– All throughout Canada in the 20th Century there have been numerous events, actions, and decisions that we call defining moments. Canada has been through many battles, hard-chosen decisions, and changes that have changed the way Canadians live today. The second battle of Ypres, the life on the home front in World War Two, and the invasion of D-day helped enrich Canada with their contributions to food, fashion, religion, education, business, and politics. All these moments were significant for Canada and changed the way we Canadians live today.
– “OK, we’ll go!” With these words, General Elsenhower, commander-in-chief of the Allied Forces, announced the beginning of the long-awaited and -planned invasion of Europe. The Normandy beaches of northern France were selected as the site of invasion, because they were close to Britain and the invading army, supply ships, and reinforcements. A huge army gathered in the South of England. American troops numbering 1.25 million joined a similar number of British and Commonwealth troops, including 30,000 Canadians. Four thousand landing craft, 700 war ships, and 11,000 planes were ready. The Germans had 60 divisions in northern France and the Netherlands under the command of Field Marshall Rommel. In the spring of 1944, Allied bombers started attacking and destroying Nazi military sites in northern France. The idea was to soften the enemy defences. D-Day, Day of Deliverance, was fixed for June 5, 1944. But the invasion had to be postponed due to bad weather.
At 2:00 a.m. on June 6, paratroopers were dropped to protect the landing forces. Seventy-five minutes later, 2000 bombers began to pound German defences on the beaches. At 5:30 a.m., the air raids were joined by the guns of the Allied warships. Then, at precisely 6:30 a.m., the first waves of Canadian, British, and American troops poured onto the beaches of France. This was Canada’s largest military operation. Fourteen thousand soldiers were set to hit the beaches of France. The Royal Canadian Navy had 100 ships with 10,000 sailors in the operation.
Flying overhead were 36 bomber squadrons of the RCAF. The Canadian soldiers landed at Juno Beach, and faced underwater obstacles, land mines, barbed wire, and heavy machine-gun fire from the Germans. At the end of the day, they had met their objectives, the only Allied force to do so that day. They had suffered 335 dead and 739 other casualties. Within a week, the Allies had 300,000 troops safely on shore. Within a month, 1 million Allies had landed with 200,000 military vehicles. Though the Nazi forces fought hard, Hitler was now caught with war on two front, east and west.
– The second battle of Ypres (or modern Lepers) was one that completely changed the world’s perspective of Canada. Through courage and determination, the Canadian army was able to prove their strength. It all started in 1914 with the first battle of Ypres, in which the Germans had to reconsider their unsuccessful Alfred Von Schlieffen plan. They wanted to quickly eliminate the British and French, so they could finally attack Russia with full force. However, since they did not have enough time to constitute a new plan, the Germans decided to stick with the old one and use new warfare. By 1915, the second battle of Ypres was already under way, when the Germans decided to attack the potential weak spot in between the Canadian and French trenches. With the use of chlorine (or mustard) gas, the Germans were able to force the French army into retreating. The Canadians, however, used their combined thinking power to improvise a simple, effective gas mask, and fought back.
The gas mask was composed of urine and a handkerchief, since the moisture could block the chlorine gas and allow for some oxygen to get in as well. When the German army moved out, they wore specialized uniforms and gas masks, and carried barbarous rifles such as the Bayonet. This gave them an overall inhuman and alien-like appearance, which was bound to scare anyone. However, this failed to intimidate the Canadians, as they simply went out with their own Bayonets and gas masks, and stalled the German army at their trenches. The other half of the army, however, had already punched holes in the French trenches and moved further into the battlefield. Thus, the Canadian army moved back and dispersed for a quick counter-attack. They filled in the gap left by the French, and pushed back the arrogant German army. At the same time, they fought the army that opposed their own trenches, and pushed them back even further.
Since the German army never expected any resistance or counter-attack, they were completely vulnerable to the Canadian attack and had to retreat. When reinforcements from the French and British reserves arrived, they were surprised to find that the Canadians had in fact done the job of two armies. On that day, every Canadian soldier grew a few inches taller, and elevated in honour, rank, reputation, skill, talent, strength, courage, and determination. For every victory, however, there is a price to pay, and for this great defensive victory, the number of casualties was paid in full. Of a maximum divisional strength of 18,000 that had started the battle, 5975 Canadians had become casualties, of whom over 1000 were fatal.
– The civilian population or activities of a country at war are called the home front. During WWII, the Canadian government proclaimed the War Measures Act and interned many Jewish, Italian, German, and Japanese Canadians, while sending 16,000 conscripted soldiers overseas. The War Measures Act was previously used in World War One against Ukrainian Canadians, but it was not merely as severe as in World War Two. The role of women grew closer to enemy grounds (such as actual navy, army, and air force positions), and once again, the rest took the jobs of men. Canadians grew dependant on the United States with NATO, NORAD, and Camp X. At times of war, the panicking people would rush to buy foods and supplies. Therefore, the Wartime Prices and Trade Board (WPTB) was established to control prices and supervise the distribution of food and other scarce goods. People needed ration cards to buy items such as gasoline, butter, sugar, meat, tea, and coffee.
Rationing is when the government puts a limit to the amount every civilian can buy. As in WWI, total war meant that all industries, materials, and people were put to work for the war effort. The war basically affected everyone in Canada. In a very real sense, however, Canada also grew with the war. WWII helped Canada establish its place as an important “middle power” among world nations, while its GNP (Gross National Production) of goods (asbestos, aluminium, coal, manganese, chemicals, and paper) tripled, and all of its main industries expanded (thanks to the increased production of vital agricultural goods, such as wheat, flour, bacon, ham, eggs, canned meat, and fish). After the war, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the threat of a Third World War had people on the home front protesting about national security. The debate was mainly over Canada having nuclear warheads of its own, which most saw as a way to achieve national security, while others found it revolting and immoral. However, in 1963, when Lester B. Pearson of the Liberals became Prime Minister, all of the Bomarc missiles in Canada were armed with nuclear warheads.
– With the second battle of Ypres, the Germans persisted to use the Von Schlieffen plan, but with new chlorine gas warfare. Although the French retreated from their trenches, the brave Canadian soldiers stood their ground and improvised a gas mask composed of a handkerchief and urine. In doing so, they were able to stall the German forces at their trenches, and move back for a counter-attack at the Germans entering the French trenches. The surprised German forces could do nothing but retreat, and the Canadians gained international recognition for their selfless efforts. Of the 18,000 Allied soldiers present that day, 1,000 were dead and 5,957 were injured. On the home front, the War Measures Act was used to intern Jewish, Italian, German, and Japanese Canadians, while conscripting 16,000 soldiers to go overseas. Women grew closer to enemy lines with new positions in the army, navy, and air force.
Canadian dependence on the United States grew with the establishment of the North American Air Defense Command, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and Camp X. Total war industries and workers were put to work for the war effort. The long-awaited and -planned attack on Normandy occurred on D-day, 1944, with an almost never-ending wave of Allied troops, air raids, and warships. It was the largest military operation for Canadians who landed at Juno Beach, and faced underwater obstacles, land mines, and machine-gun fire from the Germans. However, at the end of the day, they were the only successful Allied troops with 335 dead and 739 injured. Nazis were now caught with heavy fire from both East and West. The second battle of Ypres in World War One, life on the home front in World War Two, and invasion of D-day helped Canada become the great nation it is today, a century later.