It’s difficult to comprehend the horror of the battle and the lives lost in the First World War, but we owe it to the fallen and to ourselves to remember, if only so we don’t forget that war is always a bloody business, and that its heaviest cost is never measured in treasure but in lives.
Consider this: Canada’s population during that war was somewhere between 7.2 million (1911 Census) and 8.7 million (1921 Census). And yet 620,000 Canadians were mobilized for the war in Europe, or approximately eight to nine per cent of the entire population.
Of those who fought, a staggering 250,000 Canadians were wounded and over 67,000 were killed. The casualty rate (wounded or killed) was almost 40 per cent. The First World War saw the introduction of new technologies such as tanks and deadly chemicals, but these didn’t ease the human toll; they were a contribution to the bloodied sum.
The historical record is stark. At the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915, there were 6,000 Canadian casualties, of whom 2,000 were killed.
The Battle of the Somme, in July 1916, claimed more than 24,000 Canadian casualties.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge? Canadian casualties in that April 1917 battle were over 10,600. Of those, 3,598 were killed and just over 7,000 wounded.
The Battle of Passchendaele was fought later that year and was spread over 16 days in October and November. There were 15,654 Canadian casualties, and of those, over 4,000 were killed in battle.
In the final months of the war, in what historians refer to as the Hundred Days Offensive, the Canadian Corps launched multiple attacks near the German front at Canal du Nord. They were successful on Oct. 11 when the enemy was driven out. And yet the human cost was substantial – 46,000 Canadian casualties.
Canadians were universally acknowledged for their bravery and the nation was praised for its overall contribution to the four-year effort. That collective effort never faltered, never waned. Indeed, it was a Canadian soldier – Private George Price – who is recognized as the second last soldier to be killed in the First World War. He died on Nov. 11, 1918 – just two minutes before the armistice came into effect at 11 a.m.
When the guns were finally silenced, the devastation was terrible. Over 16 million people worldwide – seven million civilians, 10 million members of the military – had been killed.
The casualty rate defies imagination even today – over 37 million people worldwide, or the equivalent to Canada’s approximate 2018 population.
We can’t allow this to ever be forgotten.
– Peter Epp