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1st Canadian Division
Active 1914-1919
Country Canada
Allegiance Allies
Branch Canadian Expeditionary Force
Type Infantry
Engagements Second Battle of Ypres
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Vimy Ridge
Battle of Passchendaele
Commanders
Current
commander
n/a
Notable
commanders
Arthur Currie
Archibald Cameron Macdonell

This article refers to the division raised in the First World War. For divisions raised afterwards, see 1st Canadian Infantry Division

Formed in August 1914, the 1st Canadian Division was a formation of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. 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 on October 14, 1914.

Contents

History

The First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was raised in August 1914, concentrated at Valcartier Camp 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 E.A.H. Alderson. 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, who was promoted at this time by the Prime Minister to the rank of Major General. It had been Hughes 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, were still considered too inexperienced.

Training in the winter of 1914 was rigorous, and conditions on Salisbury Plain were harsh due to cold and rain. A Royal Inspection of the division early in 1914 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 says 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 in April, and faced its first real test during the defence of St. Julien beginning on 22 April. The Canadians withstood German attacks - 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, 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. 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 in June 1915, after which the division moved to Ploegsteert.

The Canadians began a long period of static warfare which would last them throughout the winter. In September, the arrival of the Second Canadian Division meant that a national corps headquarters could take to the field to command the division. Major-General Arthur Currie 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, didn't begin until September at Pozières, 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 First Division. The insignia was also painted on steel trench helmets, 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 beginning in May; his command persisted until Armistice Day.

Massive German offensives came in the spring of 1918, but the Canadian Corps - now considered crack assault troops - were held in reserve for the inevitable counter-offensives. "Canada's Hundred Days" - the last 100 days of the war - were marked by several Canadian successes, at Amiens, the D-Q Line, and Canal du Nord. 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 First 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.

Infantry units

1st Canadian Brigade:

2nd Canadian Brigade:

3rd Canadian Brigade:

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 in September 1915.

Battles and engagements on the Western Front

1915

1916:

1917:

1918:

Notes

References

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