A grateful nation's gift of a gun recalls a painful episode from Canada's military past

A grateful nation's gift of a gun recalls a painful episode from Canada's military past
From CBC - March 13, 2018

It's a question thatdoubtless led to fisticuffs and a few black eyes in smoky Legion halls in the aftermath of the First World War:

Who was the first to liberate the city of Mons, Belgium?Was it the Royal Canadian Regimentor the Royal Highlanders (42nd Battalion) of Canada?

The city's so-called "golden book" records the signatures of officers from both units. And sothe debate has raged onsometimes loudlyfor years.

Few people living today appreciate what thecity, deep in Belgium's formercoal-mining country, meant to the lost generation of the Great War.

An cast-iron symbol of that bittersweet connection between Belgium and Canada was uncrated recently at the Canadian War Museum and will go on display Tuesday during the visit of Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde.

It's a field gun, known as an 18-pounderthe Commonwealth's most widely-used artillery piece during the First World War.

The Belgians are now loaning out the piecegifted to the City ofMonsafterthe war to the Ottawa museum as part of the celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.

When the guns fell silent

The gun is thought to have been in action right up until 11 o'clock on Nov. 11, 1918, making it one the last Canadian guns to fall silent in a war that claimed the lives of 59,544 Canadian soldiers.

A number of field artillery pieces were given to the Belgians, who had suffered through four years of German occupation and would do so again during the Second World War.

Each of the gifts was "cherished," said Raoul Delcorde, Belgium's ambassador to Canada in a recent interview.

"We wanted to return at least one of them."

It is a gracious gesture that may puzzle some Canadians unfamiliar with the city's painful legacy, and what it meant to the Europeans and Canadians who lived through those terrible days.

"I think that most Canadians would not know the name Mons, or what it represents," said Tim Cook, the war museum's First World War historian. "It meant something at the time."

Mons was the place where the Canadian Army ended the war.

And for most of the British Commonwealthperhaps even for its larger community of alliesthe city was steeped in significance because it was along the nearby Monde Canal that the British Army fought its first major battle against the advancing Germans in 1914.

It took four more years of misery and millions of lives loston all sidesto get Britain and its allies back to that starting line in Mons.

The tragedy of Mons

After Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, Canadian soldiershad established themselves as the shock troops of the Commonwealth armies.

They were in the vanguard of the advancing allies in the fall of 1918. Mons was in their path when, as the German army crumbled, the commander of the Canadian Corps, Gen.Sir Arthur Currie, was ordered to take the city. The battle unfolded late on Nov. 10, 1918.

'He had to defend the war'

Was it the last gun to fire?


Continue reading at CBC »