The unexpected bark of dual pistol shots had rung out from among the well-wishers, striking Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the jugular and Duchess Sophie in the stomach; both died sitting up in the open-roofed Double Phaeton while being rushed to the Bosnian Governor’s residence for treatment. The heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Duchess of Hohenburg were suddenly gone. Sarajevo, Bosnia on June 28, 1914 was the scene of an historic and fateful day.
The assassinations triggered the various factions across the Continent, who for years had been agitating war, to ignite a conflict albeit with expectations of limited reach and a short life, similar to other European squabbles over decades and centuries past. Neither was to be, as war had now been raging across Western Europe and beyond for over 2 years.
The Triple Entente of France, Russia and Great Britain, was formed in the earliest part of the 20th century to counterbalance the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austro-Hungary and the Kingdom of Italy, although Italy did not ally with them in their offensive (later joining the Allies). Never mind that Nicholas II Czar of Russia, Kaiser Wilhelm II Emperor of Germany and George V King of England were all first cousins under a common grandmother, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. With Austro-Hungary blaming Serbia for the assassination of their heir apparent, their troops on July 28 were sent to the Serbian Frontier. Russia was committed to support its ally Serbia, therefore mobilized its troops, which threatened Germany’s Eastern border. Germany was honour bound to back Austro-Hungary’s mobilization, so declared war on Russia August 1. Perhaps to detract France from a surprise attack in support of its Russian friends, or more likely due to a long intrigue to test a militaristic Schlieffen-Moltke Plan, Germany also declared war on France, August 3 (with the hope that Britain remained neutral).
Although Belgium denied permission for Germany to pass through its territory, Germany violated its neutrality on August 4 in order to out-flank French troops, an act which incited Britain to declare war on Germany; the British Expeditionary Force arrived in France on August 7. Within days, France and Britain declared war on Austro-Hungary, who in turn declared war on Russia while Serbia declared war on Germany. Conflict escalated across the European frontier.
Through the balance of 1914, eventualities further escalated the conflict to a true first-time ever ‘world war’. The Ottoman Empire closed the Dardanelles Straight which shut tight the sea connection between Europe and Asia. The Togoland Campaign saw British and French troops invade German West Africa, Japan declared war on Germany in order to initiate the Battle of Tsingtao, China. New Zealand occupied Western Samoa. And so it went!
Canada, alongside Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Newfoundland was a Dominion of the British Empire and although self-governing, was integrated in the imperial defence of the British Empire, due to its own limited military resources and a reliance on security from the Royal Navy. Canada mobilized immediately after Britain declared war on Germany which made every eligible young man responsible to enlist. Not only British immigrants but generational Canadian citizens were eager to join up in respect of ‘King and Country’. So eager, that some thought they would miss the ‘fun’ if they didn’t arrive overseas before Christmas, 1914 when the war was predicted to be over in favour of the Triple Entente.
The reality was that training camps in both Canada and England required time to develop. After Britain announced it had no surplus cash, time was needed for Canada to generate funding, largely from New York bond market sources. Field action finally took place by the First Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) at Ypres, Belgium in April, 1915, during which Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McRae penned the poem “In Flanders Fields” to honour a fallen friend.
While Canadian participation grew, it was not involved in another major battle until late in the Battle of the Somme which commenced July 1, 1916, and which became a scene of horror, devastation and colossal loss of life. While the Newfoundlanders were geographically connected but not part of Canada, the shared awe of their experience on July 1 is especially remembered for the 800 who went into battle, with only 68 returning to barracks that day. Canada’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions all participated in the Battle of the Somme. The Royal Canadian Regiment (RCRs), 7th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division all joined that muddy battlefield in August, 1916.