General Sir Arthur Currie, Eventual Commander of Canadian Forces, Great War (World War 1, WWI, European War)
Who was General Sir Arthur William Currie?
Beware Believing the Hype of German "Kultur"
“For the purposes of a European war,"
declared a disciple of Treitschke,
" the British Colonies, even if they remain faithful, may be ignored.",
some time before the Kaiser seized upon the opportunity to test the value of the theory.
In the school of Treitschke power politics, the idea of the citizens of any democratic-country proving the equal in the battlefield to the machine-made soldiers of Germany was also regarded with contempt.
The Great War had only just begun, when the second Battle of Ypres showed up the misconception of those Teuton philosophers, and, more importantly, to the military masters of the German Empire.
At Ypres, despite the use of poisonous gas upon them, the First Canadian Division proved to be more than equal to the best troops Germany could launch against it. The commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade in that division, Arthur William Currie, was a typical citizen soldier.
Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur William Currie, K.C.M.G.
Currie of Ontario
To indicate the essential difference between Teutonic and Latin powers of perception, take accord of the remark of a distinguished French general to Lord Beaverbrook, quoted in the official record,
"Canada in Flanders," may be cited.
" My countrymen," he said, " are fighting within fifty miles of Paris to push back and chastise the vile and leprous race which has invaded the chastity of our beautiful France.
But the Australians at the Dardanelles and the Canadians at Ypres fought with supreme and absolute devotion for what to many of them must have seemed simple abstractions, and that nation which will support for an abstraction the horror of this war of all wars will ever hold the highest place in the records of human valour."
The fact was that overseas Britons had a much keener awareness than home politicians concerning the sinister aims of the German oligarchy.
W. M. Hughes in Australia, Louis Botha and Jan Christiaan Smuts in South Africa, nursled no idealistic delusions concerning Teutonic imperturbation.
In Canada, apart from leaders like Sir Robert Borden, many astute businessmen envisioned clearly enough whither Prussian political authoritarianism was directing
" the finest military machine in the world."
Among these men was A. W. Currie, quietly preparing for the outcome of this German statecraft.
- 1875 - born, a native of the great Dominion of the West, the place-names of which hark back to a British homeland, at Napperton, a few miles west of the town of Strathroy, not far from London, the capital of Middlesex County, Ontario. Currie received his early education at Strathroy Collegiate Institute.
- 1893 - at the age of eighteen he crossed the Rockies. He settling for a time in Sydney, British Columbia, becoming a schoolmaster.
He entered the life insurance business soon after, of which he made a great success. On moving to Victoria, he became head of the then well-known firm of Currie and Power, one of the leading Canadian firms of real estate brokers, but which failed before the War.
Currie's Services in the Canadian Militia
Arthur Currie had an innate sense for soldiering. This inborn liking was soon to manifest itself as a special aptitude which became apparent in the years to follow:
- 1897 - he joined the 5th Regiment of Canadian Garrison Artillery as a private.
His promotion was rapid:
- 1900 - he held a commissioned rank.
- 1901 - he was given the command of No. 1 Company, the same year as he married Miss Chatsworth-Musters, of Victoria, British Columbia.
- 1902 - he gained his captaincy.
- 1905 - he became President of the British Columbia Rifle Association.
- 1906 - he became a Major.
Meanwhile No. 1 Company was awarded the efficiency shield seven times.
- 1909 - Major Currie was gazetted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
- 1909-1913 - he held the command of the 5th Regiment.
- 1913 - Autumn - he was transferred to the 50th Gordon Highlanders of Canada, when that force was formed.
By this time he was predicted to have a great future, by all that knew him. His secret of success then, as later, was two-fold.
A big man, physically tall, with clean-shaven face, and laughing eyes. He was imbued with magnetism and forcefulness.
In business his clients had instant confidence in him, as did the men of his command, who yielded him implicit and enthusiastic obedience.
With personality came a genius for organisation.
He followed keenly the progress of modern gunnery: He became honorary Vice-President of the Canadian Artillery Association.
He took also an enthusiastic interest in raising the standard of rifle-shooting. He was a first-class shot himself, still President of the British Columbia Rifle Association, and a member of the Council of the Dominion Rifle Association.
World War One (WWI) from a Canadian Perspective
Second Battle of Ypres
- 1914 - it followed as a matter of course that, when Canada answered the call to the Colours, Lieutenant-Colonel Currie was offered an important command in the First Division. This consisted of 33,000 men who sailed for Europe within two months of the outbreak of the Great War.
- 1914 - he accepted the offer.
- 1914 - he was made a brigadier-general on the acceptance, and Commanding Officer of the 2nd Infantry Brigade. This consisted of four battalions:
- 1915 - February - the 2nd Infantry Brigade landed in France.
The division was the first Canadian division ever assembled, and the chief command of this volunteer force was handed to Sir E. A. Alderson.
The troops were first attached for training to the Third Corps under Sir William Pulteney, whose report of their efficiency justified their inclusion by Sir John French in
- 1915 - early March - employing the Division in the trenches.
They were not actually engaged in the main attack at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. However, they provided invaluable assistance in holding a part of the line allotted to the First Army.
Then came the second Battle of Ypres, in which the Germans used poison gas for the first time, on a large scale. The Canadians battled through this inglorious inhumanity, covering themselves with glory.
They were posted to the right of the French between the Poelcapelle Road and the Becelaere to Passchendaele Road, and, in the words of the Commander-in-Chief,
"... they held their ground with a magnificent display of tenacity and courage; and it is not too much to say that the bearing and conduct of these splendid troops averted a disaster which might have been attended with the most serious consequences." - Sir John French
In Command of the Canadian Army Corps
Brigadier-General Currie's services in the second Battle of Ypres were mentioned in despatches. He won the Commander of the Bath and the Croix de Commandeur of the Legion d'Honneur.
Their forces gradually grew larger and larger:
- 1915 - September - the Second Canadian Division arrived in France.
The Canadian Corps was formed.
Sir E. A. Alderson became the Corps commander.
Brigadier-General Currie, with the temporary rank of major-general, took over the command of the First Division, which held the post of honour at the Battle of Hooge.
- 1916 - January - a Third Division was constituted.
- 1916 - May - Sir Julian Byng succeeded Sir E. A. Alderson.
- 1917 - June - Major-General Currie was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (K.C.M.G.), promoted temporary lieutenant-general, and appointed to succeed Sir Julian Byng in the full command of the Canadian Corps.
No Commanding Officer could have had more loyal support than either Sir E. A. Alderson or Sir Julian Byng. But the appointment of Sir Arthur Currie, a Canadian, who had won the fullest confidence of those two Imperial officers, was acclaimed, not only in the Canadian Corps, but throughout Canada.
It is only fitting to add that this view was concurred with fully by the highest British military authorities.
The citizen soldier had proved himself in the field, against the most formidable product of scientific military training the world had ever seen, and, with his men, marched out the other side of the gas cloud with honour. A tribute to Canadian steadfastness.