World War I: Northern Neighbors

When Great Britain had declared war in 1914, its colonial military forces in Australia, India, New Zealand, and South Africa mobilized in the effort. The situation was different in Canada, because the country’s political structure allowed for the UK’s Parliament to dictate foreign policy, but the Canadian government had autonomy in determining the level of military involvement. This split-level leadership would both help and hurt Canada. Whether or not World War I provided the impetus toward a Canadian national identity is up for debate, since Canada remains a constitutional monarchy with the Queen of England as its head of state. While Americans are fond of ribbing their northern neighbors, it is a fact often forgotten that the Canadians played a significant – albeit neglected – role in World War I; significant enough that Canada had its own representatives at the Treaty of Versailles at the war’s conclusion and the Canadian delegation signed the treaty as a separate nation.

Morale was high, but like the United States of that era, the Canadian Expeditionary Force practiced institutional racism and segregation against Aboriginal Canadians, and Asians, the Chinese and Japanese from British Columbia, and blacks from Nova Scotia and those from the U.S. Those groups had to fight the army to accept them in a combat capacity. The greatest obstacle for the Expeditionary Force, however, was a lack of leadership since the Canadian military did not have career officers or Non-Commanding Officers. In spite of the squabbling between the British and Canadian military commands, the Canadian infantry were among the first to experience the poison gas at the Second Battle of Ypres, to hold the line at Amiens and absorb the brunt of the German’s last offensive in the war’s last months; but it was at Vilmy Ridge, which defied all Allied attempts to take it from the Germans, the Canadian infantry captured it; and it is there that Canada honors it war dead, with its National Memorial.  (Image from


The Canadian naval contribution to the war effort was limited to minesweeping operations and submarine patrols. Seldom discussed is the Canadian contribution to aerial combat. When modern readers think of aerial combat, they think of Ace pilots, dogfights in the sky. Canadian Billy Bishop had 72 victories, which made him the top Canadian ace. Then there is the understated but miraculous story of Alan Arnett McLeod, who had begun his career in the military in desperation. He would lie about his age; go from board to board trying to enlist, only to be rejected again and again because he was too young. He would eventually enroll in the Royal Flying Corps and find himself in Europe, not as a fighter pilot, but as a bomber.

The Armstrong-Whitworth FK8, a hulking plane he manned with another pilot, was the equivalent of pitting a lumbering SUV against a Ferrari if cars could fly. Since part of his duties was to do aerial reconnaissance, call in locations to the artillery and correct the coordinates from above, McLeod would engage the enemy, who came out to stop the artillery assault. McLeod, who wanted to be a fighter pilot but had been denied numerous times, used his behemoth bomber as a weapon against the German Aces. The plane did him no good, but he was a great shot with its machine gun and his gunners were often experienced men.


A fighter pilot was considered an “Ace” after he took down five enemy planes. McLeod took down his first German Fokker and was awarded a “Destroyed” victory because he was not a fighter pilot. He took his A-W FK 8 to its technical limit on one run in which he destroyed a German observation balloon and eluded miles of anti-aircraft gunners and German fighter pilots sent out to kill him. He was honored with his second “Destroyed” victory award. With fighter pilots getting killed and resources dwindling, the military command assigned McLeod more and more dangerous reconnaissance missions and bombing runs. In late March 1918, when the Germans had put everything they had in the sky, McLeod and his gunner, Lt. Hammond, flew deep into enemy territory in terrible weather, shot down another Fokker, and took on seven German pilots from the Red Baron’s squadron.

McLeod and Hammond had fought with skill against the deadly pilots until disaster struck: one of the German pilots had flown under the belly of the bomber and fired his machine gun, rupturing the tank, and setting the plane on fire. Both wounded, McLeod and Hammond had to climb out of their cockpits to avoid the flames while the plane was falling and being shot at further. McLeod had managed to maneuver the plane into a glide, crashing it in No Man’s Land, and pulling the wounded Hammond to safety before the plane’s payload blew up. Hammond, shot six times, and McLeod, now with five bullets in him, rested in a shell hole until soldiers from the South African Scottish Regiment crawled out to them, only to tell them that they had to wait until morning for better medical care. The two men, separated by medical-care units, survived the three-miles of transport on stretchers. McLeod would linger for months. He received the Victoria Cross, while Hammond, who already had the Military Cross, received further commendation. While recovering from his wounds, McLeod contracted the Spanish Influenza and died days before the Armistice. Another Canadian soldier, George Lawrence Price,  shot and killed two minutes before the Armistice, is recognized as the last soldier killed in World War I.

Another soldier, born in Chicago, raised in Ireland and educated in England, had joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force, had fought in several of the war’s worst battles, including Vilmy Ridge, where he fought valiantly in horrendous circumstances, only to find himself later in another incident – a bombardment – in which he was the only member in his unit to survive.

His name was Raymond Chandler.



About gabrielswharf

gabriel’s wharf is a blog on the random thoughts and writings of author Gabriel Valjan. His stories continue to appear online and in print journals. Winter Goose Publishing publishes his Roma Series.
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