The Hundred Days Offensive (8 August to 11 November 1918) was a series of massive Allied offensives which ended the First World War. Having already presented a review of the Offensive and the battles that were critical to its outcome, I thought that a short discussion of the General who led the Canadian Corps through that time is appropriate.
Arthur Currie is generally considered to be among the most capable commanders of the Western Front and one of the finest commanders in Canadian military history, yet he began his military career as a part-time artillery gunner.
During the Battle of Vimy RIdge, Currie commanded the 1st Division and was influential in the development of Julian Byng’s tactical plan by highlighting lessons that could be learned from previous battles. Currie influence the decision to use massed artillery and introduce the Creeping Barrage. He also ensured that battle plans were seen and understood down to the youngest private; in doing so he helped to create a new weapon – a soldier with initiative. Following the victory at Vimy Ridge, Currie was promoted to become the first Canadian commander of the Canadian Corps. Under his command, the Canadian Corps did not see defeat and became the elite shock troops of the Allies.
Currie’s impressive wartime reputation did not survive intact into the post-war period. He returned to Canada on 17 August 1919, arriving Halifax. There was nobody there to meet him. When he arrived in Ottawa, he was not met with the pomp and circumstance normally bestowed upon a conquering hero. His opposition to the appointment of politically favoured officers had created enemies in Ottawa. When the war ended, Sam Hughes, the former Minister of Militia and Defence, accused Currie of having sacrificed Canadian lives in fruitless battles on the eve of the Armistice. The accusation dogged Currie for many years until he eventually fought back, winning a high-profile court case against libel in 1928.
After returning to civilian life, Currie became the Principal of McGill University in Montreal. However, fighting the legal battle to clear his name took a heavy toll on him.
General Sir Arthur Currie, Canada’s greatest military commander died on 30 November 1933 in Montreal. Tens of thousands attended his funeral, the largest for any Canadian to that point in the country’s history.
No flashing genius, but a capable administrator, cool headed and even tempered and sound of judgment. He has surrounded himself with a capable staff whose counsel he shares and whose advice he takes. He is the last man in the world to stick to his own plan if a better one offers. So far as tactics go he is first among equals for such is the way his staff works.MacLean’s, winter 1991, p. 271
Many tributes and honours have been bestowed on this man, not least of which is the Currie Building at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. The building into which all graduating cadets march into, as I did in 1974, to begin their military careers.
Honour the Fallen; Help the Living