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Sir Arthur Currie was not a man raised to become a great general, he had to start from the beginning and work his way to the top. He served his country by fighting and leading battles that made Canada a great independent nation, making him a figure of inspiration to many Canadians. In the many battles of World War One, including Amiens, Passchendaele, Vimy Ridge, and others, Arthur Currie devised well prepared, flexible, unique, and intelligent war strategies that led Canadian troops to victory.
Born on December 5th, 1875 in Napperton, Ontario, Arthur William Currie found his place in the world. Having been the third of seven children, Currie found his family to be very supportive of each other (Dancocks, 1985). At the age of 15, Currie’s father died of a stroke, leaving the family in financial problems. University was not the path to go down at this point for Currie, in hopes of becoming a lawyer. Instead, he took a teaching course (Harris, 1988).
Later on in his developing career, Currie met with a woman named Lucy Charworth-Musters, who would one day be his wife. With a paying job as a teacher, he decided to enlist in the militia as a lowly gunner in the 5th Regiment at the Canadian Garrison Artillery. In 1901, Currie married Lucy and found a better-paying job at an insurance firm at Matson and Coles (Dancocks, 1985). With great devotion to his wife and two children, the militia was still one of Currie’s priorities and he became a commander of the 5th Regiment of Artillery, winning the Governor-General’s Cup for efficiency (Hyatt, 1987). On the 4th of August in 1914, the British ultimatum to Germany expired and Canada was now automatically at war (Hyatt, 1987).
With careful planning, co-operation, good leadership and courage, Currie managed to bring out the characteristics of a well thought out success at Vimy Ridge in April of 1917 (Dancocks, 1985). Sir Arthur Currie’s responsibility was to command the 1st Canadian Division (Hyatt, 1987). He pushed his troops to undergo rigorous training and to prepare themselves by using a life-size course, with every trench marked by tape and a flag (Dancocks, 1985). Currie designed very accurate maps and he had a small-scale plasticine model built so that it could be studied by all soldiers. Arthur Currie insisted that his division’s knowledge of the enemy was excellent (Dancocks, 1985).
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They had rehearsed the attack many times, and each and every man knew just exactly
where he was going in the attack, and what he was going to do when he got there.
Every feature of the German defence was studied, and definite plans made for the
overcome of every obstacle, in so far as it was humanly possible to make such plans
before and attack (Dancocks, 1985, p.94).
Currie’s troops’ readiness for battle led to remarkable success at Vimy Ridge, capturing nearly all the first objectives in the first 45 minutes (Hyatt, 1987). Not only did Currie lead his men to a significant victory, but the reputation of Canada had changed. As Field Marshal J.C. Smuts once wrote,
I see once more Vimy Ridge on that cold dull grey rainy morning of 9 April, 1917. I
witness once more the great deed that was wrought there by Currie and his men- a
deed that sent a thrill of hope and inspiration throughout the whole of our frustrated
ranks on the vast Western Front. Canada proved herself there, and it could never be
the same Canada again, as her subsequent history has already shown (Urquhart, 1950,
In October of 1917, Currie had to begin making preparations for an attack at Passchendaele. These preparations included exhausting and extensive work of building roads in the mud and gathering guns in just a few days (Dancocks, 1985). “Indeed, two of the most essential prerequisites for an attack in such complex conditions were very careful planning and close co-operation- qualities in which Currie excelled” (Hyatt, 1987, p. 82). The results of these preparations were excellent, in the words of Urquhart,
It is true these achievements were only possible because of the strength in man power
of the Canadians; but even so results would not have been so completely successful
had it not been for Currie’s tireless energy in insisting that the progress of the work be
kept up to strict timetable (Urquhart, 1950, p.177).
In Currie’s opinion, the key to success for Passchendaele was to provide enough support at all times for the assaulting infantry. However, he was greatly worried about artillery not being able to do its share (Hyatt, 1987). Moreover, weather conditions were a big factor. Specifically, tremendous amounts of mud slowed Canadians down and casualties were increasing, but Currie was determined to keep his troops alive (Harris, 1988). Despite these obstacles the courageous men had fought their way through the mud and the outcome of Passchendaele was a victorious one (Hyatt, 1987). In one of Currie’s letters, he wrote, “I do not think it is too much to say… that the victory of the Canadians at Passchendaele kept the Allies in the war” (Dancocks, 1985, p.120). Passchendaele is a notable example of how Currie had well-prepared war strategies with plans that were based on efficiency and persistence.
On August 8th, 1918 Canadian troops were to participate in the Amiens attack which meant that Currie’s role in making preparations became more important (Hyatt, 1987). A critical element of this attack was to move the corps to Amiens allowing them to engage in a surprise attack (Dancocks, 1985). Arthur Currie’s greatest contributions to this battle were suggestions which significantly accounted for the surprise attack that subsequently led to victory (Hyatt, 1987). Currie sent two infantry battalions north to Vimy in order to set up headquarters, where the signallers delivered phoney wireless messages to fool the enemy into thinking the Allies were moving north to Flanders (Hyatt, 1987).
Currie later summarized the results of the attack in a few words: “By afternoon the
Canadian Corps had gained all its objectives with the exception of a few hundred
yards on the right… but this was made good the following morning. The day’s
operations… represented a maximum penetration of the enemy’s defences of over
eight miles. The surprise had been complete and overwhelming” (Hyatt, 1987, p.116).
Currie’s plan of deception manifests his capability of making clever preparations and decisions which had a major impact on the successful results of the battle of Amiens.
During the invasion of the Drocourt-Quéant Line, Arthur Currie manifested a more unique and flexible side of his personality by initiating a night attack (Dancocks, 1987). While he was not one to favour such a strategy; knowing that the Germans would be expecting an attack at dawn left him to believe that this was the proper course of action (Dancocks, 1987). This decision led to another rewarding attack allowing Canadians to quickly occupy enemy positions along the entire line (Dancocks, 1987). In Currie’s opinion, the D-Q Line was “one of the finest feats in our history” (Dancocks, 1985, p.162).
While negotiations of an armistice were being discussed, Currie and his troops were preparing an attack on Mons in Belgium (Dancocks, 1987). Arthur Currie wanted to capture Mons, as long as there would not be many casualties (Hyatt, 1987). Mons was overrun quickly and easily without a single Canadian being killed (Dancocks, 1985). This was a great accomplishment for Currie, which he was very proud of. In addition, Currie had recaptured Mons from the Germans, finishing the war where it had first begun. For this reason, Currie received plenty of acknowledgement (Dancocks, 1985).
Sir Arthur Currie was a superior strategist. Among his many unique characteristics, it was those of intelligence and conscientiousness which led Canadians to many victorious battles in the Great War. In the film, The Last 100 Days (1999), each man in the allied high command accepted and referred to Currie as “a master innovator of battle tactics against an entrenched enemy.” Currie is an important figure that deserves a lot of recognition and gratitude for his brilliant preparations that led to triumphant outcomes in battles of World War One.
Dancocks, D.G. (1985). Sir Arthur Currie: A Biography. Toronto: Methuen Publications.
Dancocks, D.G. (1987). Spearhead to Victory: Canada and the Great War. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers Ltd.
Harris, S.J. (1988). Canadian Brass: The Making of a Professional Army. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Hyatt, A.M.J. (1987). General Sir Arthur Currie: A Military Biography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Nielson, Richard (Producer). (1999). The Last 100 Days. [Film].
Urquhart, H.M. (1950). Arthur Currie: The Biography of a Great Canadian. Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons (Canada) Limited.