1st Canadian Division

1st Canadian Division

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Formed in August 1914, the 1st Canadian Division was a formation of the Canadian Expeditionary Force
Canadian Expeditionary Force
The Canadian Expeditionary Force was the designation of the field force created by Canada for service overseas in the First World War. Units of the C.E.F. were divided into field formation in France, where they were organized first into separate divisions and later joined together into a single...

. The division was initially made up from provisional battalions that were named after their province of origin but these titles were dropped before the division arrived in Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 on October 14, 1914.

History



The First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was raised in August 1914, concentrated at Valcartier Camp
CFB Valcartier
Canadian Forces Base Valcartier is a Canadian Forces Base located in the municipality of Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, approximately north of Quebec City...

 in Quebec, and set off for England in the largest trans-Atlantic convoy to date two months later. Training and reorganization commenced upon arrival in the United Kingdom in October 1914, and it was not until 26 January 1915 that the division was officially organized, under the command of Lieutenant General
Lieutenant General
Lieutenant General is a military rank used in many countries. The rank traces its origins to the Middle Ages where the title of Lieutenant General was held by the second in command on the battlefield, who was normally subordinate to a Captain General....

 E.A.H. Alderson
Edwin Alderson
Lieutenant General Sir Edwin Alfred Hervey Alderson KCB was a senior British Army officer who served in several campaigns of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries...

. Several units under command of the First Contingent were excluded from the divisional organization, including the 17th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders), 18th Battalion, and several companies of Newfoundland soldiers (later formed into the Newfoundland Regiment and assigned to the 29th (British) Division.)

The division consisted originally of a cavalry squadron, cyclist company, four infantry brigades, three artillery brigades (equivalent in terms of numbers to the regiments used in the Second World War and after), and divisional engineers, with supporting troops of the Canadian Army Service Corps and Canadian Army Medical Corps. The strength of the division was placed at 17,873 all ranks, with 4,943 horses. The 4th Brigade was broken up in January 1915, with one battalion (the 10th) going to the 2nd Brigade, and the other three battalions being broken send to the Canadian Training Depot. The 6th Battalion (Fort Garry Horse) left the 2nd Brigade to become a cavalry unit, later serving in the Canadian Cavalry Brigade.

Pioneer units were added later in the war, including the 1st Canadian Pioneer Battalion from Mar 1916 to Feb 1917, when they became the 9th Canadian Railway Battalion. The 107th Canadian Pioneer Battalion also came under command between Mar 1917 and May 1918, before being absorbed by the 1st Canadian Engineer Brigade.

Lieutenant General Alderson was selected in early 1915 to command the new Canadian Division, as it was known at that time, making him the highest ranking divisional commander in the British Army. He was selected—to the relief of many—in lieu of Sir Sam Hughes
Sam Hughes
For other people of the same name see Sam Hughes Sir Samuel Hughes, KCB, PC was the Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence during World War I...

, who was promoted at this time by the prime minister to the rank of major-general. It had been Hughes's wish to command the Canadians in action. Alderson, who had commanded Canadian units before, won out over three prospective Canadian appointees, who, while serving with the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

, were still considered too inexperienced.

Training in the winter of 1914 was rigorous, and conditions on Salisbury Plain
Salisbury Plain
Salisbury Plain is a chalk plateau in central southern England covering . It is part of the Southern England Chalk Formation and largely lies within the county of Wiltshire, with a little in Hampshire. The plain is famous for its rich archaeology, including Stonehenge, one of England's best known...

 were harsh due to cold and rain. A royal inspection of the division early in 1915 foretold a move to France, which occurred in February 1915. After a period in reserve near Hazebrouck, the division relieved the 7th (British) Division in the Fleurbaix sector during the first three days of March, taking over 6,400 yards of front line trenches on the left flank of General Sir Douglas Haig's First British Army.

After being stationed at Salisbury Plain in England, the 1st Canadian Division embarked for France during February 1915. The division moved to the Ypres Salient
Ypres Salient
The Ypres Salient is the area around Ypres in Belgium which was the scene of some of the biggest battles in World War I.In military terms, a salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. Therefore, the salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops...

 in April, and faced its first real test during the defence of St. Julien beginning on 22 April. The Canadians withstood German attack—aided, for the first time on the Western Front, by the use of poison gas—and finally retired to secondary positions on 26 April, where they held on until 4 May. The Second Battle of Ypres
Second Battle of Ypres
The Second Battle of Ypres was the first time Germany used poison gas on a large scale on the Western Front in the First World War and the first time a former colonial force pushed back a major European power on European soil, which occurred in the battle of St...

, as the overall action came to be known, cost the infantry brigades some 5,506 men.

Two weeks later, the division was in action again at Festubert
Festubert
Festubert is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. The village was on the Western Front during the First World War and was largely destroyed in the May 1915 Battle of Festubert.-Geography:...

. Aiding in a diversionary offensive by the British armies, the Canadians suffered 2,204 casualties for gains of only 600 yards. Another futile attack was launched at Givenchy-en-Gohelle
Givenchy-en-Gohelle
Givenchy-en-Gohelle is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:Givenchy-en-Gohelle is a large farming village situated north of Arras, at the junction of the D51 and the D55 roads...

 in June 1915, after which the division moved to Ploegsteert
Ploegsteert
Ploegsteert is a village in Belgium located in the municipality of Comines-Warneton in the Hainaut province. It is approximately 2 kilometres north of the French border. Created in 1850 on part of the territory of Warneton, it includes the hamlet of Le Bizet....

.

The Canadians began a long period of static warfare which would last them throughout the winter. In September, the arrival of the 2nd Canadian Division
2nd Canadian Division
The 2nd Canadian Division was an infantry formation that saw service in the First World War. A 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was raised for the Second World War.-History:...

 meant that a national corps headquarters could take to the field to command the division. Major-General Arthur Currie
Arthur Currie
Sir Arthur William Currie GCMG, KCB , was a Canadian general during World War I. He had the unique distinction of starting his military career on the very bottom rung as a pre-war militia gunner before rising through the ranks to become the first Canadian commander of the four divisions of the...

 took command of the division in September. Active operations resumed again in the spring of 1916, participating in the Battle of Mount Sorrel, and then restoring the situation at Sanctuary Wood.

The legendary Battle of the Somme opened on 1 July 1916, the worst single day in the history of the British Army, with 20,000 men killed and 40,000 wounded. However, the Canadians' part in the great battle, which was to last through to November, did not begin until September at Pozières
Pozières
Pozières is a commune in the Somme department in Picardie in northern France.-Geography:The commune is situated on the D929 road, some northeast of Amiens between Albert and Bapaume, on the Pozières ridge.-Population:-History:...

, and lasted through to October. It was on the Somme that the red patch was first worn as an identifying device—two inches by three inches and worn on both sleeves, this rectangle identified the wearer as belonging to the 1st Division. The insignia was also painted on steel trench helmet
Brodie helmet
The Brodie helmet, called Helmet, steel, Mark I helmet in Britain and the M1917 Helmet in the U.S., was a steel combat helmet designed and patented in 1915 by the Briton John Leopold Brodie...

s, and adorned with geometric shapes of different colours to further identify the soldier's specific battery, brigade, battalion or other subunit.

The division began to prepare for the historic assault on Vimy Ridge, and took the time-honoured position of right of the line on 9 April 1917 when the corps took the ridge. Other gains were made in the days following the successful assault on the ridge, and the division participated in the monumental battle of Hill 70 in August 1917. Passchendaele followed in mid-October, and fighting continued into November. The division served under Major-General Archibald Cameron Macdonell
Archibald Cameron Macdonell
Lieutenant General Sir Archibald Cameron Macdonell, KCB, CMG, DSO was a Canadian police officer and soldier.-Education:...

 beginning in May; his command persisted until Armistice Day
Armistice Day
Armistice Day is on 11 November and commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o'clock in the morning—the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day...

.

Massive German offensives came in the spring of 1918, but the Canadian Corps
Canadian Corps
The Canadian Corps was a World War I corps formed from the Canadian Expeditionary Force in September 1915 after the arrival of the 2nd Canadian Division in France. The corps was expanded by the addition of the 3rd Canadian Division in December 1915 and the 4th Canadian Division in August 1916...

—now considered crack assault troops—were held in reserve for the inevitable counter-offensives. "Canada's Hundred Days
Canada's Hundred Days
Canada’s Hundred Days was a series of attacks made along the Western Front by the Canadian Corps during the Hundred Days Offensive of World War I...

"—the last 100 days of the war—were marked by several Canadian successes, at Amiens, the Drocourt-Quéant Line, and Canal du Nord
Battle of the Canal du Nord
The Battle of Canal du Nord was part of a general Allied offensive against German positions on the Western Front during the Hundred Days Offensive of World War I. The battle took place in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, along an incomplete portion of the Canal du Nord and on the outskirts...

. On 11 November 1918, the Armistice brought the war to an end.
The division formed part of the occupation forces on the right bank of the Rhine, then in early 1919 moved back to England, and the eventual repatriation and demobilization. The infantry battalions of the 1st Division suffered 52,559 casualties during its years in the field, some 15,055 of them fatal—statistically, representing almost the original strength of the entire division. Twenty-four soldiers of the division were awarded the Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories....

.

Infantry units


1st Canadian Brigade:
  • 1st Canadian Battalion (Ontario Regiment), CEF
    1st Canadian Battalion (Ontario Regiment), CEF
    The 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion was a battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force that saw service in the First World War.The battalion was created on 2 September 1914 with recruits from "Military District 1" which was Western Ontario. The battalion set off for England on board the Laurentic...

    . August 1914 – November 11, 1918;
  • 2nd Canadian Battalion (Eastern Ontario Regiment), CEF. August 1914 – November 11, 1918;
  • 3rd Canadian Battalion (Toronto Regiment), CEF. August 1914 – November 11, 1918;
  • 4th (Central Ontario) Battalion, CEF
    4th (Central Ontario) Battalion, CEF
    4th Battalion, CEF was organized at Valcartier under Camp Order 241 of 2 September 1914 and was composed of recruits from Military District 2 4th (Central Ontario) Battalion, CEF was organized at Valcartier under Camp Order 241 of 2 September 1914 and was composed of recruits from Military...

    . August 1914 – November 11, 1918.


2nd Canadian Brigade:
  • 5th Battalion (Western Cavalry), CEF. August 1914 – November 11, 1918;
  • 6th Battalion, CEF. August 1914 – December 1914 (Became Canadian Cavalry Depot);
  • 7th Canadian Battalion (1st British Columbia), CEF. August 1914 – November 11, 1918;
  • 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion (90th Regiment), CEF. August 1914 – November 11, 1918;
  • 10th Battalion (Canadians), CEF. January 1915 – November 11, 1918.


3rd Canadian Brigade:
  • 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), CEF. August 1914 – November 11, 1918.
  • 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment), CEF. August 1914 – November 11, 1918.
  • 15th Canadian Battalion (48th Highlanders of Canada), CEF. August 1914 – November 11, 1918.
  • 16th Canadian Battalion (The Canadian Scottish), CEF
    16th Canadian Battalion (The Canadian Scottish), CEF
    The 16th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, was organized at Valcartier on 2 September 1914 in response to the Great War and was composed of recruits from the 91st Canadian Highlanders , the 79th Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, and the 50th Regiment...

    . August 1914 – November 11, 1918.


4th Canadian Brigade:
  • The brigade was dispersed in January 1915.
  • 9th Battalion, CEF. August 1914 – January 1915. To the Canadian Training Depot.
  • 10th Battalion (Canadians), CEF. August 1914 – January 1915. To the 2nd Canadian Brigade.
  • 11th Battalion, CEF. August 1914 – January 1915. To the Canadian Training Depot.
  • 12th Battalion, CEF. August 1914 – January 1915. To the Canadian Training Depot.


Pioneers:
  • 1st Canadian Pioneer Battalion. March 1916 – February 1917. Became the 9th Canadian Railway Battalion.
  • 107th Canadian Pioneer Battalion. March 1917 – May 1918. Absorbed by the 1st Canadian Engineer Brigade.


Attached TROOPS:
  • 17th Battalion, CEF. August 1914 – January 1915. To the Canadian Training Depot.
  • 18th Battalion Canadian Infantry. August 1914 – September 1914. Disbanded.
  • Newfoundland Companies. October 1914 – December 1914. Left the division and was made up to battalion strength. The Newfoundland Regiment then joined the British 29th Division
    British 29th Division
    The British 29th Division, known as the Incomparable Division, was a First World War regular army infantry division formed in early 1915 by combining various units that had been acting as garrisons about the British Empire. Under the command of Major General Aylmer Hunter-Weston, the division...

     in September 1915.

Battles and engagements on the Western Front


1915:
  • Second Battle of Ypres
    Second Battle of Ypres
    The Second Battle of Ypres was the first time Germany used poison gas on a large scale on the Western Front in the First World War and the first time a former colonial force pushed back a major European power on European soil, which occurred in the battle of St...

    • Battle of Gravenstafel—April 22–23
    • Battle of St. Julien—April 24 – May 4 (see also Saint Julien Memorial
      Saint Julien Memorial
      The St. Julien Memorial is a Canadian war memorial and small commemorative park located in the village of Saint Julien , Belgium. The memorial commemorates the Canadian First Division's participation in the Second Battle of Ypres of World War I which included the defence against the first poison...

      )
  • Battle of Festubert
    Battle of Festubert
    The Battle of Festubert was an attack by the British army in the Artois region of France on the western front during World War I. It began on May 15, 1915 and continued until May 25.-Context:...

    —May 15–25
  • Second Battle of Givenchy—June 15–16


1916:
  • Battle of Mount Sorrel—June 2–13
  • Battle of the Somme
    • Battle of Flers-Courcelette
      Battle of Flers-Courcelette
      The Battle of Flers-Courcelette, was a battle within the Franco-British Somme Offensive which took place in the summer and autumn of 1916. Launched on the 15th of September 1916 the battle went on for one week. Flers-Courcelette began with the overall objective of cutting a hole in the German...

      —September 15–22
    • Battle of Thiepval—September 26–28
    • Battle of Le Transloy
      Battle of Le Transloy
      The Battle of Le Transloy was the final offensive mounted by the British Fourth Army during the 1916 Battle of the Somme.-Prelude:With the successful conclusion of the preceding Battle of Morval at the end of September, the Fourth Army of Lieutenant General Henry Rawlinson had finally captured the...

      —October 1–18
    • Battle of the Ancre Heights
      Battle of the Ancre Heights
      The Battle of the Ancre Heights was a prolonged battle of attrition in October 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. Lieutenant General Hubert Gough's Reserve Army had finally managed to break out of the positions it had occupied since the start of the Somme fighting and Gough intended to maintain...

      —October 1 – November 11


1917:
  • Battle of Vimy Ridge
    Battle of Vimy Ridge
    The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a military engagement fought primarily as part of the Battle of Arras, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, during the First World War. The main combatants were the Canadian Corps, of four divisions, against three divisions of the German Sixth Army...

    —April 9–14
  • Battle of Arleux—April 28–29
  • Third Battle of the Scarpe—May 3–4 (including the capture of Fresnoy
    Fresnoy
    Fresnoy is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.-Geography:A tiny village situated some 20 miles southeast of Montreuil-sur-Mer on the D109 road. Fresnoy Mountain is a mountain in Canada named after the town.-Population:-References:* -External links:*...

    )
  • Second Battle of Passchendaele—October 26 – November 10


1918:
  • Battle of Amiens—August 8–11
  • Actions round Damery—August 15–17
  • Battle of the Scarpe
    Battle of the Scarpe (1918)
    The Battle of the Scarpe was a World War I battle that took place during the Hundred Days Offensive between 26 and 30 August 1918.-26 August:The Canadian Corps advanced over 5 kilometers and captured the towns of Monchy-le-Preux and Wancourt.Lt...

    —August 26–30
  • Battle of Drocourt-Quéant
    Drocourt-Quéant
    The Drocourt-Quéant Line was a set of mutually supporting defensive lines constructed by Germany between the French cities of Drocourt and Quéant during World War I...

    —September 2–3
  • Battle of the Canal du Nord
    Battle of the Canal du Nord
    The Battle of Canal du Nord was part of a general Allied offensive against German positions on the Western Front during the Hundred Days Offensive of World War I. The battle took place in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, along an incomplete portion of the Canal du Nord and on the outskirts...

    —September 27 – October 1
  • Battle of Cambrai
    Battle of Cambrai (1918)
    The Battle of Cambrai was a battle between troops of the British First, Third and Fourth Armies and German Empire forces during the Hundred Days Offensive of the First World War. The battle took place in and around the French city of Cambrai, between 8 and 10 October 1918...

    —October 8–9