minutes, and the reality of following an ear-shattering barrage that was tearing up the earth.

At three minutes past zero hour, Clark rose from the trench, shouting, “Come on, boys,” even though most of his words were lost in the cacophony of explosions. His platoon followed his lead, along with dozens of others within sight, and hundreds of others along the ridge. The Canadians were off, and chasing their creeping barrage.

Gregory Clark recounted the sensation: “In one sense, it was a beautiful sight. It was still quite dark. Sleet was falling. There before us, frightfully close, was the edge of hell. It blazed, flashed and flickered, the bursting shells; white and coloured flares were fired frantically by a distracted enemy. And the flashing, flickering lights showed an infernal wall of twisting, boiling smoke and flame, against which stood out the distorted silhouettes of men advancing into it.”

Forward they went in a measured walk, behind their creeping barrage that was tearing up the enemy lines. They passed craters the size of houses; barbed wire had been torn apart; dead Germans lay splayed out in grisly poses of death. All were passed in the steady march up the ridge. The iron discipline of the troops took over. Every three minutes they halted, lying down–waiting for the barrage to jump another hundred yards. Forward they went through more than a dozen jumps, and each time they lay tense under the umbrella of fire. Occasionally, the sound of the heavy German MG-08 could be heard firing above the din, but on Clark’s front they encountered no Germans except those prisoners fleeing back, hands in the air.

But men were killed all around Clark, as bullets and shrapnel whirled over the battlefield. For 35 minutes they continued this advance until they hit the main enemy reserve trench. Here, the artillery barrage paused for 45 minutes, raking the enemy lines, but allowing straggler units to catch up. There was not much for the infantry to do, and so they dug in to the craters, smoked cigarettes, and relieved heavy bladders. The entire front continued to be obscured by the hurtling artillery shells.

During this wait, Clark and a small group of men were in a crater, studying the front, eyeing their watches for when to move off again. Without warning, an enemy shell landed in the bottom of the crater–putting paid to the superstition among soldiers that a shell never landed in the same hole twice. In Clark’s words, it “blew us all in the air, smashing the cigarette case Sergeant Windsor had in his hand, cutting Bertrand’s rifle in two at the breech and heaving us in all directions.” Stunned and shaken, Clark’s small group patted frantically at arms and legs to make sure everything was still attached. Almost miraculously, no one was hurt.

After checking on his platoon, Clark heard the change in the sound of the barrage, and off it went again, like some fiery rake tearing through the enemy lines. Clark scrambled forward, slithering over the muddy, cratered ground, following the barrage. By 7:05 a.m. they were on their final objectives, with neither Clark nor any of his men firing a single shot. That was not the case for other platoons in his company, nor with the other 22 attacking battalions along the line in the first wave. Yet it was far from over. Capturing the ridge was only half the battle; the Canadians had all been trained to prepare for the expected German counter-attack to recover the important terrain.

Clark and his men dug in on their lines, creating a series of strongpoints to hold off a German attack. On top of the ridge, they could look down on the Douai Plain below and see the Germans frantically pulling back their artillery units. The forward line was established on the eastern slope of the ridge, which gave them good fields of fire. But not all Germans had yet been cleared from the front, and the battle still raged on the far left where the 4th Division was in a desperate engagement to capture the highpoint of Vimy around Hill 145. Even on the 4th CMR’s front, German troops were dug in and hidden on the lower slope, where the Canadian guns had been unable to bombard.

Throughout the day, Clark’s platoon and several others kept up a firefight with these Germans. Artillery fire had also begun to slam into the ridge, both from the enemy and from Canadian shells firing short. In the early afternoon, his friend and fellow officer, Lieut. W.G. Butson, was about 20 yards from Clark trying to organize his men into rifle pits, when he fell to the ground. Clark raced over to help him and saw to his horror that a bullet had passed through his head, ripping out both of his eyes. Clark nearly vomited. As one of the men wrapped Butson’s head in bandages, Clark held his friend’s hand as he cried out deliriously for his mother.

Now, all of his superior officers had been wounded or killed, and he was left to co-ordinate the defence. The rest of the day was spent digging in and dodging enemy shells. There were a few random enemy counter-attacks down the line, but Canadian gunners, directed by their forward observers on the ridge, rained down punishing fire. A few German planes flew low over the hill, sweeping it with machine-gun fire, but there was no attack.

After being subjected to artillery fire for much of the 10th, the CMRs were desperate for a relief on the 11th, with Clark and most of his men now having gone without sleep for three days. Snow fell heavily. Exhausted, hungry and with bloodshot eyes, Clark continued to visit the men in their shallow trenches and gun pits, reassuring them that relief was coming soon.

A fellow officer, Lieut. L.C. Johnston, invited him to come out of the muck and share lunch in the cellar of a ruined building on the hill called Cable House. Clark thought it too dangerous since the Germans had been shelling around it all day, so he went back to his muddy trench after failing to convince Johnston to join him. He was sitting there munching on cold canned meat with one of his trusted sergeants, too tired to speak, when they heard a shell strike the Cable House.

“Then Johnston’s leg, severed at the hip, landed in the trench, striking Mackie’s helmet and my feet,” wrote Clark. “I do not remember a more horrible moment. Then over our heads sailed the rest of Johnston, landing 40 yards from where he was first hit.” In shock, they tossed Johnston’s leg out of the trench, but when they got their nerves back, they retrieved it and laid it beside Johnston, who was “mutilated beyond recognition.”

This was the start of an inferno of enemy shelling, which fell all along the front. Clark and his men tensed for the counter-attack. Cries of pain and shouts for stretcher-bearers could be heard in between the shelling. No attack came, although the CMRs lost a considerable number of men as their bunched troops–ready to repel an attack–provided greater targets during the saturation bombing. The shelling ceased around dusk, and Clark remembered the eerie sight of a padre making his way along the front, stopping at mass graves full of bodies where he gave a communal set of last rites.

At sundown on the 11th, the 4th CMRs were finally relieved. Clark and his men stumbled to the rear. Although some men were cheering and singing about the victory, many more were silent with tears in their eyes. They had left behind too many friends on the ridge. Battlefield reports note that the 4th CMRs lost 43 men killed, 118 wounded and 18 missing. “I fell asleep that night hardly caring if I ever woke up, yet my spirit filled with a far, faint exultation. I was alive.”


Lieut. Gregory Clark was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery and inspirational leadership during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. His citation read: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He assumed command of and led his company with great ability, gained his objective, and consolidated the position. He set a fine example of courage and initiative.” Indeed he did, but the battle nearly used him up, and he admitted that his nerves were badly shaken and he was suffering from a hacking cough from breathing poison gas. A sympathetic commanding officer sent him to the rear to rest for a few weeks, but he returned to the front, serving until the beginning of August. He was again pulled back to a “bomb-proof” job at battalion headquarters, but returned to the front as a major and company commander for the devastating series of battles that were known as Canada’s Hundred Days, which lasted from August to November 1918. Several times he avoided death only by inches, and, during those grim hours, “I had my mind fully made ready to meet my maker and was feeling very sad for Helen and Mother and Dad.” But he survived and was sent back to Canada in September 1918, where he was to be a war journalist. The Armistice was struck before he had a chance to write in an official capacity, and so he was demobilized, beginning his life again with Helen.

But the war had changed him. Gregory Clark returned to his job at the Toronto Star, but then moved to the newspaper’s Star Weekly. He was no longer content with the crime beat, and instead turned towards humour. Clark and his lifelong cartoonist partner Jimmie Frise–another veteran of the war–began to tell stories about Canadians. They were good-humoured, gentle tales of human foibles, and they appealed to Canadians across the country. He also indulged in his passion for fishing and the outdoor life. Clark would become one of the best-loved writers of his generation before his death in 1977.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge had been the defining moment in his young life, as it was for Canada up to that point in its young history. Speaking years after the war, Clark reflected on his experience: “I got back greatly enlarged by the war in mind and in spirit and in personality. I was a bookworm, a quiet little bookworm when I went, and I came home a rather tough character.” The same might be said for Canada as a whole. The “tough” Dominion would never be the same after being forged in the fire of the First World War.



I found that article that my grandfather had copied in pencil. One line is very hard to decipher - very faded pencil on a large crinkled fold. I've put what I'm pretty sure it does say: "...Thousands flew to Hunland..." I do not know the author.

Twenty Years ago TO DAY. April 9th

VIMY Ridge was a military position of imposing strength, of innumerable fortifications, of formidable reputation. It was defensively strong in natural characteristics as well as in the machinery and devices of the Hun. Their batteries were all sunk beneath and behind elaborate constructions of steel and concrete. On the morning of Easter Monday the Canadians struck at Vimy Ridge on a wide frontage of Four Divisions in line.

At five-thirty in the morning of the 9th of April the attack was launched. Hell was let loose. Every piece of our massed artillery and many advanced eighteen pounders opened fire. Our "heavies" bombarded the German positions beyond the Ridge, and our field guns laid an intense barrage of shrapnel, strengthened by indirect machine-gun fire, along the front. The barrage advanced by lifts, and close behind the barrage moved the waves of indomitable infantry. The early hours of the morning were cold and blustery, with flurries of snow blowing over the field.

All went well with the right and centre of the attack.

Intricate systems of defence and many fortified shelters fell into our hands. The enemy put up a stubborn resistance.

The left was not so fortunate. At this point of our attack the enemy had constructed a tunnel running from his fire trench towards our position; and now, by way of this tunnel, his infantry came to the surface in the rear of our advancing infantry, remanned their front-line trenches and attacked the attackers. Desperate fighting, without quarter given or asked followed. It was not until ten o' clock that night that the Canadians gained the mastery of the tunnel and trenches.

Snow was falling heavily by now, and there was immediate need of consolidating gains. The fight continued on Tuesday. Our troops devoted their energies to consolidating their gains in expectation of vigorous counterattack, this did not develop. The enemy had no retort ready. His ejection from Vimy Ridge had been so swift and violent and sure as to leave him utterly unnerved and in a state of physical and moral collapse. Having been broken once by that unbearable and indescribable onslaught, he had neither heart nor nerve to court a repetition of the experience.

Thousands flew to Hunland; even the immortal spirit of man while still encased in human clay may reach a limit to the endurance of war. This limit was showed upon Vimy Ridge by the guns of the Canadian Corps. (Easter morn)

On Wednesday morning, at five thirty in a blinding snow storm, Canadian Infantry went forward behind an intense barrage to capture the last outstanding point on the northern end of the Ridge. The ground was almost knee deep in snow and mud. The men moved slowly, guided by their curtain of shrapnel-fire that lifted before them by easy stages. In spite of the mud and cold, and the protesting fire of the enemy, they found their objective and took it. This desperate assault concluded the capture of Vimy Ridge.

Derby Evening Telegraph
Northcliffe House

Lance Cpl., 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles, Company B, 3rd Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force

Percy Argyle was born in Ilkeston, England on August 6, 1890. He came to Canada in 1905 to join siblings who had earlier immigrated to Manitoba. He joined the 94th Overseas Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Rainy River, Ontario, on January 11, 1916. In England, he was assigned to the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles on December 12, 1916, and arrived in France on February 13, 1917. He saw action at Vimy Ridge April 9-10 as part of the 3rd Division’s assault on heights near the La Folie Farm, midway between Hills 135 and 145, strategic goals of the assault. He was wounded on April 14 in further fighting near Passchendaele and hospitalized, first in France and then in England. He was discharged on March 14, 1919, on his return to Canada. In December 1916, he married Kate Connor of Hull, England. They had met in Canada and she followed him to England after his posting there. After the war, Percy and Kate lived in St. Louis, Mo., Winnipeg, Man., and Creston, B.C., where he died on May 22, 1978. They had four sons.

The following is a letter Percy wrote to his youngest son, Ray Argyle.

January 2, 1962

Dear Ray,

It is hardly possible to put into words what we, who went through this experience, felt at the time. Age has a habit of dimming names of places and names of people but it can never dim the sights and sounds of what we experienced. The shelling, the mud, the apparent confusion out of which grew a single purpose, take the Ridge or else.

In reserves every battalion had a mock-up of the ground we were to take and every day for weeks we practices going over the Ridge. The evening of the 8th we in the 1st Canadian Canadian Mounted Rifles and our supports massed at Mont St-Eloi and after dark we moved out. At Neiuville St-Vasst we were shelled and held up for a short time but by 5 a.m. we were already in position and waiting for the orders to go. As soon as we got in position our Sergeants came with the rum jug and gave each man a shot of rum. It was cold and damp and mud up almost to your knees, shell holes full of water, a wounded man if he fell into one almost always drowned.

At zero hour it seemed as if the heavens opened with one huge crash, it became light as day, and after, only one thought, press on, get going. I do not remember how long we were getting to the top of the Ridge but it did not seem very long. By this time it was broad day and we could see right across the plain [of Douai] to the towns and villages on the other side. I do not know how far it was but it seemed to be about five miles to the opposite side. The Germans thought the Ridge could not be taken, the dugouts and shelters themselves were impregnable to shell fire, but what are you going to do when someone sneaks up to your back door and lobs a stokes mortar down your stair way. I would say lots of Germans were buried alive this way because after a Stokes mortar exploded in a dugout it caved the whole thing in.

There is room for lots of argument over Vimy one way or another but I would say it was a walk over for us, the shelling had been so long and persistent and we had followed it up so close there had been no chance for Fritz to do anything about it. The artillery was massed wheel to wheel as well so it is not hard to imagine what happened when they all opened up at once. It was possible on a still night to hear a bombardment on the English coast that was going on in France, roughly about 60-70 miles away or more. Even after the terrific pounding the German defences took they were still in good shape to use, if they had time to remobilize before our infantry caught up with them.

It is not easy to write about this, we did not have an overall view of what was taking place, it was limited to what we could see ourselves. I did see just before we went in the line, a German flier in a Fokker come over and shoot down five of our observation balloons, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, just like that and off back to his own lines.

Sanctuary Wood: 2nd June 1916

Lieut.-Col. A. E. Shaw, of the First C.M.R. Battalion, also made a wonderful stand with a group of his unit. Lieut.-Col. Shaw banded a small number of soldiers into the ruins of a strongpoint just behind the front line—the remains of the fire-trenches were then in German hands. Lieut-Col. Shaw, together with Major Palmer and Lieut. Rowles, was killed as he fought there with cold steel. (Palmer was captured)

Account from: In Kultured Kaptivity, Life and Death in Germany's Prison Camps and Hospitals 

by Ivan Rossiter of the First and Third Canadian Mounted Rifles,(CEF). Dated 1918. 
The story of a Canadian Prisoner-of-War in Germany. 
From the American Libraries Internet Archive:


The stillness was suddenly broken. There was a report, a roar overhead, and immediately before our trench rose a geyser of earth, smoke and water, followed by an ear-splitting concussion. This was the first shell. The herald of what was to come. “Where did that one go to?” cried Bailly, through a shower of falling mud and water. “I think we’d better call the rest of the bunch,” said I. But this was unnecessary as the boys were already coming from the dug-out. They were mad at Heinie for so rudely disturbing their sleep, and were inclined to call him some very ugly names. At first we thought this was to be a repetition of the day before, but soon we had another thought coming to us. Gradually the shelling increased until the noise became deafening. Shells were falling all around us. It kept getting worse and worse until it was impossible to distinguish one explosion from another; it was one mighty roar. We had been through this sort of thing before, but never any of like violence. Trenches rocked and swayed from the crash and concussion. Tons of metal were concentrated on this short space as if the heavens were opened and deadly missiles were being dropped upon us. High above even this awful roar came a terrible screech from the mighty naval guns that had been specially massed for the occasion. They tore out whole sections and the concussion was sufficient to cave in the walls of trenches some distance away. Sand-bags were blown into the air, and there was a continual hum of flying shrapnel, broken in on now and then by the crash of falling trees. Sanctuary Wood was at the apex of the Ypres salient and the Germans had silently massed great numbers of guns of all sizes and on both sides, so that shells were coming not only from the front, but from the right and left as well. Besides the terrible rain of high explosive there was also a barrage of shrapnel, hunting out those that the shells did not get, and another curtain of fire behind us that successfully cut off all reinforcements from getting to us. Between it and their own front line the Hun systematically bombarded every inch of ground. It was impossible to find any protection; there was only one thing to do and that was to sit tight and wait for the inevitable end. It seemed to me it would never come.


Early in the shelling my chum and I had taken up a position in what looked to us to be a strong traverse. This withstood the bombardment for some time but eventually was hit, and we were buried. We dug ourselves out, but another shell coming from the rear demolished the parados, burying us again. Once more we extricated ourselves and found to our surprise that neither one of us was hurt. We then decided to get back to the supports by crawling along over what had once been the trench. This was not a pleasant trip. Arriving at the communication trench we discovered it was receiving exactly the same attention as the front line, so we turned about and crawled back. On the way to the supports we had passed four fellows huddled together in a dug-in traverse, so we joined them. The shells were falling thick and fast here as elsewhere but somehow we managed to escape. I am not going to say we weren’t frightened, because we were, but all we could do was keep perfectly still, hug close to the parapet and wonder why death did not put us out of our misery. Soon we noticed an aeroplane flying overhead, not much more than seventy-five feet above us. Now, six men clustered together in a traverse said only one thing to the air men: a machine-gun crew. They immediately signalled back to their artillery, and soon we were the special object of their attention. The shells would rush past us, so close we could almost feel the hot breath of them, and explode just behind us. But still we were not hit, though under this gruelling fire the traverse gradually crumbled away. With a sickening crash a big one fell near us and the six of us were buried. We dug ourselves out, unharmed except for the shock. “I’m getting out of this,” said one of the fellows. “With you,” replied another. “Come on. Me for supports.” And the four that we had joined left to go overland to the support trenches. My chum and I gathered together a few of the sand-bags and built ourselves a little wall or barricade, but the shells in their search soon found us and the barricade was blown in. This time I was wounded in the leg and we decided to try for the supports. Crawling back, under and over fallen trees, smashed and battered trenches, we found a fairly deep shell-hole. “I think we might as well stop here,” said my companion. The hole looked good to me, so we took to it. Between us we had only one rifle, one bayonet and one entrenching tool. Now there is no hole, however deep, that is deep enough for the average fighting man, so we immediately began to dig. Crouching down, we worked as we had never worked before, my chum loosening the earth while I scraped it into a little pile and shovelled it over. Suddenly a “crump” landed alongside of us but we were both below the force of the explosion and so escaped. However, I was in the act of removing some earth and my hand was above the edge of the hole’s rim. I felt a sudden burning sensation in it and knew that I had been wounded. “I’ve got my Blighty,” said I, turning to my companion. “You lucky dog!” he cried. While he was bandaging me I said “Just think of the time I’m going to have. No more war for a while. Pretty nurses to tend to me, and lots of good things to eat. And say, it is June, too, - strawberries and cream.” I made him envious of my wound. While I was raving on he happened to look over the edge of the shell-hole. What he saw there evidently did not please him. “Great lord, there are a thousand Huns out there!” he exclaimed. “You’re seeing things,” I replied. “Well, suppose you take a little look for yourself.” I looked. Gone were all my dreams of Blighty, for there on all sides were the Germans, advancing in a sort of open formation, the officers in the rear, driving their men into action instead of leading as do our officers. The attacking troops were loaded down with rolls of barbed wire, picks shovels and sand-bags. They were equipped for a long stay. At first they ran into no opposition as there was no one there to stop them. But soon to our right a machine gun got busy and then the Germans began to look for cover. Their artillery lifted and moved farther back to prevent our reinforcement from coming through. Spasmodic rifle fire opened up behind us. Then we could hear the lighter explosions of the bombs. 


What few of our men were left in the supports put up a magnificent defense. Colonel Shaw, our commanding officer, seeing how desperate was the position, threw down his revolver, grabbed up a rifle and bayonet, and at the head of eighty men went over the top leading them into certain death. Very few of that eighty ever came back. Most of them died fighting to the last, our leader among them. The colonel was one of the best of men and officers. He never allowed “his boys” to go in where he had not been himself. Patient and kind and brave, he was loved by every man in the regiment. Captain Wilkin, our greatly loved regimental chaplain, and a fighting man as well, went over with the colonel and his little party to try to stop the Germans. The chaplain used his bayonet to good advantage, and when, unluckily, it snapped off, he used his fists on the boche, and was captured while mixing it up with a German private. They respected the cloth apparently and took him prisoner. When the action was over the Germans had captured our first line on a twelve-hundred-yard front, and a bit of the supports in one or two places. They had done it by their artillery and not by the infantry attack. There was only a handful of defenders left at the last charge and yet they could not penetrate through the supports. They won a temporary victory by a preponderance of artillery. When we saw the Germans attack, we knew we would be unable to put up any worth-while defense. I was wounded and could do nothing. But being isolated and only two of us, we never expected we’d be taken alive. “Well, good-by, old scout. We’ll meet somewhere else before long.” And we shook hands and waited, but not for long. Suddenly two dirty, unshaven and brutal faces appeared over the edge of the shell-hole. For a moment or two nothing happened. Then they growled something we could not understand and signalled to us to come out. We crawled over the edge and were immediately confronted by a German officer with a large revolver – the largest I thought I had ever seen. We felt nervous but I guess he was almost as shaky as we were. He gave us the once-over and then signalled us to move back. We moved from one Hun wave to another, crossing the desolate ruins of our old trench system, crossed No Man’s Land, which was now German land, and into the German trenches – two prisoners of war.

The Battle of Flers–Courcelette (15 to 22 September 1916)

On the left, the 3rd Canadian Division attacked early with the 5th CMR to secure the left flank, captured the objective and set up a block near Fabeck Graben, shooting down German troops as they fled. Further left, the 1st CMR were prevented from raiding the German lines by a bombardment and on the extreme left, raiders attacked Mouquet Farm in a smoke screen and killed fifty troops of II Battalion, RIR 212. The Canadians set up advanced posts beyond Gunpit Trench and the south fringe of Courcelette as soon as the barrage lifted at 9:20 a.m. and touch was gained with the 15th (Scottish) Division on the right. Reaching Courcelette was obstructed by German counter-attacks from the village by I Battalion, RIR 212 from reserve. At 11:10 a.m. the Canadian Corps HQ ordered the attack on the village to begin with fresh troops at 6: 15 p.m. The 22nd Battalion (French Canadian) and the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) arrived on time and attacked into Courcelette when the barrage lifted, occupying a line around the village, cemetery and quarry. The two battalions repulsed German counter-attacks for three days and nights (of the 800 men of the 22nd Battalion, 118 remained after three days of fighting). The 7th Canadian Brigade battalions, attacking from Sugar Trench, lost many casualties to machine-gun fire and found it hard to keep direction in the shattered landscape but captured McDonnell Trench and the east end of Fabeck Graben. The brigade linked with the 5th Canadian Brigade, except for a gap of 200 yd (180 m) at the junction of Fabeck Graben and Zollern Graben.

The left of Fabeck Graben was captured easily and prisoners were taken from II Battalion, RIR 210. At 6:30 p.m., a battalion of the 8th Canadian Brigade further west, advanced through a barrage and captured more of Fabeck Graben and formed a trench block. At 8:15 p.m. a battalion advanced from support to pass through the 7th Canadian Brigade to a line close to Zollern Graben but was prevented by difficult ground and machine-gun fire. Two companies captured a chalk pit short of the trench; a communication trench was dug forward to it and the rest of the Canadian line was reinforced. I Battalion, RIR 212 in the trenches east of Courcelette cemetery and the quarry to the north, made several counter-attacks which were repulsed. Pioneers behind the Canadian lines dug several communication trenches forward despite German shell fire and engineers worked on tracks and strong points, the sugar factory being fortified and provided with water from a repaired well.

The Raid December 1916: from: The Canadians in France, 1920, by Harwood Elmes Robert Steele

Raids were now harassing the Germans with clockwork regularity, and a rich haul of prisoners, machine guns and equipment stood to the credit of the Canadians. This haul was greatly augmented when, on December 20th, one of the most successful raids ever launched was made upon the German lines.

The First C.M.R. Battalion, Lieut.-Col. R. C. Andros, delivered the assault. The frontage attacked lay just north of the road from Arras to Lens, the right flank touching the road and the left lying four hundred and fifty yards beyond. The trenches here formed a small salient inviting aggression and contained several objectionable machine gun emplacements. Major Laws, commanding the battalion at the time, was largely responsible for the careful planning of the attack. After very thorough wire-cutting and reconnaissances, which occupied several nights, the attackers, who numbered nearly seven hundred, manned the assembly trenches and a large crater in front. At the appointed time dense clouds of smoke were released from our trenches, completely concealing the scene of action from the enemy around it. As the smoke poured over No Man's Land our furious barrage came into play, covering fire was opened from our machine guns, and at 3.15 p.m. our men moved forward in orderly waves through the smoke.

Majors Maxfield, Taylor, Caswell and French, each in command of his company, led the attackers, assisted, of course, by their subalterns. A few machine guns attempted to stop the advancing waves, but were of no effect and soon ceased their useless sweeping of the hidden country. The Germans were cowering in their dugouts and were unable to get out before the assailants were upon them. Except for a brief bombing struggle, practically no resistance was made, and the men went quickly to their tasks of wholesale destruction. Pushing on to the support line, they established bombing posts in it, in all communication trenches and to the flanks. Then everything breakable was destroyed. The machine gun emplacements were smashed to pieces. All dugouts were battered in by throwing down bombs or incendiary explosives. The Germans sheltering in them were given a chance to come out and surrender. Most of them were overjoyed to do so, but those who refused paid the penalty of their obstinacy. Wherever sentries attempted to show fight they were either killed or overpowered. The prisoners were rapidly collected together and their arms disposed of.

The systematic wrecking of the hostile trenches was complete before we had been in possession two hours. Under cover of night our men then very quietly withdrew, taking their prisoners with them. Long afterwards, during the midnight watches, the Germans violently shelled their ruined trenches and launched a counter-attack, thus displaying their complete ignorance of the situation.

Our casualties were very slight. The enemy's were heavy. They lost two officers and fifty-six men in prisoners alone, and their killed and their smashed trenches must have cost them dear. This raid was the most fruitful raid on the Western front, up to that time. But the precedent it set—that it was possible to raid the enemy in daylight with impunity – was of even greater value than the mere local results. The decision to raid in daylight was a very daring one, but the success of the move justified the risk and blazed the trail for grander strokes.

"A" Coy's Map by Lt. George Patrick Weir, 1st C.M.R:


Second Battle of Passchendaele, First Stage. 26th October 1917 (from Wikipedia)

Weather: Overcast, 48°F, 7.8mm (0.3in) rain.
The assault began at 5:40 a.m. on the morning of 26 October. The assaulting troops were preceded by a rolling barrage, edging forward in lifts of 50 yards (46 m) every four minutes, permitting the infantry to keep up while negotiating the mud. On the left flank, the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade captured Wolf Copse and secured its objective line but was ultimately forced to drop a defensive flank 300 yards (270 m) back to link up with the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, the flanking division of the British Fifth Army.

When one ponders the waste, stupidity, mud and gross loss of human life during the Great War, it is usually the battle of Passchendaele that comes to mind. This brainchild of Field Marshal Douglas Haig – also called The Third Battle of Ypres - officially began on July 31, 1917. Examining the general objectives, I guess it is possible to view the initial assault as worth attempting. It was hoped that smashing the German lines at Flanders would allow the allies to break through to the coastal ports of Belgium, causing considerable damage to the U-Boat offensive of Germany, as well as, causing serious damage to the German defensive strategy on their Belgian flank. The blundering and inexcusable waste of lives comes into play as it become obvious that Haig is willing to continue on with a poor plan regardless of weather conditions and German opposition. The full level of his poor leadership is seen when viewing the results: a gain of little importance with tremendous loss of life. Four million shells were used to “soften-up” the German defences as the attack began with a resulting destruction of the water table and drainage system of this lowland region. Streams and creeks were obliterated. The attack commenced at the same time the seasonal rains hit the region. Men and tanks had huge difficulty moving on the field of battle. Artillery could not hold positions properly as the footings were placed on the soggy ground. German defences had taken on a strategy of housing the men in concrete “pill boxes” on the slightly higher ground of the ridge giving their machine guns cover and an open field of fire to destroy the attacking forces. As the men strayed onto the battlefield, it was soon obvious that success would be almost impossible and slaughter guaranteed. Men who had the misfortune of falling from the duckboard walkways faced a death of drowning in the mud of the shell holes. As the summer worked itself into early fall, it was obvious that no great breakthrough was to happen and that the British forces would face a gradual reduction in their numbers, morale and chances for victory. By October of 1917, the Canadian troops were called upon to enter the situation and bring about a successful conclusion to this disaster. It was hoped that not only would the battle be turned in favour of the allies but also, unofficially of course, save the career of Field Marshal Haig. By the time the Canadians arrived at Passchendaele practically no objectives had been met. General Currie, Commander of the Canadian Corps, wanted no part of this enterprise but was soundly over-ruled by the British High Command. In fact, they were prepared to send their most innovative and gifted officer packing if he showed any more resistance to the order. Currie did, however, manage to win the point that extensive preparations and planning would be needed and that time must be granted for the Canadians to prepare and hopefully avoid making the same errors that had caused so much suffering for the British and Australian forces. The field as faced by the Canadians was full of mud, water, corpses, dead horses, barbed wire and miscellaneous wreckage of almost four months of battle. The trench lines were almost unrecognizable due to the water and mud. The Canadian plan began with the rebuilding of the transport systems and an attempt to drain the field as best as possible. German shelling, aircraft attacks and nature caused over 1500 Canadian casualties before the attack even started. The Canadians attacked on October 26, 1917 behind a covering artillery assault. Movement would be in small steps rather than great frontal assaults on German lines. Gradual steps into German positions would be accomplished to cover each successive move of the troops. Fresh reserve troops would come into position within two days to spell those on the front lines. The first day saw almost 2500 casualties. The next bite into the German lines would be on October 30 following an even larger artillery assault. German concrete bunkers would be destroyed by the artillery – not through direct hits- which did little, but often by destroying the ground surrounding them and causing the footings to shift. Should this fail, the bravery of the men would prove to be a success. This strategy of taking steps to reach the objective was working but costly. By November 10 the ridge had fallen to the Canadians. The Germans were ordered to retake the position at all costs but could not. By November 14, 1917 the Canadians, having done what was asked of them, retired back to the Vimy region. Their positions were taken up by British troops. Almost 15,654 Canadian casualties had been counted (Currie had warned the British High Command that victory would cause 16,000 casualties a month earlier). Nine Canadians had earned the Victoria Cross. Roughly two square miles had been taken at a cost of 500,000 casualties to the Allied forces. Field Marshall Haig was spared his career. With little fanfare and a grudging recognition of their deeds, the Canadian Corps had proven to all that their bravery, planning, training and skill had made them the elite Corps of the allied forces. With this killing ground behind them, the Canadians would take up their positions by Arras / Vimy / Lens and prepare to take on the final German defences of the Siegfried Line and in fact, lead the final assault that would bring the war to a close.


David Brown 2016

Not a 1st CMR man, but the experience and places are interchangeable, as the 49th (Edmonton) Battalion, was also from the Third Canadian Division, but 7th, rather than 8th, Infantry Brigade.


Just the number 49. I have only to see it to be back where the pettiness and the monotony of today had little place.

Just an ordinary man, doing ordinary work and thinking ordinary thoughts; yet I have climbed the heights with that number set on cap badge and shoulder strap.

I see again the snow covered Exhibition Grounds and the partitioned horse barns in which we had our quarters.

The old Metagama once more ploughs her slow way across the Atlantic and at last casts anchor under the green sward of Plymouth Hoe.

We drill and sweat on St. Martin's Plain and discuss qualities of Sergeants and Officers, and at last climb the hill at Boulogne en route to the fields that those who will live will remember always.

We taste our first French beer, make love to our first French girls and see our first shells burst around and from the hill at Mont des Cats. And then a few days in the trenches at Plug Street, and two officers and several men en route to England with the 49th's first "blessés". Not all en route to England for two made a longer journey.

And then pick and shovel and trolleys; mud and rain - darkness and lice and a daily modicum of rum and weary months at Kemmel with one or two returns to Mont des Cats and a premier as holders of the line. A few more blessés and a few more crosses and the thought that we had tasted realities.

And then Ypres: shattered walls and shell harried streets and sturdy Canadians relieving tired out English troops.

And then a holocaust and more boys carried out in one tour than had occupied our stretcher bearers in all the previous months.

And then Hooge and unwearying snipers, and men snatched away, and evil smelling mine craters, and mud and mud and mud, and a burning dugout with cold precise curses from a dugoutless Company Commander.

And thrice again the wood that travestied its name of Sanctuary, where the stripped and splintered boles of once lovely trees seemed to point accusing fingers at an unheeding sky, and endlessly, the shells fell. Then the huts and a morning when the Eastern sky was black with the smoke of bursting shells, and the air was heavy with rumors of disaster. A stand-to, a march to the Ramparts with an ominous order to get all the sleep we could.

Sleep, too many slept the next night after we had stumbled into the fire of hell and yet got through to reinforce trenches full of dead and dying and a very few dauntless living.

Over the top in a blind charge no one knew where, to meet a sheet of lead and to die as heroes have died since the dawn of the Empire.

And everywhere dead and everywhere wounded and the thought we would be attacked before relief came.

At last relief, and little Winnizeele that we marched to through persisting rumors of an immediate return to the Hell we had left,

Again Ypres and news of the Somme and the wonder as to when it would be our turn.

At last, and we detrain at Contoville and march and march with aching backs and weary feet, and the thunder of unceasing bombardment in our ears.

And then Albert, and holes dug in earth banks, and eyes that for the first time behold the majesty of our own guns.

And Courcelette and chaos and yet advance and our first V.C. Then the mud trip, and then Regina Trench and once again over the top. We lay the wire before that trench with a swarth of our bravest.

And then march and march and march to Neuville St. Vaast where Glory rested on past memories of mighty harvests of gallant Frenchmen reaped. Now shells seldom intrude and bold spirits sit on the parapets to smoke their Flag cigarettes.

No for long: Taid and Stokes and winter and mud and trench mortars, and Neuville St. Vaast sends yet again her daily quota to add to the crosses in the nearby fields.

Dear Bruay and training over tapes for what all know will be success.

Then one morning the earth shakes and soon Canadian eyes looked down from the edge of Vimy Ridge into the smiling valley beneath. Smiling, but its smiles cease, and more square miles are added to the total of sepulchural villages and tortured farm land.

A valley of gas and a big raid, and now we have scarcely any of the old faces left.

A bath of blood and the Glory that was Passchendaele, and in one day four hundred and twenty heroes pass from our thin ranks, and we have gained our second V.C.

Then again the shadow of Vimy Ridge, and retirement on our right and retirement on our left and ever the fear of disaster.

Yet strange: it is not as troops to stave off disaster we are taken to Liers and Fauequenham, but as troops training for victory.

And train we did, over growing grain and through woods and villages and with tanks and aeroplanes.

Then a train that is to go North, yet goes South, and the wood of Hebecourt and the knowledge that the hour has almost struck.

Gentelles Wood and disclosed plans and the morning that rivals all the thunders of Jove, and six miles gained by ten o'clock.

Then Parvillers and later Arras.

Once again Hell rages and once again forward and such targets to be had along the Scarpe stream by Pelves as we had scarcely dreamed of. Then Canal du Nord and the day we leap-frog over those who had broken the line called impregnable, and press on to Bourlon Wood.

Then attack in the morning and attack in the evening and attack in tlie morning again, and we hold the outskirts of Cambrai.

The cost; the cemeteries near Cambrai best tell the tale, where with dimmed eyes we give the last salute to so many of our best.

Then on again and we look down on the spires and white streets of Valenciennes.

Still on and on and at nine o'clock of the morning of the eleventh of November we march into Mons with band playing and the surety that Victory is indeed at long last ours.

And after; nay my tale is told, and an ordinary man, I lead once more an ordinary life and think ordinary thoughts, save when my memory takes me back to the heights that I once climbed in company with so many, who reaching a Zenith of earthly glory, paused not, but climbed still.

Lt. H. L. HOLLOWAY. 49th Battalion, 7th C.I.B.

Please note that this copy (below) is for personal use only and any other use must have the permission of Legion Magazine and Legion Magazine must be acknowledged.

The Legionary


Vol. XIII, No. 6                                          JANUARY, 1938                                                  Montreal



The Road To Mons



A Canadian Epic



“The enthusiasm which possessed the 3rd Canadian Division as it

advanced over this historic ground induced many acts

of valour, and it was an inspired Corps that

fought its way towards Mons.”



By Lieut.-Col. E. A. PRIDHAM, M.C., E.D.


From November 1st, 1918, the end of the Great War was definitely in sight. In the days preceding, news of the collapse of Bulgaria, Turkey and Austria had been received with deep satisfaction and were stimulating to the morale and imagination of our troops, and encouraged the hope in those who still survived that they might be spared to see the finish. Yet such is the mental state of those who serve in front line regiments that though some of these realized this in some measure, they hesitated to discuss it, fearful of being regarded as fanciful optimists, or that some spell, which had protected them until now, might be broken if they presumed to harbour the thought or put it into words.

     To understand the position of the Canadian Corps on that day a few words are necessary. The Corps had been held up a week or more along the west bank of the Scheldt. Valenciennes, the last city of France on the Canadian Front, was the one upon which the attention of the Corps was directed. To the 4th Division was allotted the task of relieving this city which lies in the Valley of the Scheldt River at the junction with the Rhonelle. The 3rd Division was to operate on the north of the 4th, to lead the way in the deliverance of Belgium, with the object of effecting the relief of the historic City of Mons at the earliest possible time.




     Patrols of the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles of the 8th Brigade, 3rd Division, which was to figure so prominently in the deliverance of the latter city, reported it was impossible to approach the Scheldt Canal, let alone cross it. German engineers had cleverly improvised dams across the canal far to the South, producing a lake miles in extent on each side of the canal. To further obstruct the advance every bridge and culvert had been destroyed. Railway and communication systems were wrecked, trees and telephone poles were felled across such roads as were still above the floods. Behind this position of great natural strength the enemy built a line of resistance which seemed almost impregnable, and here he hoped to stay the advance or, at the worst, to cover his retreat, if such became necessary. The water being more than waist-high, the only possible approach was along the flooded high-roads or railway tracks, all of which were cleverly covered by machine guns, trench mortars and snipers posted on the east side of the floods. The difficulties of the attack were more by flood than arms, though the two together made the task seem almost insurmountable and any plan of attack which included rushing the position appeared foredoomed to failure; yet, if Belgium was to be released from its oppressor, the feat must be attempted.

     At Valenciennes the plan of attack was to have the 4th Division turn the flood area by crossing the canal in the south and advancing to the north-east with its left flank on the lake-like morass. The city having been out-flanked in this way, crossings of the canal on the north of the city were to be made. Preparatory to the attack the Corps Engineers were to bring forward bridging and other material for repair of roads and causeways, this to be pushed as far forward as possible under cover of a smoke screen. The attack itself, which may be regarded as one of the last of the formally planned attacks of the War, was carried out under the most amazing circumstances. To the 3rd Division was committed the task of crossing at Anzin and Bruay on the north of the city, the C.M.R. Brigade to make the attempt. This was the road to Mons.




The brief statement of the official record that, “On November 1st, the Mounted Rifles Brigade gallantly rushed the canal at Anzin, Bruay and Thiers and with a single blow broke this line of defence,” is a remark which reaches the impressive in its restraint, for not in this war had such conditions faced the Canadians in any attack.

     In the face of intense firing, the passage was made by groups forcing their way over the broken bridges and along the submerged railway tracks, supporting from time to time by such fire as they could bring to bear from their unhealthy positions the parties of their comrades-in-arms who were crossing in boats and on rafts. Some of the officers and men of the 4th C.M.R. who were obliged to swim as they could not find places in the improvised craft, gained a foot-hold on the east bank of the canal and held it until a hastily constructed bridge was thrown across. The mind can hardly conceive of a more bitter test than which soldiers could be asked to face.

     The most famous exploits of the past, so long extolled in prose and poetry, were equalled that day by the men of this Brigade and those of the 4th Division fighting their way into Valenciennes. The writer of the official record reaches great heights in his report of the day, which states: “By November 2nd Valenciennes was cleared.”

     In the days that followed the 3rd Division forced its way through marshes and mud, pushing the enemy back mile after mile along the road to Mons. As if there was not enough water to contend with, the elements joined forces with the enemy and night after night the rain came down in torrents.

     All through the day of November 4th the C.M.R. Brigade, with three battalions in the attack, had ousted the enemy from the Vicq-Thiers Railway defence line and during the night of the 4th/5th had captured Vicq.





Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Allee Montgomery Pridham, the writer of the accompanying article, is Deputy Registrar-General of Manitoba. He comes of a United Empire Loyalist family of which every generation since the Revolutionary War has had active service with Canadian forces. During the Great War Col. Pridham served in France and Belgium in the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles. He was awarded the Military Cross and is the only Canadian officer to be made Chevalier Officier de l’Ordre de l’Etoile Noire de France. After the War he commanded the Manitoba Mounted Rifles for seven years. He is an Hon. A.D.C. to His Excellency the Governor-General and a member of the Deer Lodge Branch of the Canadian Legion.


     On the 6th the C.M.R. Brigade was again subjected to the amphibious warfare conditions of the week previous, having to attack over improvised causeways through marshes and swamps to capture Quievrechain, Crespin and then turn the enemy’s flank by a gallant attack across the only bridge on the Honneau River line.




     On the 7th/8th the Division extended its attack to the north, the C.M.R. clearing St. Aybert, thus opening the way across the Conde-Mons Canal, driving the Germans from the last bit of France and entering Belgium with such irresistible force that it swept back all opposition. Now they were on the ground which had seen the battles of the “Old Contemptibles” in the first days of the War. This time it was another victory march; it was the revenge of the Motherland by the young men from the Dominions beyond the Seas. The 1st C.M.R. in the fighting east of Vicq was going over the identical ground towards Elouges and Andrignes that the 18th (Queen Mary’s Own) Hussars (the Regiment of the British Army with which the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles is connected through the 1st Manitoba Mounted Rifles) fought in August, 1914. The day by day advance had been a thrilling experience; the memories of the receptions by the populace of the towns in France and Belgium as they were relieved are imperishable. The people regarded the Canadians as their deliverers, and in some towns the thanksgiving and gaiety almost reached delirium. The welcome was the same, though the difference in the conditions in the towns in France and Belgium was most startling. In France, a village would be a pathetic ruin; what was not destroyed was stolen, while a few yards away in Belgium, towns would appear almost unscathed. The gentlemanly way in which the German had restrained himself showed how confident he was that the kingdom of the brave Belgians would be retained as a prize of war. It must have been a bitter blow to the enemy that Belgium was now being wrested from him, but he was too concerned about removing his own impedimenta of war to engage in looting or destruction on a large scale.




     On November 8th and 9th the 3rd Division was drawing closer to Mons. The Canadian Mounted Rifles which led the advance toward the city from October 28th to November 9th was so exhausted and reduced by the continuous fighting that it was withdrawn to Brigade Reserve to absorb re-inforcements, and the 7th and 9th Brigades of the 3rd Division were moved to the forefront of the battle. On the evening of November 9th the towns of Thievencill and Boussu had been taken after hard fighting. Under cover of darkness it appeared the Germans were moving their heavy artillery eastward, and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry of the 7th Brigade crossed the canal on the south-west of Mons. However, the 1st C.M.R., having received its re-inforcements and now refreshed by a night’s sleep, was following fast and reached Hornu by the night of the 10th. As the strenuous day closed, all eyes were turned toward Mons, where high above the city the setting sun glistened on the famous belfry.

     The approach to the outer suburbs of Mons was comparatively easy, but here the defence stiffened and it became apparent that the Germans were not going to hand over the city without stern resistance. On the 10th the enemy fought obstinately, and the 42nd Highlanders relieved the P.P.C.L.I. late that evening. The villages of Nimy and Petite Nimy being quickly captured, the Highlanders steadily worked their way into the city by way of the railway line. By 6 a.m. the city was reported cleared of the enemy.

     The regimental diary of the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles briefly states opposite the date of November 11th:

            “Early this morning Orders arrived from Brigade that hostilities would cease at 11 to-day. Word has been received that the Kaiser has abdicated and the Crown Prince renounces all claims to the throne. Riots have broken out in a number of cities in Germany and are being repressed. Considering theses official reports the civilians and troops believe the fighting is over and words fail to express the feeling. At 12 o’clock 400 of the battalion, with the Silver Band and Pipe Band, fell in and marched to Mons to represent the 8th Infantry Brigade in a demonstration to celebrate the liberation of the City. The civilians were nearly wild with joy and the troops enjoyed the afternoon.”

     And so the Canadians came first to Mons.




The following is largely based on conversations with the people of Mons during the month which the 1st C.M.R.’s spent in the city after the Armistice.

     From August 8th—the beginning of the glorious “Last Hundred Days” of the War when the Canadian Corps, the spearhead of the allied attack, drove twelve miles into the German Front and drew from General von Ludendorff the remark that “August 8th was the darkest day in the history of German Arms”— the hopes and interest of the Belgian people in the successes of their allies increased from day to day. The return of Cambrai to France in September, and the release of Denain in October, followed by the liberation of Valenciennes on November 1st and 2nd, brought hope to the beleaguered.

     Since the latter date the people had been deprived of any official news, but each morning as they awakened and strained their ears to catch the sound of the guns which grew louder day by day, they were filled with mingled feelings of joy and apprehension. Rumours of the Allied successes persisted in coming through in spite of all efforts to prevent it on the part of the German authorities. The refugees from France told of the turn in the tide of battle, and in that mysterious way that news has of distributing itself in a country during a war, it was not long before the Belgian people were aware of the successive defeats of the army which held them hostage. This was confirmed by the fact that German reserves were being pushed forward through Mons, and there was increased artillery activity on that portion of the front which was nearest their city. All of this was evidence that the Germans were prepared to defend their conquests to the bitter end, and it appeared that if Belgium were to be taken from them it would have to be done foot by foot and that all the calamity of war awaited their country as in the past when it had been the cockpit of Europe.

     From the time Valenciennes was delivered on November 2nd, the people within the City of Mons began to believe their hopes of deliverance were at last likely to be realized. The enthusiasm which possessed the 3rd Division of the Canadian Corps as it advanced over the historic ground induced many acts of valour, and it was surely an inspired Corps which fought its way toward Mons, though the excitement of battle was hardly less within the city which for more than four years had suffered occupation by a hated enemy. News of the Canadian success came from refugees from Douai, Denain and Valenciennes, who were now by the strange turn of fortunes of war being driven from their firesides by the successes of their allies, the German herding them before them as they retreated. These poor people sought temporary refuge in Mons, adding to the apprehension of the citizens and straining their resources to the limit.




     This lamentable procession – which gradually increased to thousands of old men and women, children and cripples, hundreds of them suffering from Spanish Flu in various stages, struggled over the cobbled roads into the streets of Mons, the stream into the city being greatest at the Avenue du Jamappes. Here they were met by civic representatives who directed them to churches and schools to pass the night. The following morning those who were able resumed their march, the endless rain adding to their unhappy plight. Those unable to rise were taken care of by the good Samaritans of the city, the corporation burying those who had died during the night. The Montois prayed that relief may come speedily; otherwise they too might be obliged to leave their homes and take to the roads with such of their goods as they could carry. Yet the time was soon to come when all the roads were so filled with these pathetic pilgrims that evacuation would have been almost an impossibility.

     On the morning of November 6th the people learned through their subterranean means of communication that the Canadians had crossed the frontier of Belgium, and the first place to be honoured by being restored to Belgium was the little village of Marchipont with its few score inhabitants. On the 7th the Canadian advance guard was reported to be within seventeen kilometres of the city. The next few days held little that was encouraging, as it appeared the Germans were fighting desperately and delaying the advance by blowing up the railways and barricading the roads to gain time to complete the scheme of defence of Mons.

     The plan of defence adopted did credit to the German staff. The defensive system was centered on Mont Eribus, on the south of the city, the twin hills of Panisel and Bois de Mons supporting most effectively the flanking systems. The whole south-western front of the city bristled with machine guns and carefully camouflaged batteries of heavy and light guns. It was that type of ideal machine gun landscape that would make glad the heart of any machine gun officer, and the scheme was completed by the mining of bridges, and barricading of the streets and approaches to the city, the whole linked together by a trench system which was supported by the miles of canal that connected Mons to Conde.




     News came within the next few days that Baisseux had been taken and it was believed that on November 7th Elouges and several villages in its vicinity had been liberated.

     On the 8th, desperate fighting was known to have taken place at Montrouel, Dour, Thulin and in the suburbs of Boussu. At dusk on the evening of the 9th (although this was known to but few of the citizens) a small patrol of the P.P.C.L.I. had with great daring approached and  actually entered the city by way of the Avenue de France, the southern entrance to the city.

     On November 10th the battle continued with unabated fury, the attack being directed on Mont Eribus, and it was rumoured in Mons that the Canadian losses were very heavy. As a matter of fact, about 150 casualties were caused by the intense artillery and machine gun fire from Mont Panisel and Bois de Mons. However, while this attack was engaging the attention of the enemy, other units worked around the city on the south-east, and the 7th Brigade flanked the city on the west. All day long the battle raged south-east and west of Mons.

     During the late afternoon it was noted that the fire of the German artillery was being answered by the Canadian batteries which were arriving and taking up positions. A prolonged artillery duel ensued which lasted far into the night, causing intense excitement in the city.

     As night closed down it was noted that the movement out of the city by the Germans was being accelerated, and the enemy was fighting desperately to gain time to remove his material. Under cover of darkness heavy guns were hastily moved to positions east of Mons, from which they brought down a heavy fire to cover the withdrawal of the lighter guns from the hills of Panisel and Bois de Mons. History was repeating itself in reverse in that this was exactly what the British had done on the night of August 23-24, 1914, when they were the defenders of Mons. Sir Arthur Currie’s report referring to the work of his Corps on the 10th states: “That night the 3rd Division was at the south-western outskirts of Mons.”



Lord Horne, Commander of the First British Army, reviewing the victorious troops of the 3rd Canadian Division on November 15th in the square of Mons which they had entered during the early morning hours of

November 11th, 1918.


     Often the kind people with whom I was billeted in Mons after the Armistice told me of the mental agony of the people of that “City of Dreadful Night.” The German officer of the Ordnance Staff who had occupied rooms in the upper part of their home for several months had been very busy during these days, but on the 10th increased activity was apparent in his quarters. Sharp orders had produced a noisy bustling among the servants, from which my friends interpreted that the battle was going against the Germans, and the officer’s equipment and boxes were being hastily packed. In the early evening there was a banging of boxes being moved down the stairs, and then all was quiet, but this quietness was of the house only. Outside one could hear the sound of the fighting which grew nearer and nearer. Not knowing what the night might bring, the citizens had early put up their shutters and locked their doors. Behind these they listened, while their hearts throbbed to the noises in the streets. They heard the continuous rumbling of transport and guns as they were hurried over the cobbled streets, the tone in which the orders were given indicating the excited state of mind of the Germans. All through the hours of darkness this went on while the sleepless people huddled, listening.

     During this time the 3rd Division was struggling through the grey dawn towards the gates of the city, grappling for an enemy which was now refusing to come to grips, not wishing to become so involved that it could not break off the engagement and retreat to its next prepared position. My friends, who were fluent in English, said they finally heard a new voice in the streets which made them catch their breath – it was speaking in English. After a space more English voices were heard, and finally as dawn broke they heard in the distance the sound of the bagpipes of Scottish troops. (This was the 42nd Royal Highlanders of Canada). One can