Last updated on July 7th, 2020 at 11:55 am
Last Updated on July 7, 2020 Posted by Colonial Acres Coins
As part of the Empire, Canada stood “shoulder to shoulder with Britain,” in the words of Prime Minister Robert Borden, by entering the conflict that came to be known as World War I in 1914. Four years later, at the end of the war, Canada emerged with newfound national identity. With its separate signature on the document that brought a formal end to the war, the Treaty of Versailles, Canada gained recognition as an independent country.
Canada’s efforts in advancing the Allied cause, on both the battlefield and the homefront, were instrumental to victory but came at a terrible price. A set of commemorative Canadian coins released in 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the war pays tribute to the sacrifices of the soldiers and those they left behind.
Over four years of war, the Canadian Corps gained a well-earned reputation for being the best-attacking troops on the Allied side. Such was their reputation that German troops started to catch on to the fact that an attack was coming by the mere presence of Canadian troops on a section of the front.
During a series of offensives at the end of the war that came to be known as Canada’s Hundred Days, Allied commanders used this fact to their advantage. In August 1918, the Allies made a show of stationing Canadian troops in Ypres, Belgium, to trick the Germans into thinking a major attack was coming there. However, the real attack was planned for Amiens, France, and Canadian troops secretly hurried back to participate in the battle, taking the Germans by surprise.
From August to November 1918, Canadians helped to turn the tide in favor of the Allies and bring the war to its conclusion with the formal signing of the armistice on November 11th. However, the cost was significant. Among the approximately 650,000 Canadians, men and women, who served in the military in World War I, the wounded numbered 170,000 and deaths more than 66,000.
The contributions of those left behind, particularly women, were significant to the war effort. Women’s organizations mobilized to raise money and make needed items, such as clothing and bandages, for those serving overseas. Women took on industrial jobs usually reserved for men, including Elsie MacGill, the first female aircraft designer in the world. MacGill has been compared to Rosie the Riveter, a cultural icon from the United States during World War II, but unlike the allegorical Rosie, MacGill was a real person.
Canadians in rural areas rose to wartime challenges as well. Farm families’ women and children took on new responsibilities to ensure crops were planted and harvested while men were away fighting. All the while, in fields and in factories, everyone with loved ones serving on the Western Front experienced anxiety about those soldiers’ eventual fates.
Family members and loved ones saw soldiers off at train stations as they departed for training at Valcartier. It was a bittersweet moment mixed with pride and fear given the uncertainty that they would ever be reunited. The 2014 set of silver commemorative coins pays tribute to the sacrifices of both soldiers and civilians by depicting the tender moment of departure between a loving couple. It is intimate but not private, as the couple is surrounded by other volunteers looking on as they prepare to board the train as part of the first wave of Canadian troops.
At the time, World War I was the bloodiest conflict in history. It touched every aspect of Canadians’ lives and required them to make unprecedented sacrifices. By making the choice to stand with Britain, Canada committed itself to defend freedom and peace, a commitment that it would renew multiple times in the 20th century and continue into the 21st. Few are still alive who remember the Great War firsthand, but the 100th anniversary set of commemorative Canadian coins helps to ensure that their courage, fortitude, and patriotism will never be forgotten.