By Emily Monks-Leeson
After years of static trench warfare, the Allies’ Hundred Days Offensive, which took place over the final 100 days of the First World War, succeeded in breaking the trench line and returning the belligerents to warfare on open ground. A rapid series of Allied victories ultimately pushed the Germans out of France and behind the Hindenburg Line, leading to the Armistice of November 11, 1918.
Following the successful attack on Vimy Ridge, the Canadian Corps did not lose a significant offensive operation for the remainder of the First World War. Having earned their reputation as “shock troops”, they were put into the line in the most difficult battlefields. As British Prime Minister David Lloyd George later wrote in his memoirs, “Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst.” True to form, during the period from August 8 to November 11, 1918, the four Canadian Divisions of roughly 100,000 men caused the defeat or retreat of 47 German divisions or one-quarter of Germany’s fighting forces on the Western Front. Canadians fought at Amiens, Arras, the Hindenburg Line, Canal du Nord, Bourlon Wood, Cambrai, Denain and Valenciennes. These battles, which were instrumental in the defeat of the German Army, came to be known as “Canada’s Hundred Days”. In the final month of the war, Canadian troops engaged retreating German forces in a running series of battles over 70 kilometres, ending at Mons, Belgium, on November 10 to 11, 1918. The location of this final battle was highly symbolic for the Allies, as it was at Mons that the British had fought the Germans for the first time on August 23, 1914.
While Canadian successes were widely acknowledged, they came at a high cost: in the final hundred days, Canada suffered fully 20 percent of their total battle-sustained casualties of the war. Both the loss of lives and the victories of battle in Canada’s Hundred Days are commemorated on the le Quesnel Memorial, the Dury Memorial and the Bourlon Wood Memorial. The Canadian liberation of Mons is marked by a plaque at the City Hall of Mons.
Thirty Canadian soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest award for gallantry, during Canada’s Hundred Days. Library and Archives Canada’s Discover Blog series, First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients will remember each of them in the next 100 days, leading up to the armistice on November 11.
Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.