6 Facts That Prove Canada Dominated in World War I

Posted by Paul Rawlins on January 21, 2015 in Military Records

Canadian WWI poster

[Photo credit: Library of Congress]

With superpowers like Britain, Germany, and France as the star players in the First World War, the role of Canada—then still a part of the British Commonwealth—is often overlooked.

However, Canadians were critical players in the Allied victory in the Great War. Here are 6 facts that prove Canada was one of the great, underrated forces of World War I.

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● Canadian soldiers fought so fiercely, the Germans called them “storm troops.” They achieved victories where British and French armies had failed. Said British Prime Minister Lloyd George of the Canadians, “Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line, they prepared for the worst.”

● One-third of all Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilots were Canadian. In fact, the highest-scoring RFC pilot to survive the war was a Canadian—Lieutenant Colonel William Avery “Billy” Bishop, Jr., who shot down no fewer than 72 enemy planes.

● Canadian soldiers were among the first to endure chemical warfare. At the Battle of Ypres in Belgium, French troops broke ranks and abandoned their trenches when the Germans released clouds of poisonous chlorine gas. They fell back to the Canadian trenches, and the Germans pursued, releasing more gas on the Canadian soldiers. The Canadians held their position, however, making crude gas masks by urinating on their socks and tying them around their faces.

● It was a Canadian soldier at the Battle of Ypres who was inspired to write “In Flanders Fields,” arguably the most famous poem to emerge from World War I. Major John McCrae witnessed the death of his friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer, and was asked to conduct his funeral service in the absence of a chaplain. He later wrote the famous verses which begin, “In Flanders fields, the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row.” Search for military records for free on Ancestry.

● Canadian women first got the vote during World War I. The women’s suffrage movement was in full swing in Canada, Britain, and the U.S. during the war. In 1917, the Canadian government granted any woman aged 21 and over who was serving in the military (as a nurse) or directly related to someone in the military the right to vote. In 1919, the vote was extended to all Canadian women aged 21 and over—eight years before British women got the same privilege.

● At the Canadian Vimy Memorial, visitors are forbidden from walking in certain areas because of undetonated explosives from World War I. To avoid further human casualties, groundskeepers allow sheep to graze in those areas to keep the grass mown.

—Connie Ray

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