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Canada Remembers Times - 2015 Edition - Page 1

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Gas Attack!

‘The Second Battle of Ypres, 22 April to 25 May 1915’ painting by Richard Jack.
(Photo: 19710261-0161 Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. © CWM)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 2nd Battle of Ypres in Belgium during the First World War. On the deadly front lines swept by machine gun and artillery fire, the Germans introduced a terrible new weapon on April 22, 1915—poison gas. The Allied troops beside the Canadians’ positions took the worst of the thick clouds of yellow-green chlorine, forcing them back and leaving a large gap in the defences.

The Germans pressed forward, threatening a massive breakthrough. All through the night and into the next day, the Canadians fought to close the gap and also drive the enemy out of nearby Kitcheners’ Wood. Little ground was regained and casualties were heavy, but these actions bought some precious time for the Allies to recover.

On April 24, the Germans launched another gas attack—and this time the Canadians would be hit squarely. In a nightmare of fighting that saw the Canadians gasping for air through soaked and muddy handkerchiefs, they held on against all odds until reinforcements arrived.

In their first major action of the war, our soldiers had begun building a remarkable reputation for skill and valour on the battlefield. It came at a steep cost, however, as more than 2,000 Canadians were killed and 4,000 wounded.

Newfoundlanders at Gallipoli

Soldiers in the trenches at Gallipoli.
(Photo: Public domain)

When Britain declared war in August 1914, Newfoundland, which was a colony of Britain at the time and not yet a part of Canada, responded quickly and began recruiting men for overseas service.

The fighting in the First World War occurred in more places than just Western Europe. On September 20, 1915, the 1st Newfoundland Regiment landed on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula, joining British, French, Australian and New Zealand troops already there. Gallipoli would be the Newfoundlanders’ first experience of the horrors of trench warfare—artillery fire, snipers, punishing heat and cold, and disease caused by living in such harsh conditions.

In November they earned their first battle honour when they captured “Caribou Hill”—named after the animal that represented their regiment. These soldiers later successfully covered the withdrawal of Allied troops from the region, being among the last to leave in January 1916. Approximately 40 Newfoundlanders had died there, a grim taste of the great casualties the regiment would soon suffer on the Western Front.

A Ukrainian-Canadian War Hero

Portrait of Filip Konowal by Arthur Ambrose McEvoy.
(Photo: 19710261-0410 Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. © CWM)

Filip Konowal was born in the Ukraine in 1888 and immigrated to Canada shortly before the First World War. When the conflict erupted, he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and served with the 47th (British Columbia) Battalion. During the Battle of Hill 70 near Lens, France in August 1917, Corporal Konowal was leading soldiers in attacks when he courageously charged German machine gun positions that were taking a heavy toll on his men.

Armed with his gun, bayonet and explosives, he personally took out 16 of the enemy in these efforts before being seriously wounded himself. For his great courage, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour that a Canadian could receive. Konowal died in Hull, Quebec, in 1959 and is still admired as a true hero by many proud Ukrainian Canadians.

In Flanders Fields

Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae and his dog Bonneau.
(Photo: Library and Archives Canada C-046284)

The famous poem “In Flanders Fields,” widely recited every Remembrance Day, was written a hundred years ago. Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, born and raised in Guelph, Ontario, was a doctor in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. He was inspired to put pen to paper after being shaken by the battlefield death of a close friend.

Despite the passage of time, his words have remained relevant to every conflict since it was written in May 1915. The evocative poetry pulls at the heart strings, reminding us of the loss of those who served. It also challenges the living to remember their sacrifice, as seen in the powerful words from the poem’s final verse:

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.

A Royal Canadian Navy Pioneer

Portrait of Rear Admiral Victor Brodeur in 1945 by Irwin Crosthwait.
(Photo: Library and Archives Canada e002505830)

Victor Brodeur was born in Beloeil, Quebec, in 1892. He enlisted in 1909 and became part of the first group of cadets in the newly-formed Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). During the First World War he served on British warships in the Caribbean Sea and the waters off Europe, later becoming a gunnery specialist.

He returned to Canada where he was stationed at naval headquarters in Ottawa before taking command of his first ship in 1929, HMCS Champlain. He would command other ships on the West Coast in the 1930s and eventually take charge of all destroyers based in Esquimalt, British Columbia.

Shortly before the start of the Second World War, he helped create the Fishermen’s Reserve to patrol the West Coast. In 1940, Brodeur became the RCN representative in Washington, D.C. before returning to the Pacific in 1943 to command naval forces there.

Brodeur retired in 1946 after 37 years in the navy and was honoured by being named a Commander of the British Empire. The École Victor-Brodeur school in Esquimalt is named in honour of this Francophone naval pioneer.

A Strong Bond

Jack Munroe and his faithful friend.
(Photo: Public domain)

Jack Munroe was born in Nova Scotia and travelled widely before settling in Ontario. He was a celebrated heavyweight boxer in the early 1900s.

At the outbreak of the First World War, he enlisted at age 41 in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Accompanying him was his faithful collie, Bobbie Burns—smuggled in a potato sack. While at Camp Valcartier in Quebec, Bobbie was attacked by a dog twice his size. Bobbie had to fight back and earned what was called “the first Princess Pat’s victory of the war!” A strong fighter, just like his master, he was named the regiment’s mascot.

Munroe went to France and was severely wounded by a sniper’s bullet in June 1915, losing the use of his right arm. He would spend more than a year recovering in a hospital in England, where his old pal Bobbie had special visitation privileges.

Munroe would write Mopping Up, a unique war story written through his dog’s eyes. In the book, he wrote:

"I had wondered what war was. Now I knew. It had been war when I had been at the throat of the mongrel who had so wickedly assaulted me when I had not harmed him […] Somewhere, some big mongrels of men must have attacked littler dogs of nations, and we were going to fight for the little dogs!"

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