Unending Seige


Creation of the Canadian Expeditionary Force

It was with these militiamen and this population, ill-prepared but enthusiastic, that Canada plunged into the conflict. On 1 August 1914, three days before Britain entered the war, Canada offered assistance. Britain accepted the offer on 6 August. Sam Hughes had already triggered the mobilization process, though without regard for the plans of 1911. On 10 August an order in council officially authorized the creation of an expeditionary force.

By this time, militia headquarters had already begun to contact units directly. The men the units recruited were sent to Valcartier, which would be the assembly point for the expeditionary force. Volunteers were redistributed in new battalions identified numerically. These battalions had little or nothing to do with tradition. Volunteers from the 89th Regiment of Témiscouata and Rimouski, for example, were dispersed in new units. Despite everything, however, the result was impressive. By 8 September some 32,000 men were in place. On 3 October the 1st Division left Gaspé for England. It was reckoned at 33,000 men and women and 7,000 horses aboard 31 vessels in a convoy protected by seven British cruisers. When they landed on 14 October, however, the Canadians were still far from the battlefield.

On 30 October 1915 the number of Canadians having crossed the Atlantic reached 250,000. Enthusiasm was running so high that on 30 December Borden and Hughes, who were attending a conference in London, promised the British half a million men. It is still not known today whether they were referring to 500,000 for the front, which Canada would have been unable to provide, or a total effort of 500,000, including all lines of communication, garrisons in Canada, the navy and various other services. If the latter, Canada amply fulfilled its promise: It mobilized more than 600,000 people.

In 1916 the Canadian forces deployed in northwestern Europe comprised an army corps of four divisions, each with three brigades of four battalions about 3,000 men strong. For a country with a population of just slightly under eight million, this European presence was as remarkable as its record of casualties: 59,544 dead and 172,950 wounded. The human cost of this war was much higher than its financial cost.