The First World War defined a generation, changed the face of nations and parts of it are still up for debate by historians. It’s been 102 years since Canada entered this great war after Great Britain declared war on Germany on Aug. 4, 1914.
The months leading up to the breakout of the First World War can be characterized as a state of upheaval around Europe. Great Britain and Germany had been in a military arms race, and smaller countries had been fighting amongst themselves.
The breaking point came in June 1914 when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated.
“There’s a lot going on in Europe that allows that assassination, which is really a regional fight between Serbia and Austria that begins to pull in all those other countries, the complicated alliance system is part of that,” said Dr. Tim Cook, First World War historian with the Canadian War Museum.
Great Britain’s decision to entered the war was based on many reasons including their alliance with France and Russia and the invasion of Belgium by Germany; however, Cook points out that it is largely based on the issue of balance of powers.
“They don’t want Germany to win a quick war in Europe, which will change the whole balance of power,” added Cook.
The circumstances around the war and who started it are still up for debate by historians, 100 years later, but nonetheless, the European continent was at war.
When Great Britain declared war on Germany on Aug. 4, 1914, as a dominion of the country, Canada was automatically at war as well.
Though Canada had control over the contribution and could have sent a smaller force, tens and thousands of Canadians enlisted to join the fight.
“They do so largely because, I think, this is a major European war, Britain is threatened, there is a sense of naivety and adventure, you know it’s going to be a quick war, all of that really compels Canadians to enlist,” stated Cook.
Reports estimate that 620,000 Canadians enlisted, mostly citizen soldiers.
The First World War for Canadians defined the country both abroad and at home.
On the war front, the Canadian forces take part in well-known battles like The Somme, Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Passchendaele and the 100 Days Campaign that ended the war.
“Throughout this, the Canadian Corps is really seen as dependable troops, they’re tough, thought of as a coherent fighting unit. After Vimy, we sort of deliver one victory after another. Canada’s reputation during the First World War is very much that of hard hitting combat troops,” noted Cook.
Image: A crowd in Berlin listens to the Kaiser’s order for mobilization http://yalebooksblog.co.uk