The Final 100 Days: Over the Canal - October 18, 1918

The previous day’s operations had seen rapid advances made by the 3 Canadian Divisions at the front line. 

Continuing to move with haste, the 1st and 4th Divisions captured 10 and 8 kilometres of respective territory. Over a dozen communities fell into the hands of the Corps on October 18th. 

Both the 1st and 4th Divisions were assigned a squadron of the Canadian Light Horse, a company of Canadian Cyclists, two medium-machine gun batteries, and two armoured cars. Their assignment was not only to cover ground, but also to ensure the retreating German forces always remained within reach. 

As the German Army retreated beyond the war-torn areas they had inhabited for the past four years, the pursuing Canadians found themselves in areas of France never touched by war. Villages evacuated by Germans were relatively intact, and the occupying Canadians soon found themselves being hugged, kissed, and fed by the grateful French citizenry. 

The Canadians consolidated their gains, and prepared for the next day’s advance. 

The Edmonton Pipe and Drums

The Great War was Canada’s first act on the world’s stage. Like each nation at war, certain stereotypes emerged as members of the Canadian Corps fought and died across the world. By war’s end, a strong picture of Canadians had emerged - that of “The Canuck”.

The picture of a “rugged colonial” is personified in the Canadian Canuck. From the rocky coasts of the Maritimes, the industrial heartland of Ontario, wide expanses of farmland on the Prairies, and the timbered coastline of British Columbia, the Canadian identity is defined by rough conditions and rugged frontiersmen.

However strongly these men identified with the Canadian identity, they never forgot their roots. Just a week removed from the outbreak of war, some members of the Edmonton Police Force decided to enlist as a pipe and drum band. 

Pipers has served in the ranks of the United Kingdom, even before the union of Scotland and England in 1707. Historically, pipers were used to signal Calvary and infantry movements. In the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, Scottish regiments revived the art, steeling the nerves of men heading into battle. 

The initiative came just a few days following Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. As a British dominion, Canada declared war whenever and against whomever Britain did. 

On August 12th, 1914, 12 men of the Edmonton Caledonian Pipe Band joined the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Regiment. Led by Pipe-Major John Colville, the men appeared in full highland dress, announcing they were there to, as he put it; 

“... to play the Battalion to France and back”.

And play they did. Pipers were the first over the top, playing the regimental march “All Blue Bonnets Are Over the Border”, spurring both anxious and excited soldiers over the top. 

But they were no mere pipers. In addition to playing the men into battle, the Pipe and Drummers acted as stretcher bearers - rescuing the same men whom they had just sent off. Both tasks were made much more treacherous by the fact the members were unarmed while performing both duties. 

In the face of immeasurable danger, distress, and despair, the men of the Edmonton Pipe and Drums acted with valour. 

Sergeant John MacDonald, Piper Jock Robertson and Drummer William Miller were each awarded the Distinguished Combat Medal, typically awarded for “distinguished, gallant, and good conduct in the field”.

Sergeant John Ritchie was also awarded the Meritorious Service Medal - the name describing the actions performed to earn the medal itself. 

Following the end of the war, and prior to their demobilization, the men of the Pipe and Drums performed at the wedding of their regiment’s namesake, Princess Patricia. Afterwards, the men were demobilized, and returned to their civilian lives - though the pipes would fall silent, a new generation would soon play them. 

In 1961, a new group descended from Scottish and Irish immigrants auditioned for then Chief of EPS M.F.E Anthony. Their performance impressed, and Anthony endorsed them as the official band of the Edmonton Police Service. 

Though they no longer pipe men into battle on foreign soil, the military history of the Edmonton Pipe and Drum band is etched deeply into their instruments. Alongside their historic partnership with the PPCLI, the band has forged close ties with the 49th Battalion, colloquially known at the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, the Airborne Regiment, and the HCMS Edmonton.

The pipes of the past permeate the present. No Stone Left Alone is proud to work with the Edmonton Pipe and Drum band, as we both participate in our November 5th Ceremony at Beechmount Cemetery. 

The Final 100 Days: The Fighting Continues - October 17, 1918

Battle resumed. Elements of 3 Canadian Divisions began moving against the German Army, who had begun retreating in earnest. 

The 12th to the 17th of October were characterized by routine in the Canadian sector. Each day began with a “test barrage” - a brief artillery strike on suspected German positions - followed by a waiting period to see whether or not German forces would retaliate. More often than not, Canadian Forces would find these positions deserted, as the German Army had begun retreating freely. 

C.P Hull’s 56th Division (which had held the line alongside the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions) was now rotated out of the front line, being replaced by David Watson’s 4th Canadian Division. This struck down Currie’s plan to have his divisions operating in a “Two in, two out” manner; this both conserved valuable war materiel and the lives of Currie’s men. 

By now, Canadian engineers had created a number of crossings over the Canal de la Sensée, allowing the 3 Divisions to advance. German forces abandoned strongpoints along the opposite bank, and the Corps swept forward. 

The 1st Brigade swiftly secured the villages of Dechy & Sin-Le-Noble, while the 2nd captured Ferio and Roucourt before consolidating their gains and holding for the night. 

Further south on the line, the 6th Brigade leapt across the Canal from their position at Paillencourt and captured ground before preparing for the next day’s operations. 

The Corps were mobile again. Victory was within the Allies grasp; but they would have to pay a blood cost to see the war close. 

The Final 100 Days: Continuing Operations - October 16, 1918

All along the Western Front, Allied Forces were taking the fight to the beleaguered German Armies.

In Belgium, Army Group Flanders had pushed Friedrich von Armin’s 4th Army across the Lys River, with King Albert of Belgium’s Forces in hot pursuit. 

The prior day’s operations had seen the village of Menin fall into Allied hands, and the British 2nd Army establish positions outside Courtrai. The strongpoint established by the British served as a jumping off point for today’s operations, which saw part of the city captured by the Allies.

Belgian troops swiftly secured the villages of Iseghem and Cortemark.

Both the 6th and 17th German Armies were entrenched to the north of the Canadian sector. In the face of the 1st and 5th British Armies, and with the threat of an I defended left flank looming, both armies retreated to the Hermann Line. 

Canadian operations would resume the next day. 

The Final 100 Days: The Hermann Line - October 15, 1918

Another day had passed. Although the war was not yet over, the efforts of millions of men on the Western Front brought it ever closer with each day. 

The launch of yesterday’s Courtrai Offensive had seen stable gains made by Allied Forces, and the momentum carried on into today’s operations. Elements of the 2nd British Army thrust forward, capturing Menin, and gaining a strongpoint outside of Courtrai. 

Allied offensives had mounted sufficient pressure on the Germans, and their northern forces were prepared for a large-scale withdrawal. Their destination was the Hermann Line, an as-of-yet unfinished defence system. 

Running from Valenciennes to Le Cateau, the Hermann Line was one of the last feasible defensive positions for the German Army. Through the coming days, Canadian Forces (in conjunction with British and French troops elsewhere on the line) would attempt to shatter the line and continue their march into Northern France and Belgium.