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The Western Front

By 1915 the Western Front stretched from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. The initial German war plan called for a quick attack of France through neutral Belgium before turning southwards to encircle the French army on the German border. This strategy would then allow the German army to turn its attention to the Eastern Front and the advancing Russian army. After the massive clashes of the Battle of the Frontiers, Germany failed to secure victory and the two sides in the conflict dug into defensive positions resulting in a stalemate that would last for years.

The war became one of attrition. For the first time and perhaps only time in history the defensive position reigned supreme on the battlefield.  And since Germany occupied Belgian and French territory, it fell to the Allies to try to evict them--at a terrible human cost.  Massive attacks and counterattacks would claim thousands of lives and success would be measured in yards. Much of the front was unsuitable to the mass movement of troops and the relatively flat areas of Flanders, the Somme and Verdun would see repeated mass clashes. Armies repeatedly fought over the same terrain features.

It was in the killing fields of Flanders and France that the bulk of the Canadian army did battle. Soldiers from the colonies of Britain and France were key to the victory of 1918. Recruits came from around the globe - North America, Austral Asia, India and Africa. In 1917 the United States entered the war. After a failed offence by the German army in the spring of 1918, a series of victories by Allied armies forced the Germans to sue for peace. Fighting came to an end on 11 November 1918.

Material for this section was selected from the Brock Silversides fonds, the Morton Manuscript Collection (MSS C550), the Pamphlet Collection, the Samuel R. Laycock fonds, and the Hans Dommasch fonds.