Memorial Hole Plinths

Afghanistan

In response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, American and British forces invaded Afghanistan on 7 October 2001 to topple the Taliban regime and deny a safe haven to the al-Qaeda terrorist organization responsible for the 9/11 attacks.  RCN warships began patrolling the waters off southwest Asia in October while the first Canadian troops, commandoes from Joint Task Force 2, deployed to Afghanistan in December.  After the Taliban were defeated and forced from the Afghan capital of Kabul, the United Nations established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in December 2001.  Canadian troops operated in the Kandahar region of southern Afghanistan from early 2002 until the Canadian contingent, some 700 personnel, moved back to the vicinity of Kabul in the summer of 2003.  When the United States and Britain shifted their focus from Afghanistan to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the move provided the Taliban with time to reorganize and gather strength in the southern provinces while leaving the local populace uncertain of ISAF’s commitment to their security.  The resulting resurgence in Taliban strength made the task more difficult when Canadian forces, now some 2300 strong, were shifted back to the volatile Kandahar region in 2005.  Canadian infantry, tanks and artillery all took part in ground operations from Kandahar, the largest being Operation Medusa in the Panjwai district in September 2006, an offensive involving more than 1000 Canadian troops.  While ambushes and friendly fire incidents took their toll, improvised explosive devices caused the largest number of Canadian casualties.  Canada’s combat role in the country ended in 2011 and the last Canadian servicemen left the country in March 2014.  More than 40,000 Canadian Forces members served in Afghanistan during the twelve-year campaign, 158 of whom were killed.

 

The Balkans

Yugoslavia began to break up in 1991, engendering a series of wars in which the expression ‘ethnic cleansing’ was coined.  Following a conflict between the Croatian government and Serbian insurgents, the UN was asked to provide peacekeepers to observe the ceasefire, which proved to be the beginning of a twelve-year series of deployments for Canadian Forces. While Canadian ships enforced an embargo, members of the Canadian Army maintained the cease-fire in Croatia from 1992 to 1995, oversaw the delivery of humanitarian aid in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the same time period, observed a ceasefire in that same country from 1995 to 2004, and also carried out briefer missions in Macedonia and Kosovo.  When Serbian government forces began ethnic cleansing in the latter region in 1999, Canadian fighter squadrons participated in the air campaign which forced Serbian forces to allow refugees to return home.  All regular force units participated in these operations, including the Alberta-based Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians).  Throughout, Canadian troops operated with extreme professionalism in very difficult circumstances, especially during the humanitarian relief stage in Bosnia-Herzegovina, when there were simply too few boots on the ground to force convoys through to the villages where they were needed, calling upon excellent negotiating skills – to get through roadblocks – or tactical ability – to get around them.  In the period following the Dayton Peace accord in 1995, which put an end to high-intensity conflict in Bosnia, Canadian soldiers demonstrated a wide variety of capabilities, rebuilding schools and hospitals, investigating black market activities, patrolling in mountainous terrain, and controlling crowds that occasionally attempted to continue the process of ethnic cleansing.  The situation had sufficiently calmed down by 2004 that it was deemed no longer necessary to send formed units on the mission.

 

The Battle of the Atlantic

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest campaign of the Second World War with Allied victory in Europe dependent on a steady flow of food, munitions and military equipment from North America.   The convoy system had proven its worth during the First World War and the first of the hundreds of wartime Atlantic convoys sailed from Halifax in September 1939.  In response to Britain’s call for help, the Canadian government embarked on a full-scale naval expansion to build a fleet of small corvette escorts.  By 1941 Canada had taken the lead in building a new naval base at St John’s, Newfoundland and supplying most of the warships that escorted convoys across the 3000 kilometres of ocean between Newfoundland and the British Isles.  As additional corvettes were hurriedly completed in Canadian shipyards, they were immediately deployed as transatlantic escorts but such was the Canadian navy’s rush to increase their share of the escort force that during the winter of 1942-43, at the height of the battle, most Canadian escort groups had to be withdrawn for further training.  By war’s end, the RCN had over 95,000 personnel while the Atlantic escort fleet included some 270 warships, temporarily giving Canada the third-largest navy in the world.  The most important measure of its success was the safe passage during the war of over 25,000 merchant ships under Canadian escort delivering nearly 165 million tons of supplies.   The RCN sank, or shared in the destruction, of thirty-one enemy submarines while losing fourteen warships to U-boat attacks and another eight ships to accidents in the north Atlantic.  Some 2000 RCN sailors lost their lives in combat, most in the Atlantic.

 

The Cold War

Igor Gouzenko, a Soviet cypher clerk working in Ottawa, defected in September 1945, revealing a spy network that had operated in Canada during the Second World War and underscoring distrust between the Soviet Union and the western Allies which dated back to the First World War.  In March 1946 Winston Churchill described the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe as an “Iron Curtain” that had fallen across the continent.  The Canadian government had already approved joint continental defence planning with the Americans, relying upon American nuclear superiority to deter a possible future Soviet threat.  In April 1949, Canada joined the North Atlantic Alliance formed to deter a Soviet attack on its members and to help strengthen war-torn western Europe.  The Soviets tested their first atomic bomb on 29 August 1949 and the nuclear arms race began.   In February 1951, Canada announced that it would send a brigade group to West Germany and a 12-squadron Air Division to Europe as concrete symbols of Canada’s commitment to protecting Europe from attack.  While Canada gradually reduced the size of its forces, most notably in 1970, several thousand air and ground forces continued to serve in Germany until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  In 1958, Canada joined with the United States to form the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD).  Since 1954, one of the RCAF’s main bases is at Cold Lake, Alberta serving as a training centre, weapons range and operational base for fighter aircraft covering Canada’s western Arctic.  Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, Canadian forces worked closely with American, British, and other NATO forces, taking part in continental defence and NATO exercises as well as in United Nations peacekeeping activities.

 

D-Day, 6 June 1944

Allied commanders decided at the Quebec Conference in August 1943 to open the Western Front the following summer.  US General Dwight Eisenhower assumed overall command while British General B.L. Montgomery was placed in charge of the ground forces.  D-Day, a term used to specify the date of assaults but now symbolizing the invasion of Normandy, was eventually set for early June 1944.  Operation Overlord targeted five beaches in the Baie de la Seine with Major-General Rodney Keller’s 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, with the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade in support, landing on Juno beach, between the two British beaches Sword and Gold and east of US beaches Omaha and Utah.  The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, meanwhile, dropped with British airborne forces to the east of the landing beaches.  The Normandy operation was the largest amphibious assault in history, involving over 11,000 Allied aircraft and thousands of ships, including significant contributions by the RCN and RCAF.  No. 6 RCAF Group participated in the pre-invasion bombardment of transport and communication centres, while the RCAF also contributed thirteen fighter and four maritime squadrons to Overlord.  The RCN’s direct contribution to the assault forces included sixty-three warships as well as landing craft and torpedo boat flotillas.  Despite a marginal weather forecast and a pre-landing aerial bombardment that had limited effect, the 3rd Canadian Division and their supporting tanks had largely cleared Juno Beach of the enemy by mid-morning before beginning the advance inland.  Although none of the ultimate D-Day objectives was captured on 6 June, the Canadians came closer to theirs than any of the other assaulting divisions.  One of the greatest Allied victories of the war cost the Canadians 359 killed, 584 wounded and 131 captured out of some 15,000 army personnel who landed.

 

Dieppe

19 August 1942 was the Canadian Army’s worst day of the Second World War. Within hours of landing at Puys, Dieppe, and Pourville, on France’s north coast, over 900 soldiers were dead, almost 2000 taken prisoner, and 600 wounded and on their way back to England for treatment.  Therefore, of the 5000 or so Canadians who participated, two-thirds became casualties.  The operation was part of a series of raids in which First Canadian Army and the British Army in England were to maintain pressure on German occupation forces.  On this occasion the 2nd Canadian Division, mostly its 4 and 6 Brigades, launched the attack, other Canadians participating as members of the Royal Canadian Navy, operating landing craft, and the Royal Canadian Air Force, notably No. 418 (City of Edmonton) Squadron.  Landing to provide armoured support was Calgary’s 14th Army Tank Regiment.  As a consequence of the disaster, planners for the eventual return to Europe re-learned several lessons, but most important was the realization that Hitler’s Fortress Europe was far stronger than any other defensive positions in the world, including those of the Japanese Army on islands in the Pacific.  To keep German defenders away from their guns and canons would require heavy navy firepower, while mobile defences which only took position in the event of a landing – and hence were invisible to reconnaissance aircraft – called for every square metre of beach and ground to be covered by fire.  For the landings in Normandy in June 1944, not only cruisers, but battleships, would fire at known positions while artillery fire from landing craft and rocket-equipped vessels would attempt to suppress the enemy’s mobile defences.  The catastrophe at Dieppe was therefore one of many stepping stones towards success on the beaches of Normandy.

 

The Home Front

Military history understandably tends to concentrate on the men and women who are serving in uniform.  Most Canadians, however, experience war as civilians.  Apart from those families touched by personal loss, for smaller conflicts such as the South African, Korean or Afghanistan wars, the fighting overseas has had little impact on people’s everyday lives beyond news reports.  The First and Second World Wars on the other hand, as total wars fought by mass citizen armies, involved all Canadians whether it was the effects of rationing, wage and price controls, work in war industries, buying war bonds to finance the nation’s war effort, paying (after 1917) the new income tax, or anxiety about the fate of loved ones in uniform.  During the First World War, Canada created a munitions industry directed by the Imperial Munitions Board, largely producing artillery shells but also including ships and aircraft.  By war’s end it was the largest civilian employer in the country with more than 289,000 workers.  On the wheat-producing Prairies, farm output increased rapidly in response to both government urging and sharply rising prices.  During the Second World War, Canadian industry once again expanded to produce munitions and equipment, including over 700,000 military vehicles, worth $10.9 billion, fourth largest among the Allies.  Alberta’s contribution to the Canadian war effort from 1939 to 1945 was substantial including prisoner of war and internment camps throughout the province housing captured Axis service personnel as well as Japanese-Canadian internees.  The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan also had numerous airfields and training establishments in the province, including fifteen wireless, air observer, and flying training schools.  Dozens of Alberta-based militia units also provided cadres for overseas units, including The Loyal Edmonton Regiment, The Calgary Regiment (Tank), The Calgary Highlanders and The South Alberta Regiment.

 

Hong Kong

Although the Far East had never been an area of vital Canadian interest, in September 1941 the British government asked if Ottawa would be willing to reinforce the British garrison in Hong Kong, China with “one or two battalions” to deter a possible Japanese attack.  For reasons difficult to understand today, the Chief of the General Staff, Major-General Harry Crerar, recommended that “the Canadian Army should take this on” and the Canadian government agreed.  Although neither trained nor equipped to expeditionary force standards, the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada, together with a brigade headquarters, were soon on their way to one of the more remote bastions of the British Empire.  The 1974 Canadians of “C” Force arrived in Hong Kong on 16 November 1941, three weeks before Imperial Japan launched the Pacific war with simultaneous attacks on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and Hong Kong.  The British colony’s defenders, some 11,000 British, Indian and Canadian troops, were quickly driven off the mainland and forced onto the main island of Hong Kong itself.  On 18 December the 38th Japanese Division stormed the island and drove the defenders off the beaches.  Although two Canadian battalions did much of the fighting to hold the island, it was a hopeless situation.  The Canadian commander, Brigadier J.K. Lawson, was killed defending his headquarters while Company Sergeant-Major J.R. Osborn of the Winnipeg Grenadiers was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for throwing himself on a grenade to save a group of his men.  Overwhelmed, Hong Kong surrendered to the Japanese on Christmas Day.  “C” Force’s battle casualties were 290 killed and 493 wounded, the remainder being taken prisoner.  Over the course of the next three and a half years, another 267 of the Canadian captives died from Japanese maltreatment.

 

Liberation

Following the successful D-Day landings, the Battle of Normandy continued for another two-and-a-half months.  It was not until First Canadian Army had closed the enemy’s last remaining escape route at Falaise on 19 August, during which Major David Currie of the South Alberta Regiment won the Victoria Cross, that the Allied armies, British and Canadian on the left and American and French on the right, were able to race across France to the borders of Holland and Germany.  First Canadian Army drove up the French coast liberating most of the Channel ports, including Boulogne and Calais.  After Second British Army seized the important Dutch port of Antwerp in early September, the Canadians were assigned the difficult task of clearing the port’s approaches along the flooded Scheldt estuary, another hard-fought battle that lasted throughout October and early November.  Wintering on the Maas River line, First Canadian Army did not take an active part in defeating the German Ardennes offensive of December/January but were ready to resume the offensive on 8 February 1945.  Operation Veritable cleared the approaches to the Rhine River in conjunction with the US Ninth Army attacking from the south.  Despite dwindling numbers, the Germans put up a skillful defence and it took until early March before First Canadian Army managed to battle through the Hochwald Gap and reach its final objectives.  While US and British forces crossed the Rhine and surrounded the Ruhr industrial area to link up with Russian forces advancing from the east, First Canadian Army, which now included I Canadian Corps from Italy, liberated northern Holland allowing the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps to truck in thousands of tons of desperately needed supplies for the starving Dutch.  In all, the campaign in Northwest Europe cost the Canadian Army some 45,000 casualties.

 

Ortona

Facing the Germans’ Gustav Line winter defences at the beginning of December 1943, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, with the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade in support, were selected by British Eighth Army to spearhead the drive up the Italian east coast.  After successfully fighting their way across the Moro River in early December, the Canadians next task was the capture of the fishing port of Ortona.  Before assaulting the town itself, the 1st Division had a hard, ten-day fight to capture a lateral road running inland above a ravine known as “The Gully”.  On 20 December the 2nd Brigade turned toward the coast and, led by the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, moved into the outskirts of Ortona.  The town’s ancient stone buildings were fanatically defended by the German’s 1st Parachute Division.  The Loyal Edmonton Regiment was joined in its assault by the Seaforth Highlanders and their commanding officers divided the town into sections to be cleared by each battalion.  With street movement proving costly, the Canadians turned to “mouse-holing”, using explosives to blow holes through the walls of connecting houses and advancing room by room.  As the Edmonton war diary remarked on Christmas Day:  “Today is our fifth Christmas on Active Service and the fiercest fighting so far encountered continued throughout the day.”  On the night of the 26/27th, nineteen “Loyal Eddies” were killed in a single house that was blown up by German paratroopers.  While the Edmontons and Seaforth fought their way through Ortona, the 1st Brigade finally captured the high ground north-west of the town, convincing the Germans to abandon their remaining positions on 27 December.  The December fight for Ortona had cost the 1st Canadian Division some 2350 casualties, including 502 killed.

 

Peacekeeping

In order to minimize the chances of fragile cease-fire agreements breaking down, various forms of ‘peacekeeping’ have been used to help factions move from war to peace.  After the First World War there were some examples of international forces intervening between combatants, notably Columbia and Peru in 1932, but attempts at collective security through the League of Nations proved disappointing.  Following the Second World War more countries were willing to use peacekeepers but Cold War alliances made the required international cooperation and impartiality difficult.  Nevertheless, the United Nations was able to organize several multi-national operations in the immediate post-war years, including UN missions in the Middle East (UNTSO from 1948), India-Pakistan (UNCIP from 1948 followed by UNMOGIP from 1950), and Korea (UNTCOK from 1948).  Canadian forces were involved in those missions and in even greater numbers in Indo-China, from 1954.  Canadian Minister of External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, played a particularly pivotal role in the Suez Crisis of 1956 when he helped arrange an international force (UNEF) to stabilize the situation, actions for which he received the Noble Peace Prize.  Until 1988 (when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to all UN peacekeepers), Canada continued to play a leading role at the UN in mobilizing international forces more rapidly and efficiently, while also contributing large numbers to various missions, most notably in the Congo and Cyprus.  After thirteen peacekeeping operations from 1948 to 1988, the UN has added more than seventy-five missions in the years since.  Canadians have contributed approximately 130,000 peacekeepers to seventy-nine of these missions, as well as to other efforts outside the UN, such as NATO.  In all, some 115 Canadians have lost their lives during peacekeeping operations.

 

Sicily and Italy

After two and a half years training in the United Kingdom, the 1st Canadian Division and 1st Armoured Brigade were chosen to take part in the Anglo-American invasion of Sicily as part of the British Eighth Army, Operation Husky.  Over the next month, the Canadians, including The Loyal Edmonton Regiment with 2nd Infantry Brigade and The Calgary Regiment (Tank) with 1st Armoured Brigade, fought their way north through the Sicilian hills against stubborn German resistance.  On 3 September, the 1st Canadian Division landed on the toe of Italy and made their way north against a series of German lines of resistance to link up with a second Anglo-American landing at Salerno.  As the weather deteriorated in November, the Allied attacks bogged down in front of the Gustav Line defences.  In December, the Canadians were called upon to capture the coastal town of Ortona, an action involving vicious house-to-house fighting.  Reinforced by the arrival of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division over the winter, I Canadian Corps attacked up the Liri Valley in May 1944 as part of the successful Allied offensive to break the Hitler Line and capture Rome.  The Canadians next offensive came in late August 1944 on the Italian east coast where the 5th Armoured Division spearheaded I Canadian Corps’ penetration of the Gothic and Rimini Lines and Eighth Army’s entry onto northern Italy’s Lombard Plain.  For the remainder of 1944, the “D-Day Dodgers” of I Canadian Corps slowly fought their way north from one stubbornly defended river line to the next.  In February 1945, the Canadians were finally moved from the Italian theatre to join First Canadian Army in Northwest Europe.  Of the 92,757 Canadian soldiers who served in Italy, nearly 5500 were killed, 20,000 were wounded and another 1000 taken prisoner.

 

The Battle of Britain

When the Battle of France ended with a British withdrawal and a French surrender in June 1940, Germany still had to cross the English Channel before she could defeat her remaining opponent.  A successful invasion of the British Isles, however, required the Luftwaffe to destroy Britain’s air defences.  The Royal Air Force’s Fighter Command, with 565 fighters available for operations in mid-June (rising to 764 by 31 August), faced a German air force of 960 fighters and 1300 bombers based on French airfields.  After spending most of July 1940 attacking Channel convoys, the Luftwaffe turned its attention to attacking radar stations and airfields in August in an attempt to destroy Fighter Command’s ability to resist further raids.  July and August cost the Luftwaffe 300 fighters and 400 bombers while Fighter Command’s strength continued to grow.  In early September, following a British air raid on Berlin, the Luftwaffe switched its focus to bombing London.  By that time 1 Squadron, RCAF, had become operational flying Hawker Hurricanes, the first Canadian unit to join Fighter Command.  Other Canadians who had joined the RAF also fought in the battle, including twelve Canadian pilots with 242 Squadron commanded by the legless Squadron Leader Douglas Bader.  At the battle’s height on 15 September, a mass German raid on London saw 61 German aircraft destroyed against losses of 31 RAF pilots, including one RCAF pilot from 1 Squadron.  Daylight attacks continued to the end of September when the Luftwaffe once again shifted its strategy to night bombing – the beginning of the infamous “Blitz”.   The Germans lost some 1650 aircraft during the battle while Fighter Command losses totalled 1087.  Three RCAF pilots with 1 Squadron were killed and eight wounded but the planned German invasion of Britain had been permanently postponed.

 

The Korean War

When communist North Korea invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950, the United States quickly referred the conflict to the United Nations, internationalizing the war and making it the first UN peace-making operation.  Although the Far East had never been a Canadian vital interest, Ottawa’s support for the United Nations convinced the government to send three destroyers and one RCAF transport squadron immediately while raising a three-battalion “Special Force” of volunteers as the Canadian Army’s contribution.  In November 1951, with the war apparently winding down following a successful US landing at Inchon, the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was despatched from Calgary as a token Canadian representative.  A massive intervention of Communist Chinese forces the following month, however, transformed the war’s scope.  After fighting its way north as part of a UN offensive to drive the Chinese back to the 38th Parallel that divided the two Koreas, 2 PPCLI helped to stem an enemy counter-offensive north of Kap’yong on 23-25 April 1951.  The rest of the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group joined the Patricias the following month to help force the Communists north of the 38th Parallel.  By October 1951 the war had stalemated as both side dug into the Korean hills while truce talks continued at Panmunjom.  The Special Force 2nd Battalions were replaced by the regular army’s 1st Battalions in April 1952, mounting patrols and defending against occasional Chinese raids.  Three months after the 3rd Battalions arrived to take their place, the truce talks were finally resolved and an armistice signed on 27 July 1953.   Some 22,000 Canadian soldiers served in the Far East in the three years of fighting, of which 309 were killed in action, 1202 were wounded and thirty-two taken prisoner.

 

The South African (Boer) War

Canada’s first overseas military expedition was nationally divisive.  Most Anglo-Canadians viewed Britain’s conflict with the independent Boers of southern Africa in terms of Empire while French-Canadians, with considerable justification, viewed the dispute as imperialism instigated to further selfish British business interests.  Nonetheless, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier felt compelled to allow the dispatch of a 1000-man battalion, with one of the eight companies being recruited in western Canada, under the command of a Canadian officer, Lieutenant-Colonel W.D. Otter.  The 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, arrived in South Africa in December 1899 in time to take part in the British advance into Boer territory along the Modder River, engaging in the Battle of Paardeberg in February 1900.  The first Canadian contingent was soon joined by three artillery batteries and three mounted units, the Royal Canadian Dragoons, the Canadian Mounted Rifles and Lord Strathcona’s Horse, the latter two recruited primarily in western Canada from Mounties and ex-Mounties.  The Canadians made a name for themselves through a combination of initiative, fieldcraft and hard fighting during the British advance to capture the Boer capital of Pretoria in June 1900.  Rather than surrender, the stubborn Boers began a guerilla campaign.  In November 1900 near Liliefontein, the Lord Strathcona’s Horse and a two-gun section of the Royal Canadian Field Artillery provided a rearguard for a British column withdrawing from attacking Boers, winning three Victoria Crosses for their efforts.  With the war degenerating into an ugly counter-insurgency campaign, most of the Canadian troops returned home in early 1901.  When the Boers finally signed a peace treaty in May 1902, a total of 7368 Canadians served in South Africa of which 89 were killed and 252 were wounded in action.  Another 135 Canadians died of disease or in accidents.

 

Vimy Ridge

Following its bitter experience in the Battle of the Somme, the British Army spent the winter of 1916-17 re-examining its tactics and training.  Nowhere were the new methods embraced more enthusiastically than in the Canadian Corps.  The Corps was thoroughly trained in new infantry and artillery tactics under the guidance of its British commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng.  After leaving the Somme, the Canadians were assigned to the section of front facing Vimy Ridge where they were soon joined by the recently-formed 4th Canadian Division.  Although the area had seen heavy fighting during the three battles of the Artois in 1915, the French Army had been unable to capture the ridge itself.  For their 1917 attempt, “Byng’s Boys” were reinforced by additional British artillery units, giving them some 1200 guns, while the Corps’ counter-battery staff applied the latest scientific techniques to suppress the German artillery.  Following a week-long bombardment that pulverized the enemy’s defences, the four Canadian divisions attacked abreast at 5:30 am on 9 April, sweeping over the ridge and capturing most of their objectives by early afternoon.  The 10th Battalion (Calgary) was in the leading assault wave while the 31st Battalion (Alberta) captured the village of Thelus and the 49th Battalion (Edmonton) served as the 7th Brigade’s reserve.  Although further attacks were needed in the 4th Division’s sector on 10 and 12 April to clear Hill 145 (the future site of the national monument) and take the far northern end of the ridge known as the Pimple, the Canadians had achieved a remarkable success.  At a cost of 10,602 casualties, the Canadian Corps demonstrated the superior professionalism that was to make it the outstanding assault formation on the Western Front.

 

Women and War

Women have been involved in the defence of their communities and endured the impact of warfare from the beginning of Canada’s history.  Since 1867, Canadian nursing sisters supported Canadian forces during the North West Rebellion, the Boer War, the First World War, and the Second World War.  Women also volunteered in many roles on the home front and participated in the work force during both world wars.  More than three thousand women served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the First World War.  Fifty-three of these women died, twenty-nine of them by enemy action on the Western Front.  During the Second World War, 21,624 women served in 55 different military trades, including cyphering, decoding, and signaling in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.  Another 17,000 women served in the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division, some as pilots ferrying aircraft.  The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service attracted approximately 6781 members.  Most women in all services performed clerical, administrative, and other traditional tasks.  An additional 4518 women served in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps and the medical branches of the other two services.  Precise figures for female service combat deaths during the Second World War are not available, but one naval nursing officer died as a result of enemy action and other nursing sisters served in theatres in Hong Kong, Italy, North Africa, and North West Europe.  In the post war period, women served in non-combat roles until a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered the full integration of women into the military in 1989.  Soon after, women began to train for combat roles. During the war in Afghanistan, Captain Nichola Goddard, Trooper Karine Blais, and Master Corporal Kristal Geisebecht were killed in combat.  Other service and civilian women made sacrifices to support this Canadian war effort.

 

Ypres

Beginning with the first battle fought around this Belgian town in October-November 1914, the Ypres salient was the most heavily-contested sector of the British Army’s frontline during the First World War.  The recently-arrived 1st Canadian Division, which included the 10th Battalion recruited in Calgary, was holding a position northeast of the city on 22 April 1915 when the Germans launched the first poison-gas attack in military history.  Despite the absence of gas masks, the Canadians held their own lines until forced back by a second gas attack on 24 April, suffering over 6000 casualties.  Their sacrifice inspired Major John McCrae, a field surgeon who had a close friend among the dead, to pen “In Flanders Fields”.  The following year, the Canadian Corps, now three divisions strong, engaged in two battles on the south side of the Ypres salient at the St. Eloi craters in April and Mount Sorrel/Hill 62 in June.   The Corps returned to the salient for the final time in October 1917 when Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig insisted the Canadians were needed to capture the village of Passchendaele.   Despite his doubts, the Canadian commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, committed his four divisions to fighting along the two ridges that rose above the water-logged terrain.  On 6 November the Corps, including the 31st (Alberta) and 49th (Edmonton) Battalions, captured the shattered remains of the village before pushing on to take the high ground to the northeast four days later.  Haig’s decision to continue his ill-conceived offensive cost the Canadians 15,654 casualties.  Such was the emotional attachment Canadian soldiers felt for their sacrifices in the trenches surrounding Ypres that three of Canada’s seven First World War memorials are located in the salient at St. Julien (2nd Ypres), Hill 62 (Mount Sorrel), and Passchendaele (3rd Ypres).

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