At Ypres in April 1915 astonished Canadian’s see elite French Colonial troops streaming past them in terror and agony as they suffer the effects of chlorine gas in it’s first use in WW1. Currie and the 4000 men of the 2nd Brigade hold their line and turn back the German advance. He learns the inherent chaos of battle and its uncertainty, displaying initiative, flexibility and resolve.
“If there is one man above another who should be given credit for holding back the Germans at Ypres , it is Currie” – TC Irving.
This is Currie’s blooding. He is promoted Major General commander of the 1st Canadian Division. He is awarded the First Order of Knighthood, the Companionship of the Bath . He also is made Commander of the Legion of Honour by the French.
He leads the 2nd Brigade at Faustubert and at Givenchiny that year. When Alderson, the original relinquishes command, Currie becomes a Major General and on 8 Jun 1917 he becomes Byng’s choice for Commander in Chief of the Canadian Corps. Nine days later, King George V creates Currie a Knight -Commander of the order of St Michael and St George (KCMG)
Dancocks tells us that he was a remarkable man. Didn’t look like a soldier at 6’4” tall and 250 lbs. He had trouble finding clothes that flattered him. Appearances were deceiving but he had a boyish smile, dry sense of humour and inherent shyness that endeared him to his staff. He knew how to delegate authority and encouraged his staff to come up with ideas. He stood behind his staff in their decisions. He would be calm and cool in a crisis. On infrequent occasions when he lost his temper, Dancocks says ”he displayed a tremendous command of profanity and could go on for about a minute without repetition”
In August he leads the Canadians to victory at Hill 70. During these first two years Currie learns the fundamentals of how to fight this war. He is developing a “common genius” for war. His genius “possessed the cumulative qualities of intellect, courage, resolution, energy, firmness, character and tenacity” that let him achieve remarkable success in war. He also was able to learn from war’s “province of chance” The inherent uncertainty of war tends to unnerve the rigid mind and ruin any inflexible or doctrinal plan. The amateur Currie is unencumbered by military dogma and he was able to cope with the uncertainties of modern warfare
Thanks to the PWOR Archives, Kingston Ontario, for the use of the photo from The Communique August 1973.