100 Years Ago: Soldier Disputes Exaggerated Claims

The Intelligencer August 24, 1916 (page 5)

“The Canadians and the Ypres Salient. A soldier just returned from the front writes as follows: Coming to Canada for the first time since the early days of the war, it is quite a surprise to find the impression current that Canadian troops have been given an undue share of the strenuous work on the British front.

This is perhaps due to the fact that people are prone to remember various active operations in which our men have been engaged, and to forget the long periods of comparative inactivity that have come between them.

They also are apt to forget that all the principle offensives, Neuve Chapelle, Loos, and so far, the Somme, have been conducted without the assistance of Canadian troops.

Another factor in creating wrong impressions is the imaginative letters that occasionally come from unreliable men at the front describing actions that never occurred, and which are sometimes taken seriously here. A classic example is the hoax perpetrated on a certain M.P.P. last spring.

I point this out with no wish to disparage the work done by our men on various parts of the line. I know them and it, too well for that. But the work should be viewed in some sort of perspective and not allowed to hide from our view the equally good and much less trumpeted work done by the Imperial forces.

That Canadians have had the honor of holding parts of the Ypres salient at times is a matter for pride, a pride that the casualty lists should not dim for us. But we must not, in fairness to our own men attempt to exaggerate that honor.

The Canadian force in Flanders is one corps in a very large army, and the people and press of Canada can do them no greater disservice than to make them ridiculous in the eyes of their fellows by foolish and exaggerated ideas and assertions as to their doings. Then men in the trenches who read your papers (including the advertisements) with considerable thoroughness, will laugh heartily, though perhaps somewhat sarcastically at your statement.

Perhaps you will forgive me for reminding you that the 1st Canadian Division was in the salient in 1915 for one or two weeks and not again for eleven months. The Canadian corps moved into the salient again this spring, and has held part of it for some four and a half months—a total for Canadians of five months.

I do not, of course, refer to the P.P.C.L.I. who were with an English division and got into rather more fighting.”

[Note: P.P.C.L.I. = Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.]