If Ye Break Faith

This blog is dedicated to the promotion of educating about the Canadian experience of World War One. To discover who we are as a nation in the 21st Century, we must understand our past.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Pursuit to Mons

I must say I'm very encouraged by the way in which support through social networking has been building.  Above all else it lends credibility to the purpose of the project and, if I dare say it, my appeal as a writer.  I again offer my thanks and recognition to all those that have taken the time to note their appreciation of my efforts, whether that's been through Facebook "likes", Twitter following or Reddit "upvotes".  If you'd like to show support of this project, it can be made can be made through  the PayPal "Donate" button in the right hand column, at IndieGoGo, by joining the Facebook Page,  by following the twitter feed or this blog itself.  Comments and questions can be directed here.  I've just recently become acquainted with the Calgary Military Museums Society a great resource for military history with the very noble mandate of making our military heritage more available to students.  They are a not for profit group, and I recommend visiting their site to learn more about their cause and how you can help.

One of the things I run into from time to time, given my depth of knowledge on the subject matter, is people asking my opinion on certain aspects or events on the war.  I had one such conversation the other day.  A friend said to me "Do you know about the general who decided to attack this town just when the war was about to end?  Didn't he only sacrifice his men for the prestige of it? Wasn't that a waste?"  Not an easy set of questions to answer.  As noted before, I'm a great fan of Gordon Corrigan's expository book on the First World War "Mud Blood and Poppycock" mainly as it is quite successful in waylaying the the misconceptions most have about the war to the point that these mistakes of opinion are taken as fact.  It took me a long time to pick up the book, as I didn't want my perceptions tampered with, yet Corrigan uses straight fact, thoroughly researched, which brokers little argument with the ideas he seeks to change.  I'm very glad I took the time to read it (and re-read it) as I can not pursue an objective look at history without an open mind and all available evidence.

Which leads back to the questions my friend asked.  The general he was referring to was Sir Arthur Currie, the Officer Commanding the Canadian Corps.  The town was Mons.  Currie was an opportunist, and had relied on his Corps' elite reputation to mount difficult operations beginning with Paschendaele in late 1917.  The success of these battles won respect for the Canadians as a fighting force and prestige for its commander.  So was his attack and capture of Mons on 10-11 Nov 1918 just another bid at securing accolades, or in other words, did Currie sacrifice good men only to have Canadians end the war where the British began?  It is a case of a little bit yes, a lot of no.  The thing to keep in mind is that the Armistice going into effect at 11 am on November 11th was not, as many see it, the end of the war.  That took place with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.  The Armistice was only an agreement to a cessation of hostilities.  At any point in between the war could have flared up again.  With that as a possibility, it made strategic sense to have the best possible position to "jump off" from should the fighting resume.  Liberating and holding Mons was absolutely practical.  It is far better to occupy and defend a built up area when opportunity is present, rather to leave it in enemy hands and give the Germans that same advantage if the Armistice wasn't upheld.  The other stipulation was that Germany was in possession of foreign territory, which could be used as a bargaining point at the peace table.  The more gains that could be made against them before the cease fire went into effect weakened their diplomatic position.  Having Mons in Allied hands was a large windfall which helped to undermine Germany's ability to make concessionary demands.   

In the end, of course, the peace process went rather well which is why in hindsight it looks like a waste of lives and effort.  The thing most easily forgotten with looking at history, as I've mentioned before, it that we in the present have the advantage of that hindsight which is not practically available to those at the time of the events studied.

At the end of the war, Canada had come from being an obscure nation from a far off continent with a negligible and amateur military, to one renowned for its contribution to the war effort which concluded with the Pursuit to Mons.  We as a nation hardly flout this reputation, but it's one we've continuously upheld in other conflicts and is present today.

I'd like to express on behalf of the "If Ye Break Faith" project a warm "Welcome Home" to our troops returning from Afghanistan, a heart felt sense of gratitude and thanks for the mission they undertook, and my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those that gave all.  

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