On this day in 1918, Lieutenant James David Moses is killed in action while serving with the Royal Air Force. Moses, of the Delaware band, from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, was born on 10 June 1891. A school teacher before enlisting, Moses first served as an officer with the 114th “Brock’s Rangers” (Haldimand) and 107th “Timber Wolf” (Winnipeg) Battalions, and later as an air gunner and forward artillery observer with 57 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. On 1 April 1918, he was reported missing and later confirmed killed. Sadly, Lt. Moses’ body was never recovered; he is listed on the Arras Flying Services Memorial. Fatefully, 1 April 1918 was also the official “birth date” of the newly formed Royal Air Force (RAF), and so, it appears, one of the first casualties of the famed RAF was in fact, an Indigenous person from Canada. Lieutenant James David Moses was just 26 years old.
30 March – 1 April 1918 – Battle of Moreuil Wood and Rifle Wood
On 21 March 1918, General Ludendorff launched Germany’s massive Spring Offensive, Kaiserslacht (Kaiser’s Battle) along the Western Front. The first phase, Operation Michael, involved thousands of troops, artillery, and poison gas, and the Germans quickly advanced deep into the British lines, causing catastrophic losses in both men and ground to the Allies. The Canadian Corps was in the First Army area and not directly affected by Operation Michael, however the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade were both brought in to shore up the British lines around Saint-Quentin.
On 30 March 1918, the 23rd Saxon Division occupied Moreuil Wood, a vantage point near the critical Amiens-Paris railway and only twelve miles south-east of Amiens. Just south of the Wood, the French were under heavy attack in the town of Moreuil itself. When Moreuil Wood fell, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, under Brigadier-General John Seely, was immediately ordered to re-capture the lost ground.
As one, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade set off at a gallop, surging down from the village of Castel to the Avre River, charging across the bridge and up toward Moreuil Wood. The spectacle was not lost on the Brigade’s commander, who later wrote “it looked like a great host sweeping forward over the open country… it was strange to see the horses roll over like rabbits, and the men, when unwounded, jump up and run forward, sometimes catching the stirrups of their still mounted comrades” (Seely, Adventure, p. 302).
Charging at the entrenched enemy over open fields, the leading Royal Canadian Dragoons suffered heavily under machine gun fire; seeking cover, many dismounted and entered into the woods wherever they could. The fighting within was heavy and hampered by “close-growing saplings and heavy undergrowth” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 369). But by 10 am, the enemy was slowly being pushed back.
Still mounted, Lt. Gordon Flowerdew’s “C” squadron, Lord Strathcona’s Horse, had waited outside of the Wood for the opportunity to advance to the eastern flank. Reaching the north-east corner, Flowerdew spotted two lines of Germans, each numbering about sixty men, with machine guns at their centres and their flanks, advancing to reinforce the Wood. Immediately, Flowerdew “wheeled his four troops into line, and with a wild shout, a hundred yards in front of his men, charged down on the long thin column of Germans” (Seely, Adventure, p. 303).
Their sabres drawn, Flowerdew’s squadron burst through both lines of the enemy, wheeled about, and then charged on them again, with decimating effect. After the second charge, the enemy broke into retreat. At some point in this desperate melee, Lt. Flowerdew was fatally wounded. Brigadier-General Seely later recorded: ‘A man with him told me his last words as he and his horse finally crashed to the ground – he had two bullet wounds through his chest and was shot through both thighs, but he still had strength to shout quite loudly, “Carry on boys. We have won.” And so they had.’ (Seely, Adventure, p. 304).
The survivors of Flowerdew’s squadron established themselves in a ditch bordering the Wood’s eastern flank, armed with the enemy’s abandoned machine guns. They held this position until reached by the other Canadians fighting through the Wood.
The aftermath of Flowerdew’s charge was devastating. Only 51 members of “C” squadron were left alive, a casualty rate of approximately seventy percent. Of the enemy, 70 were counted killed by the sword during the charge, and an additional 200-300 were cut down by their own abandoned machine guns, commandeered by the surviving Strathcona’s (Seely, Adventure, p. 304). Altogether, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade suffered 305 men killed, wounded, or missing, and over 800 horses killed on 30 March 1918.
Moreuil Wood and the smaller Rifle Wood would be lost by the British the next day. Counter-attacks waged back and forth over the contested ground until the Canadian Cavalry Brigade sent its’ remaining 488 men into the fray once again, re-taking Rifle Wood on 1 April. Moreuil Wood however remained in German hands until August 1918.
The leader of what is believed to be the last cavalry charge of the war, Lt. Gordon Flowerdew died of his wounds on 1 April 1918. He would receive a posthumous Victoria Cross. Fellow Strathcona, Lt. Frederick Harvey, VC received the Military Cross for his actions during the battle.
After the war, war-artist Sir Alfred James Munnings immortalized Flowerdew’s actions in the now famous painting “The Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron”.
-During Operation Michael, the German Army made use of newly formed and trained “stormtrooper” units, who functioned elastically within the large offensive. Stormtroopers were trained to move quickly beyond the front lines into enemy territory
-The German Army also used a creeping barrage to target headquarters and communications behind the British frontlines, before the frontline trenches themselves. This cut the British communication lines and sowed chaos
-Canadian Cavalry units, like their British counter parts, fought both mounted and dismounted. Terrain and the use of machine guns had made traditional cavalry charges suicidal at best, so they were very rarely used. Flowerdew’s charge was an exception.
Lt Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, VC emigrated to Canada from England and settled in British Columbia as a rancher. He enlisted in 1914 with Lord Strathcona’s Horse and moved up the ranks to become an officer in 1916. Flowerdew’s Victoria Cross was donated by his mother to Framlingham College, where he was educated, after the war.
Lt Frederick Harvey, VC, MC received the Victoria Cross during a cavalry action at Guyencourt in March 1917, when he charged and eliminated a German machine gun post defending the village. He received the Military Cross for his actions during the Battle of Moreuil Wood. Harvey survived the war and returned to Alberta where he died in 1980, aged 91.
On this day in 1918, anti-conscription riots break out in Quebec City on the eve of Good Friday. The initial disturbance occurred when Federal officers were assaulted by a crowd after arresting a young man for not possessing his certificate of exemption. Although the crowd was able to release the arrested man, rioting continued to escalate over the Easter weekend.
On 29 March, Good Friday, Quebec City’s Military Service Registry office was destroyed by fire, with all records lost. By Saturday, 30 March, the Commanding Officer of the District had requested reinforcements of 1000 troops, in addition to the 890 already on-hand. In the evening of 30 March and the following day, rioters broke into hardware stores, hoping to obtain firearms, and began to assault the troops, throwing snowballs and ice at those manning the picquets.
The riots reached their climax on the evening of 1 April. Now reinforced by 700 troops from Ontario, the military began moving through the city, breaking up gatherings of civilians. While doing so, rioters again bombarded the troops with ice, bricks and improvised missiles. Those who were armed also began shooting at the troops, wounding some. Under orders, the soldiers returned fire with rifles and machine guns, killing four and injuring many more. Despite the sudden escalation, order was restored by one o’clock in the morning. The Quebec Conscription Riots were over.
(See Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 347-348).
On this day in 1918, in support of Operation Michael, the massive “Pariskanone” (Paris Gun) fires on the French capital for the first time. Weighing over 600 tons and with a barrel measuring approximately 36 metres long, it could fire a 230-pound shell approximately 130 kilometres. The first shells that struck Paris were fired from approximately 120 kilometres away – a range so great that the Coriolis Effect (the rotation of the Earth) had to be factored into aiming the weapon.
On 21 March 1918, General Ludendorff launched Germany’s massive Spring Offensive, “Kaiserschlacht” (Kaiser’s Battle), on the Western Front. The first phase, Operation Michael, involved thousands of troops, artillery, and poison gas, and the Germans quickly advanced deep into the British lines, causing catastrophic losses in both men and ground to the Allies. While the Canadian Corps was not directly affected by Operation Michael, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade would soon be pulled into the chaotic fighting around Saint-Quentin.
The Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade at Villers-Bretonneux – 22 March – 5 April 1918
As the Germans hammered the British Fifth Army lines around Villers-Bretonneux during Operation Michael, the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade (CMMGB) would quickly gain widespread attention during this critical period of the fighting. Along with the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, the CMMGB would be sent out to harass the advancing Germans and prevent a breakthrough at any cost.
Raised in 1914, the CMMGB was the brainchild of millionaire Raymond Brutinel, a former French army conscript and successful Canadian business man. Brutinel realised that mobile units, using the latest machine gun technology, would be important in the coming war, and worked to personally fund and supply the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade. The Brigade eventually grew to include the Eaton, Borden, and Yukon batteries, which were sponsored by more private funds, including the Eaton family and Klondike millionaire Joe Boyle.
The Brigade was used sporadically during the first years of the war, and usually moved on foot, since trench warfare did not lend itself to the use of the armoured cars; however, as with the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, the situation that arose from Operation Michael was a perfect staging ground to demonstrate the use of armoured, motorised units.
22 March 1918|
On 22 March 1918 the CMMGB was urgently sent from Vimy Ridge to support the besieged British lines around Villers-Bretonneux. Arriving with 40 machine guns and 8 armoured cars, under Lt. Col. W.K. Walker, the Brigade roamed the lines around Villers-Bretonneux, harassing the advancing Germans with automatic fire, passing messages, and rushing to fill gaps in the line (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 371).
24 March 1918|
On 24 March 1918, with the Germans threatening a breakthrough near Cléry, “C” (Borden) & “B” Batteries entered the fray and managed to hold up the German advance for eight hours. Later in the day they fell back while covering the withdrawal of an infantry unit. By evening, only two machine guns were left in action, “manned by one officer and a small handful of men. Their casualties for the day numbered 47 all ranks.” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 371)
For its part in holding the line, the CMMGB was praised in the Times, which noted that ‘everywhere they went they steadied the line’. General Sir Arthur Currie also commended the bravery of the Brigade in his message to Canadian troops in March 1918.
The fighting at Villers-Bretonneux was not without cost for the CMMGB, which suffered 37 killed, 116 wounded, and 11 missing. The success of the CMMGB led to the equipping of a second Motor Machine Gun Brigade in May 1918, and the two brigades continued to play an important role during the mobile warfare of the Hundred Days.
-Operation Michael saw the first deployment of the CMMGB as they were meant to be, a fast-moving armoured unit with a distinct role to play. Up until that point, members of the brigade had fought largely on foot, or had been stationary
-The success of light armoured cars and the concentration of machine guns continued through to the Hundred Days and foreshadowed the increased role of both in the Second World War
Raymond Brutinel, a former soldier and mysterious figure, Brutinel emigrated to Canada before the First World War, living first in Edmonton and later Montreal. He made a fortune in agricultural speculation and used his political connections to advocate for the formation of a motorised machine gun unit at the outbreak of the war. Brutinel was promoted to Brigadier-General of the re-organised Canadian Machine Gun Corps in 1918.
On 21 March 1918, General Ludendorff launched Germany’s massive Spring Offensive, “Kaiserschlacht” (Kaiser’s Battle), along the Western Front. The first phase, Operation Michael, involved thousands of troops, artillery, and poison gas, and the Germans quickly advanced deep into the British lines, causing catastrophic losses in both men and ground to the Allies. While the Canadian Corps was not directly affected by Operation Michael, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade would soon be pulled into the chaotic fighting around Saint-Quentin.
Read on below and follow the links to discover Canada’s involvement in Operation Michael.
23 March 1918 – The Canadian Cavalry Brigade – On 23 March 1918, a mounted force of 500 Canadian and British cavalrymen was urgently improvised to counter-attack the advanced enemy positions and regain broken infantry lines on the third day of Operation Michael (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 369). A force of 800 Canadian cavalrymen had already been dismounted to cover the retreat of British forces since the second day of the German offensive. With the British lines now slightly stabilized, a re-mounted force was needed to provide fast-moving, mobile reinforcements (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 369).
27 March 1918 – Lord Strathcona’s Horse – On 27 March 1918, French troops made a series of small counter-attacks into the German offensive, re-establishing contact with British troops on their flank. While advancing on the village of Fontaine, they captured a handful of “prisoners dressed like Canadians” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 369). In fact, these “prisoners” turned out to be men of Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Led by Victoria Cross-recipient Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey, the eleven cavalrymen had been conducting a mounted reconnaissance when they cleared Fontaine of “a greatly superior force of Germans” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 369).
In February 1918, the classic Civil War anthem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, topped American music charts for six weeks, spurred on by widespread patriotism as the country prepared to send thousands of more men to Europe. Below is the version released in 1918 by the Columbia Stellar Quartet & Charles Harrison :
Following the many battles of 1917, the winter months of 1918 provided a brief respite for the Canadian Expeditionary Force as it settled into the “relatively quiet Lens sector” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 338). Without scheduled attacks, save for the nightly raiding parties, some Canadians took the time to step back and reflect on what they had just experienced. On 18 January 1918, one soldier’s letter home was published in a local newspaper :
“Any person who went through that Passchendaele Advance can safely say we went through more mud and shell fire, than was ever experienced in this God-forsaken hole called Europe… it is impossible to imagine what the Germans had to contend with… One prisoner who was captured said the Germans thought the Canadians were superhuman, and would not face them at all. It certainly looked like it, the way they disappeared when we started after them.”
– Lieutenant D. Lynn Dudley, 4th Canadian Trench Mortar Battery, private letter published in The Cobourg World, Friday, 18 January 1918, Page 5:3. (Climo, Let Us Remember – Lively Letters From World War One, p. 269).
Epitaph of Private John Derry, Service Number 2005364, of the 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers) Battalion. John Derry was married and working as a teamster when he enlisted in Regina, Saskatchewan with the Canadian Engineers in January 1917. On 29 December 1917, he joined the 78th Battalion in the field as a reinforcement. He died of shell wounds to both thighs just 18 days later on 16 January 1918 and is buried in Anzin-St.Aubin British Cemetery, France.
Epitaph of Sergeant Reginald Bayly White, Service Number 3048, of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Reginald died on 9 January 1918 of tubercular meningitis and is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery. He was the son of Canon William Charles White, the first native-Newfoundlander to become Bishop of the Church of England for the Diocese of Newfoundland.