In 1917, July 1st marked the 50th Anniversary of what was then called Dominion Day. The Canadian Corps HQ issued orders that at 12:00 noon “all guns on the Canadian front shall fire” totalling three salvos in two-minute intervals (Wheeler, The 50th Battalion In No Man’s Land, p. 129). From the memoirs of Victor Wheeler, of the 50th (Calgary) Battalion:
‘ “All guns” included those of the Heavy Artillery, Field Artillery, Siege, Field, Howitzer and Anti-Aircraft Batteries. In addition, thousands of machine-guns, trench mortars, bombs and grenades of all descriptions, plus two million rounds of .303 bullets from thousands of Ross and Lee-Enfield rifles thundered magnificently. This was truly the grandest of all sounds ever to simultaneously belch from the barrels and muzzles of Allied guns and trench pieces!’
‘If Orpheus’ music could move trees and rocks, the exquisite music of Canada’s massed guns, played a few short bars at two-minute intervals, must have flattened all the trees and pulverised all the rocks that afforded shelter to the enemy on the Canadian Corps Front. The synchronous delivery of our terrific fire must have convinced l’Armee allemande that Canada had become a Nation that memorable Dominion Day! Bienvenue aux Allemands!’ (Wheeler, The 50th Battalion In No Man’s Land, p. 129).
2 June 2017 marked the 100th Anniversary of the events for which Canadian pilot William Avery “Billy” Bishop, VC, CB, DSO & Bar, MC, DFC, ED was awarded the Victoria Cross. Quickly winning the confidence of his commanding officer, Bishop was allowed to fly with a generously loose leash, allowing him to go out on lone wolf patrols without supporting wingmen, and more importantly, witnesses. On June 2, 1917, Bishop set out on his own, patrolling over German lines. His citation for the Victoria Cross reads as follows:
“For most conspicuous bravery, determination and skill.
Captain Bishop, who had been sent out to work independently, flew first of all to an enemy aerodrome; finding no machine about, he flew on to another aerodrome about three miles south-east, which was at least twelve miles the other side of the line. Seven machines, some with their engines running, were on the ground. He attacked these from about fifty feet, and a mechanic, who was starting one of the engines, was seen to fall. One of the machines got off the ground, but at a height of sixty feet Captain Bishop fired fifteen rounds into it at very close range, and it crashed to the ground.
A second machine got off the ground, into which he fired thirty rounds at 150 yards range, and it fell into a tree.
Two more machines then rose from the aerodrome. One of these he engaged at the height of 1,000 feet, emptying the rest of his drum of ammunition. This machine crashed 300 yards from the aerodrome, after which Captain Bishop emptied a whole drum into the fourth hostile machine, and then flew back to his station.
Four hostile scouts were about 1,000 feet above him for about a mile of his return journey, but they would not attack.
His machine was very badly shot about by machine gun fire from the ground.” (London Gazette, no.30228, 11 August 1917)
In the years following his death in 1956, Billy Bishop’s war record has come under scrutiny due to discrepancies in his claimed actions. Researchers have found that many German war records and casualty reports do not match with Bishop’s claimed victories, while a vast number of his victories are logged in British records without any sworn statements of the necessary supporting witnesses. Meanwhile, proponents of Bishop’s impressive record argue that Germany’s spotty records may have been the result of their struggling to figuratively “keep a lid” on what would have been a propaganda disaster if Bishop’s successes became public. Moreover, the Germans were becoming increasingly selective of reporting damage at this stage of the war, often preferring to not take note of bad news. Ultimately, Billy Bishop’s career is marked by both unquestionable bravery, as displayed in his confirmed actions but also clouded by what may be half-truths and fabricated encounters.
For a more complete presentation and understanding of the arguments for and against Billy Bishop’s legacy, we suggest reading the following two articles:
During the First World War, thousands of Indigenous soldiers served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Many became snipers or reconnaissance scouts, but Indigenous soldiers served in numerous roles throughout the CEF. Fighting in regular military units, over 37 were decorated for bravery during the war.
Despite close camaraderie with non-Indigenous soldiers, their return home was plagued with unequal treatment and marginalization.
Notable Indigenous soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force include long-distance runner Tom Longboat, Cameron Brant, Oliver Milton Martin, Sniper Henry Norwest and Sniper Francis Pegahmagabow whom we featured in our 100 Days of Vimy Post on 13 February 2017.
The drive up the Belgian coast in June-July of 1917, for which the Canadians provided diversionary trench raids at the Souchez River, was undertaken for a number of reasons. One hope was to combat the threat posed by the Zeppelin airships and Gotha bombers. British forces fighting up the coast would require the Germans to depart from airfields further from England, as well as to fly over more British-controlled territory. This would shorten the loiter time available to the German flights once over English skies, reducing their effectiveness, while also increasing the chances of British ground forces shooting down aircraft whilst flying overhead on the coast.
The threats from air attack had increased with the continuing development of Gotha bombers, used in addition to the Zeppelin airships. On May 25, 1917, a daylight raid of 21 Gotha bombers struck in the Folkestone-Shorncliffe region, creating approximately 300 casualties. Of these, 17 fatalities and 93 wounded were Canadian soldiers, training and awaiting transfer to the front. On 13 June 1917, London suffered its first daylight bombing raid, with 162 persons killed and 432 injured.