1918 > Great Gunners

General, Sir AW Currie GCMG, KCB (1875 – 1933)

Photo of General, Sir AW Currie GCMG, KCB

Arthur Currie was born, 5 December 1875, near Strathroy, Ontario. At the age of eighteen, he moved to Victoria. He secured a position as a school teacher, later working in insurance and real estate.

He joined the local Militia, serving first in the Artillery and then in the Infantry. An energetic officer, he quickly rose in rank and, by 1909, commanded the 5th Regiment, Canadian Garrison Artillery. In 1913, he transferred to command the 50th Regiment, Gordon Highlanders.

In August 1914, he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Valcartier, gaining command of the 2nd Infantry Brigade. After training in England, his brigade deployed to France as part of the 1st Canadian Division. Although previously, he had commanded only a few hundred militiamen. He was recognized quickly as an accomplished student of war.

On 22 April 1915, the Canadians manning the Ypres salient found themselves consistently exposed to enemy fire. The enemy launched the first major gas attack on the two French divisions on the left. Their panic-induced flight left the Canadian flank dangerously exposed. Two days later, the Canadians were gassed, instead of falling back, they drove off the attackers. At the height of the battle, when his brigade was feeling overwhelmed, he walked over a shell-swept road to divisional headquarters to plead for reinforcements. Although the brigade on his left had retreated, the 2nd Brigade grimly held to its forward position. After losing more than half his brigade, he ordered his men to withdraw to the Gravenstafel Ridge. That night they were relieved by British troops – the Canadians had held!

His leadership attracted immediate attention. He repeatedly identified the enemy’s intent and took steps to counter the threat. He was everywhere, maintaining personal contact with his forward battalions and with flanking units.

After the battles of Festubert and Givenchy, he was promoted Major-General, at age 39, he became one of the youngest to hold that rank in the British Army. With the formation of the 2nd Canadian Division, Canada fielded a Corps. A Canadian Commander was necessary for this prestigious national symbol. After the success of Ypres, he was chosen to be the Commander of this new division. In a few short months, he had risen from an obscure militia colonel to one of the most senior posts in the British Army.

As Divisional Commander, he was no stranger to the front lines. The men appreciated his willingness to share their danger. He disapproved loudly of the popular notions of hasty, unprepared counterattacks, large-scale trench raids and frontal assaults. Only when the preparations were complete, and massive bombardments finished, did he commit soldiers.

The Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge was planned meticulously. “Silent” batteries were deployed, and infantry platoons were reorganized into self-contained combat units. Detailed maps and plasticine models were used to brief the men. Each soldier knew what he was expected to do. Vimy Ridge fell to the Canadians on the first day, Easter Monday, 1917, with relatively light casualties. Soon after, he was knighted and given command of the Canadian Corps.

When the Canadians were assigned the capture of Passchendaele, he protested, advising Field Marshall Haig of impossible conditions, doubting the value of the operation and expecting high casualties. The ultimate cost of Haig’s decision was 15,654 casualties, to achieve a mostly symbolic victory. Plans were made to split the Canadian Corps to reinforce British formations – again, and he protested, this time he won.

He returned to Canada, 17 August 1919. It was not the hero’s welcome one might expect. Public resentment was evident in caustic remarks by Sir Sam Hughes, accusing Currie of incompetence, glory-seeking and alleging that Canadian lives had been squandered.

Much controversy surrounded Currie and much remains. His accomplishments are unparalleled, and he was unquestionably the embodiment of the Canadian people larger than life. He was direct and forthright, a civilian-soldier, just the right man to lead a nation at war.

He died in Montreal, 30 November 1933, at the age of 58.

MGen WHP Elkins CB, DSO, CBE (1883-1964)

Photo of MGen WHP Elkins CB, DSO, CBE

Major-General Elkins was born, 13 June 1883, at Sherbrooke, Quebec. He graduated from the Royal Military College, Kingston, in June 1905, and joined the Royal Canadian Artillery. His first posting was to “B” Battery, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA).

In his early years, he served with “N” Battery, Royal Horse Artillery in India. While on the sub-continent, he completed his Captain qualifying examination. He returned to Canada in 1910, serving one year with each of “A” and “B” Batteries. He gained a reputation for his skillful handling of his men and for his dedication to achieving high training standards. During the winter of 1912, he served temporarily on the Artillery Staff in the office of the Chief of the General Staff, Ottawa.

He went overseas with the 1st Canadian Division. After spending nine months in England, he took his guns to Flanders in July 1915, as part of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Brigade. Following three months of relieving individual batteries of the Canadian Field Artillery in the line, the Brigade finally engaged the enemy as a formation, 23 November. By Christmas of that year, he was appointed to command “A” Battery. One year later, he assumed command of the Brigade. Promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel was to follow in June 1917.

Col, The Honourable GA Drew VD,CD (1894-1974)

Photo of Col, The Honourable GA Drew VD,CD

Named for his grandfather, a member of Sir John A. MacDonald’s Confederation Cabinet, George Alexander Drew was born in Guelph, Ontario, 7 May 1894. His father was a prominent lawyer and president of the South Wellington Conservative Association. Both his father and grandfather were active in the local militia. His family raised him in daily contact with the law, politics and the military.

Early in 1916, while serving in Flanders, his left forearm was shattered by shrapnel, and in January the following year, he was invalided to Canada, spending nearly three years in hospital undergoing 13 bone graft operations. He never regained the use of his left arm. Continuing to serve in uniform, he assumed command of the 64th Field Battery and later, on its reorganization in 1920, of Guelph’s 16 Field Battery. In 1929, he was appointed to command the 11th Field Artillery Brigade.

His devotion to duty, infectious enthusiasm and insistence on high standards earned the formation the Shaughnessy Cup in 1930, 1931 and 1932. The cup was awarded annually for general efficiency. Concurrent with his military activities, he attended the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall. He was called to the Bar of the Province of Ontario in 1920, practicing law in Guelph immediately after that. He made his entry into local politics in 1921 and won a seat as alderman. By 1925, he was Mayor of Guelph. At age 31, he was the youngest chief magistrate in Canada.

In 1926, he was appointed Assistant Master of the Supreme Court of Ontario, and three years later was elevated to Master-in-Chambers. Once again, the youngest to hold this post in the province’s history. This job involved the hearing of minor cases and the screening of cases for Supreme Court hearings. In 1931, he was appointed Chairman of the Ontario Securities Commission for the administration of the Ontario Securities and Fraud Act.

By the late 1920s, his entry into Ontario provincial politics was underway. In 1934, he began his political activities in earnest. Within two years, he was serving as Chairman of the provincial Conservative Campaign Committee. His initial efforts to win the party leadership were unfruitful, but the job was his by 1938. The following year, in a by-election, he was elected to the Ontario Legislature, representing Simcoe East. He led the Ontario Conservative Party in 1939. In 1943 and 1945, he was re-elected as a member for High Park. During his term as Premier, he demonstrated that he was a capable administrator and an able political tactician. In an unusual move, he also retained the provincial education portfolio.

In early October 1948, he was chosen leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Two weeks later, he resigned as Premier of Ontario. In December of that same year, he was elected to the House of Commons as the member for Carleton. He spent the next eight years in the House of Commons, leading Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. In 1953, he was appointed to the Privy Council, the first to gain such a distinction while in opposition.

Ill health followed several demanding parliamentary sessions, triggered his resignation as leader of the official opposition, in 1956. Not willing to withdraw from public service entirely, he accepted the appointment as Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, a position held until early 1964.

In 1949, he reaffirmed his link with the Gunner family by accepting the appointment of Honourary Colonel, in Guelph’s 11th Field Regiment, RCA.

Ill health followed several demanding parliamentary sessions, triggered his resignation as leader of the official opposition, in 1956. Not willing to withdraw from public service entirely, he accepted the appointment as Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, a position held until early 1964.

During his career in public service, he also served as President of the Canadian Artillery Association, as President of the Toronto Branch the League of Nations and as Vice President of the Dominion Command Royal Canadian Legion. He also earned full recognition as an author with his books, “Canada’s Fighting Airmen,” “The Truth About the Great War,” “Canada’s Part in the Great War,” “Tell Britain,” and “The Truth About War Debts.” An article dealing with wartime profiteering in the munitions industry titled, “Salesmen of Death” has been translated into more than 30 languages.

A dedicated soldier and remarkable politician, he died on 4 January 1974, in Toronto and was buried in Guelph, Ontario. With service spanning both World Wars, he made a unique and lasting contribution to Canada and the Royal Regiment.

LCol J McCrae MD (1872-1918)

Photo of LCol J McCrae MD

John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario, 30 November 1872. He studied medicine at the University of Toronto, serving as residence house officer at Toronto General Hospital and at Baltimore’s John Hopkins Hospital.

Strongly influenced by his father Lieutenant-Colonel David McCrae, he became keenly interested in military matters. As a school boy, he was a member of the Guelph Highland Cadet Corps, later joining the local Militia Field Battery.

In 1900, he volunteered for service in the South African War and was commissioned a Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA). During this campaign he saw action with D Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery. In one skirmish, his right section silenced the Boer guns near Rustenburg. He returned to Canada, strongly influenced by what he had seen of war.

During the next fourteen years, he completed his medical training and lectured in pathology at McGill University, gaining wide recognition within his chosen profession. A strong believer in service to one’s country, he continued to serve as a “Citizen-Soldier” in the Militia, attaining the rank of Major.

At the outbreak of the First World War, he immediately volunteered for service either as a doctor or as a gunner. He achieved both. He was appointed surgeon to the 1st Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. Always a gunner at heart, he would often direct the fire of the batteries in his sector, as frequently as his medical duties would allow.

The spring of 1915 found the 1st Brigade in Flanders. Lieutenant-Colonel McCrae established his dressing station on the banks of the Ypres Canal, witnessing the ever-growing forest of white crosses. It was here, amidst the heavy fighting, mud and carnage of the Second Battle that he penned his immortal poem, “In Flanders Fields.” This poem was one of many. In addition to being a soldier and physician, he was an accomplished poet.

During this battle, the enemy launched the infamous gas attack against the Canadians. As well as caring for the wounded and dying, he would often relieve his close friend Colonel Morrison in directing the fire of the Brigade’s sixteen 18-pounder quick fire (QF) field guns. He cut a unique figure wearing his gunner’s uniform from the South African War.

His Herculean efforts were soon to take their toll. On 23 January 1918, he was observed to be unwell and was ordered to bed. Later that night word was received that he had been appointed consulting physician to the First British Army and his superior rushed to his bedside to give him the good news. McCrae’s condition was markedly worse. The next day pneumonia was diagnosed. His condition worsened steadily and just after midnight on 28 January, at age 45, he died.

The legacy of this remarkable man lives on. His accomplishments as a soldier, a physician and a poet are reborn each November when his words remind us of the true cost of war. This “Citizen-Soldier” has an assured place in Canada’s history.

MGen HA Panet CB, CMG, DSO (1869 – 1951)

Photo of MGen HA Panet CB, CMG, DSO

Major-General Henri Alexandre Panet was born in Quebec City, 24 July 1869. He graduated from the Royal Military College in the summer of 1891, qualifying as a Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Artillery, 2 May 1894.

In October 1899, he was placed on establishment of the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment. He was dispatched, as part of the 1st Contingent for service in South Africa, to join C Battery on its arrival. He was disappointed to learn that his battery would not arrive until March, fearing that after Buller’s relief of Ladysmith and the surrender of General Cronje at Paardeberg Drift, there would be no opportunity to see action.

His fears proved groundless as C Battery, assigned to the Rhodesian Field Force, began an epic journey. Panet sailed with his battery from Cape Town to Beira, Portuguese East Africa. They debarked and began their march through Rhodesia and the Transvaal to link with Colonel Plummer’s forces for the relief of Mafeking. This memorable march was described by Field-Marshall Lord Roberts as “one of incredible rapidity.”

Under Panet’s direction, a fortified camp was built at Rustenberg, named Fort Canada. Sections of C Battery supported small mounted columns operating from this safe haven, making a dozen sorties in the surrounding country. In recognition of his work in this campaign, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

In May 1901, he returned to Canada, receiving a promotion to Major. He was appointed Staff Adjutant at the Royal Military College. Following two senior staff appointments during the period 1905-1909, he was appointed to command B Battery. The battery prospered under his leadership, twice winning the coveted Royal Canadian Field Artillery Challenge Cup.

He was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel on 1 May 1911. He accepted the appointment to command the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Brigade, and as Commandant of the Royal School of Artillery, Kingston, positions he held until late 1916. During his tenure, he took a personal interest of all aspects of training. His brigade was deeply involved in the training of the artillery units of the Active Militia. In 1912, twenty-six field batteries from eastern and central Canada assembled for training at Camp Petawawa. Lieutenant-Colonel Panet supervised the training.

His involvement was summed up in the words of a First World War Gunner, “I can only say that the Canadian Artillery could never have done the job it did without the wonderful pre-war training we had under the officers and gunnery instructors of the RCHA at Petawawa, with such men as Burstall, Panet, Elkins, Boak, Constantine and many others. To them Canada’s debt is very great.”

On the eve of the First World War, he was with his Brigade in Petawawa. They soon left to Valcartier to assist in the administration and training of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

On 26 August, the Brigade was mobilized. On 1 October, they departed for England to spend a miserable winter on the Salisbury Plain. He deployed to Flanders with his Brigade on 25 July 1915. After being held in reserve, they finally went into action on the Somme in late November. On 24 June 1916, he was promoted Colonel and Mentioned-in-Dispatches. He was to receive this distinction a total of seven times.

In December 1916, he was promoted Brigadier-General and appointed Commander, Royal Artillery 2nd Canadian Division until April 1919. He was promoted again on 4 May 1921. He served as District Officer Commanding Number 1 District from October 1919 until June 1922 and in the same appointment in Number 2 District from June 1922 to June 1923. He was appointed Adjutant General on 1 July 1922. He retired to pension on 31 December 1930, having served The Royal Regiment for more than 40 years.

He continued to serve The Royal Regiment after his retirement, as the Colonel Commandant.

He died in Kingston, 14 August 1951, and buried with full military honours.

Col CHL Sharman CMG, CBE, ISO (1881-1970)

Photo of Col CHL Sharman CMG, CBE, ISO

Charles Henry Ludovic Sharman was born in South Woodford, England, in December 1881. He was educated at St Lawrence College and passed the first examination of the incorporated Law Society. His youthful attention was drawn to the New World, and in particular, to the excitement of the Klondike Gold Rush.

He joined the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) in 1898, serving with Colonel Sam Steele in the Klondike, gaining promotion to Sergeant. His North West Mounted Police service was interrupted in 1902, when he volunteered for duty in South Africa with the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles. He was granted leave and seconded to the Canadian Contingent. He arrived too late to see action.

On 31 October 1903, Sergeant Sharman was discharged from the NWMP, having served his obligatory engagement. Immediately following his discharge, he was employed as Secretary to the Commissioner.

Returning to Eastern Canada and a position with the Department of Agriculture, he was appointed a Provisional Lieutenant in the 2nd Battery, Canadian Field Artillery in April 1906. He completed his qualification training two years later, and in June 1908, was promoted Captain. In 1911, he represented the Canadian Artillery as part of the Canadian Contingent at the coronation of King George V.

Captain Sharman was appointed Adjutant of the 8th Field Brigade, in February 1912. He served in this appointment until mid-April 1913, when he was promoted Major and given command of the 2nd Ottawa Battery.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Major Sharman was seconded to the Canadian Expeditionary Force and assigned command of the 1st Brigade’s 1st Battery. He was wounded at Ypres, evacuated to England and subsequently placed on convalescent leave in Canada.

Promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in July 1916, he returned to France to command the 4th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, the only artillery formation to accompany the 2nd Division in France.

In April 1917, Lieutenant-Colonel Sharman was appointed Chief Instructor, Canadian School of Gunnery at Whitley, England, and from 1917 until June 1918, also served as Commandant Canadian Reserve Artillery at that same location.

On the creation of the 16th Brigade, a newly formed, all volunteer formation raised for duty in Northern Russia, Lieutenant-Colonel Sharman was selected for command.

He became Commander Royal Artillery, Dvina Force and handled Canadian and Russian guns, as well as a number of Royal Navy gunboats in a series of engagements against the vastly numerically superior Bolshevik forces. His practical ability and determined nature was demonstrated, with the transport of three sorely-needed 60-pounders. Transported over land by sled 120 miles from Murmansk to the front in only ten days, an undertaking the Ordnance authorities had pronounced impossible. Lieutenant-Colonel Sharman was awarded the Order of St Vladimire with Swords, 4th Class, by the Czarist government in recognition of his work and leadership. On his return to Canada in June 1919, he was appointed Brevet Colonel.

Returning to civilian life and the civil service, he later served as Chief of the Canadian Narcotic Service (1927-1946), was a Canadian delegate to the Opium Advisory Committee (1934-1946), acted as Chairman of the United Nations Narcotic Commission (1946-1947), and worked as a member of the United Nations Drug Supervisory Committee (1948-1953). He retired in 1958.

Colonel Sharman died in Ottawa on 15 May 1970. His service to Canada and to the guns of The Royal Regiment is unique.