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Sir Arthur William Currie GCMG, KCB (5 December 1875 – 30 November 1933), was a Canadianmarker general during World War I. He had the unique distinction of starting his military career on the very bottom rung as a pre-war militia gunner before rising through the ranks to become the first Canadian commander of the four divisions of the unified Canadian Corps of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was the first Canadian to attain the rank of full general. Currie's success was based on his ability to rapidly adapt brigade tactics to the exigencies of trench warfare, using set-piece operations and "bite-and-hold" tactics. He is generally considered to be among the most capable commanders of the Western Front, and one of the finest commanders in Canadian military history.

Under his leadership, the Canadian Corps evolved from a single division of untested volunteer colonials into four divisions of battle-hardened and effective shock troops that spearheaded the final series of battles that ended the war. From their baptism of fire and gas during the Second Battle of Ypresmarker until the end of the war, units under Currie never failed to take their assigned objectives, and often did so with startling rapidity and fewer than expected casualties.

Currie was not afraid to voice his disagreement with orders or to suggest strategic changes to a plan of attack, something that his British Army superiors were unused to hearing from a former militia officer from the colonies. Often these disagreements were taken all the way up to Sir Douglas Haig. Haig sometimes sided with Currie—allowing a strategic change to the attack on Hill 70marker outside Lensmarker, and approving Currie's audacious plan to cross the Canal du Nord—but he also, on occasion, overruled Currie, such as when Currie objected to the strategic value and expected casualties of the attack at Passchendaelemarker. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George revealed to his biographer that had the war continued into 1919, he would have replaced General Douglas Haig with Arthur Currie, with Australian general John Monash as Currie's chief of staff.

Early life

Arthur Curry (his surname at birth was spelled "Curry") was born in the hamlet of Napperton, Adelaide Township, just west of Strathroy, Ontariomarker, the son of William Garner Curry and Jane Patterson. The family home still stands, although privately owned and in a poor state of repair.

He was educated in local common schools and at the Strathroy District Collegiate Institute, and briefly attended the University of Torontomarker before moving to British Columbiamarker in 1894.

Businessman and gentleman soldier

For five years, he taught at public schools in Sidneymarker and Victoriamarker. It was during this period that he changed the spelling of his surname to "Currie".

On May 6, 1894, he joined the non-permanent militia as a gunner in the 5th Regiment, Canadian Garrison Artillery (C.G.A), and by 1900, he had achieved the rank of corporal. At this point, he was offered an officer's commission, which would give him a much higher status in the social circles of Victoria. However, a commission was an expensive proposition, since officers were expected to provide their own set of tailored uniforms and to donate their pay to the officer's mess. In addition, Currie was engaged to be married to Lucy Chaworth-Musters. Clearly a teacher's meagre salary would not suffice, so he entered the lucrative and socially acceptable world of finance, eventually becoming provincial manager of the National Life Assurance Company.

The young businessman also took on his role as militia officer seriously, and showed an intense interest in artillery, and especially in marksmanship. He was promoted to captain in 1902, and then to major in 1906. He continued to be active in business and with a land speculation boom in full swing, Currie and R. A. Power then formed Currie & Power, and Currie invested heavily in the real estate market. By September 1909, he had risen to lieutenant-colonel commanding of the 5th Regiment C.G.A.

In 1913, while he was helping to raise a new militia regiment, the Victoria real estate boom went bust, leaving Currie holding worthless properties and financially over-extended. At the same time, he was offered command of the newly formed 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders of Canada) as lieutenant-colonel, and the cost of the new uniforms and mess bills only added to his financial problems. Facing personal bankruptcy and a disgraced retirement from the militia, Currie diverted $10,833.34 from regimental funds into his personal accounts to pay off his debts.

In the midst of this, he attended the Militia Staff Course, and qualified in March 1914.

World War I

Currie's third-in-command in the "Gay Gordons" was Garnet Hughes, and through him, Currie became personally acquainted with Garnet's father, Sam Hughes, the bombastic Canadian Minister of Militia in Robert Borden's government.

When war broke out in Europe in 1914, Sam Hughes personally gave many plum commands in the 1st Division of the nascent Canadian Expeditionary Force to his cronies and acquaintances. Since Currie was his son's commanding officer, Hughes offered Currie command of the 2nd Brigade. However, Currie considered turning down the offer and staying behind in Victoria so he could attempt to solve his financial woes. He only changed his mind at the urging of Garnet Hughes. It is ironic that both Sam and Garnet Hughes were responsible for Currie's overseas command and subsequent success, since Currie and the Hughes would be implacable enemies by the end of the war. Currie's promotion to brigadier-general was confirmed on 29 September 1914.

Currie's financial predicament was brought to the attention of Prime Minister Robert Borden as the 1st Division reached England, but unwilling to bring Currie home, Borden chose to do nothing about it for the time being.

Second Battle of Ypres

The 1st Division spent the winter of 1914-15 training in England, and were sent to France in February 1915. After a period of indoctrination about the realities of trench warfare, they took control of a section of trench in the Ypres Salient on April 17, 1915. Only five days later, the Germans used poison gas for the first time on the Western Front, sending clouds of chlorine wafting over the Allied trenches. French colonial troops on the Canadians' left flank broke, leaving an enormous hole in the Allied line. In the chaos that followed, Currie proved his worth as a combat officer, coolly issuing commands from his brigade headquarters even as it was gassed and then destroyed by fire. Faced with a situation that doctrinaire tactics could not deal with, Currie threw away the tactical rule book and cobbled together a fluid defense and counterattack that bent but did not break. At one point Currie personally went back to the rear and brought up two regiments of British reinforcements that had been unwilling to move forward. After several days of fierce fighting, the Canadians' counterattacks at St. Julien and Kitcheners Wood re-established a stable defensive line, denying the Germans the breakthrough they had sought.

The Second Battle of Ypres proved to be the making of Currie. His superiors noted his natural instinct for tactics, and his coolness under fire. He was promoted to major-general, and given command of the entire First Canadian Division. He was also invested as a Companion of the Order of Bath (CB) and as a commander of the Legion d'Honneur.

Garnet Hughes, however, had proved to be unreliable under fire, a fact noted by Currie.

The Somme

Although the Canadians did not take part in the infamous British offensive on the Somme on July 1, 1916, they did eventually move into the line in the fall to aid the slow crawl forward. Unlike some of his senior commanders, Currie was under no illusions that a full frontal assault would result in a miraculous breakthrough that would end the stalemate of the trenches. Instead, Currie proved himself to be the master of the set-piece assault, designed to take limited objectives and then hold on in the face of inevitable German counterattacks. In a battle where every foot of ground was fiercely contested, Currie's talent at these "bite and hold" tactics became apparent as did his almost obsessive unwillingness to squander men's lives in costly frontal assaults. When the battle finally ground to a halt in the mud of November, the Canadians had taken every objective ordered of them, although at the cost of 24,000 casualties.

It was at this time that Currie lost favour with former friends Sam and Garnet Hughes. Sam Hughes wanted Garnet promoted to command of a division, but Currie, having seen Garnet in action at the Second Battle of Ypres, believed Garnet to be an incompetent officer, and refused. By this time, Currie's reputation was on the rise, and Hughes did not have the necessary leverage to force Currie to obey. From that point until his death in 1921, Hughes began a personal vendetta, using his seat in the House of Commons to verbally attack Currie and his record, although he was careful never to repeat his words outside the House, where he was not protected by parliamentary privilege.

Vimy Ridge

By late 1916, four Canadian divisions were in France, gathered together as the Canadian Corps under the command of Sir Julian Byng. The British High Command informed Byng that the Canadians would have a central role in the upcoming spring offensive at Arrasmarker.

Near the French villages of Vimymarker and Petit-Vimy, a high chalk ridge dominated the flat Douai Plain. When the war had bogged down in 1914, the Germans had driven the French from the ridge, and had strongly fortified it. Offensives by both the French and British had failed to dislodge the Germans from the high ground. Now as part of a major British operation in April designed to achieve a breakthrough at Arras, the Canadians were expected to do the impossible—take the ridge in just 8 hours.

Both Byng and Currie were firm advocates of analysis and preparation. Byng first ordered Currie to examine the Battle of the Somme and advise what lessons could be taken and used. Next Byng sent Currie to Verdunmarker to interview French officers about the grinding battle that had taken place there. Currie not only questioned senior French officers, he then sought out junior officers and asked the same questions, carefully noting the discrepancies between the senior officers' beliefs and the junior officers' experiences. On January 20, 1917, Currie began a series of lectures to the generals of the Canadian Corps based on his research, and he set out what he believed would be the keys to the battle:
  • overwhelming artillery on a narrow front to soften up the German lines and destroy barbed wire;
  • the creeping barrage, a tactic used ineffectively for several years, had to be perfected;
  • every soldier had to be trained in exactly what to do and where to go so that he could take command of his platoon in case his NCOs were killed;
  • counter-battery operations—the tactic of spotting and silencing enemy artillery—must also be perfected;
  • the soldiers must be allowed to get as close as possible to the enemy lines before the start of the actual assault.

Training of the Canadian soldiers started immediately. As Currie had dictated, every soldier was shown maps of the battlefield, was taught his platoon's objectives, and was given a small map of his part of the battlefield. Distances from Allied to German trenches were carefully taped out on practice battlefields, and the soldiers endlessly rehearsed the slow walk that would keep them only paces behind the creeping barrage.

Tunnels into the soft chalk were dug towards the German lines so that Canadian soldiers could move as close to the German lines as possible before the actual assault. In addition, ammonal mines were set under German strongpoints. Canadian engineers laid of water pipes, of railway track, of plank road, and they also maintained and repaired of local roads, which had been shelled heavily by the Germans during previous battles. In addition, the Corps signallers buried of telephone cable and laid another of surface cable.

The counter-battery operations were going to be essential to the success of the attack. Currie and Byng had their eye upon the youngest brigade commander in France, 29-year-old Andy McNaughton. McNaughton was an unconventional soldier, raised in Canada's western frontier, and not afraid to apply new scientific methods to conventional knowledge about artillery. Placed in charge of counter-battery operations, McNaughton took the opportunity to try new techniques such as flash-spotting and sound-ranging. The results were unprecedented: Allied artillery destroyed 83% of German guns before the battle started.

At 5:30 a.m. on April 9 (Easter Monday), the largest artillery barrage of the war to date began. Thirty thousand Canadian soldiers climbed out of trenches and tunnels in the middle of a snowstorm to slowly walk behind a curtain of artillery shells that destroyed everything in its path. German soldiers were captured while still hiding in their bomb-proof dugouts. Primary, then secondary and tertiary trenches were rapidly taken. By 12:30 p.m., Canadian soldiers stood on top of Vimy Ridge. By the end of April 12, the ridge was completely in Canadian hands, at a cost of 12,004 casualties, including 3978 killed.

Although the overall Battle of Arrasmarker was a failure—British regiments on the Canadians' right flank failed to reach their objectives, making a breakthrough impossible—the four Canadian divisions had worked as one unit to score a nation-building victory. Currie was recognized as the architect of this triumph, and was knighted by King George V with his appointment as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the King's Birthday Honours of 4 June 1917. When Byng was promoted to general in command of the British Third Army in mid-1917, Currie was promoted to the temporary rank of lieutenant-general on 9 June, and given command of the entire Canadian Corps.

Just as he was taking command of the Corps, word reached Currie that news of his embezzlement had reached the Canadian cabinet, and in order to avoid news of the scandal from breaking, Currie borrowed money from two wealthy subordinates, David Watson and Victor Odlum to finally pay back the money he had "borrowed" from the 50th Regiment.

Hill 70

The British High Command needed a diversion to take German attention away from their preparations for the Third Battle of Ypresmarker. As Currie's first objective upon assuming command of the Canadian Corps, he was given the task of taking the city of Lens, which was strategically important to the Germans due to its nexus of rail lines. After examining the area, Currie instead proposed to take the high ground outside the city (marked on Allied maps as Hill 70). The Germans would be forced to counterattack to retake the high ground or lose operational control of the city. During their counterattacks, the Germans would have to cross killing grounds in front of the Canadian lines, enabling the Canadians to inflict enormous casualties. Sir Douglas Haig finally approved the change in plan, but predicted the Canadians' assault on Hill 70 would fail. It was not an idle comment since Hill 70 was defended by pillboxes with overlapping fields of fire, deep dugouts and trenches fronted by coils of barbed wire.

Currie insisted on the same level of preparations as had been used at Vimy Ridge. Once again, the men studied maps of their objectives, and practiced on fields marked with tape that indicated trench lines, and a complex artillery barrage was planned. At 4:25 a.m. on August 15, 1917, after several hours of precise artillery fire to destroy barbed wire and plaster the German trenches, men of the 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisions went over the top. (The 3rd Division was held in reserve.) Walking slowly behind a creeping barrage, the Canadians took the hill in a mere twenty minutes and immediately began to dig in. As Currie had predicted, the Germans realized that they could not operate in Lens with the Canadians occupying Hill 70, and the first counterattack took place by 9:00 a.m. Over the next three days, the Canadians repulsed twenty-one German counterattacks, which saw the Germans use both mustard gas and flamethrowers. By August 18, the Canadians were low on rations, water and ammunition, but the Germans, having suffered thousands of casualties trying to retake the hill, were unwilling to expend more resources. Although the city of Lens itself was not taken, German operations inside the city were compromised as Currie had predicted, and the city lost its strategic importance.


The Third Battle of Ypres, known to history as Passchendaele, was Sir Douglas Haig's attempt in the summer of 1917 to break through the German lines. His objective was to take the village of Passchendaele, which lay just behind a long ridge overlooking the Ypres Salient. From there, Haig envisioned a quick march to the Belgian ports in order to stop submarine depredations in the English Channel. However, the preliminary bombardment of the low ground in front of the ridge destroyed canals and ditches that drained the fields, and an unusually heavy rain the night before the first assault turned the low ground into a quagmire. The attack quickly stalled. Tens of thousands of casualties moved the British line forward a few hundred feet during the summer months. Use of Anzac troops finally took the ridge, but the attack again stalled as the Anzac forces were bled white. Haig turned to the Canadian Corps for the final push.

All autumn, unseasonably hard rains had fallen, and the battlefield had become a vast sea of liquid mud. Wooden duckboards were the only way to traverse the ground, and soldiers who slipped off often drowned. The Germans were by that time using a more flexible defense, including dozens of pillboxes made of reinforced concrete that were set up to enfilade. Able to withstand direct hits from artillery and hard to pick out in the drab brown landscape of mud, these had to be found and attacked at close range by flamethrower or Mills bombs. Attacking one pillbox inevitably drew deadly machine gun fire from two or three others. After examining the battlefield, Currie protested, saying that the village could only be taken at a cost of 16,000 Canadian casualties, and was not strategically significant. However, Haig overrode his objections and ordered an attack.

Currie insisted on time to prepare, and it wasn't until October 20 that the Canadians' offensive began. Rather than one battle, Currie designed a series of well-prepared, sharp attacks that allowed the Corps to take an objective and then hold it against the inevitable German counterattacks. By October 30, the Canadians, aided by two British divisions, gained the outskirts of the village in a driving rainstorm, and then held on for five days against intense shelling and counterattacks, often standing waist deep in mud as they fought.

The Germans withdrew from the battle on November 11, 1917, but Haig's breakthrough never materialized. The German doctrine of "defense in depth" meant that there was always another set of trenches waiting for them to fall back to. The Canadians' Pyrrhic victory came at the cost of 15,654 casualties, including 4,028 killed. Currie's prediction had been amazingly—and sadly—accurate.

Hundred Days Offensive

In the spring of 1918, the Germans launched a major Spring Offensive, but by the summer, it had been contained, and it was the turn of the Allies to counterattack. German intelligence always kept a close watch on the whereabouts of the Canadian Corps since their move to a new sector usually indicated an imminent attack. Therefore in August 1918, when Currie was ordered to move the Corps south to Amiens to join the Australians under General John Monash, the Canadians took pains to camouflage their move. This included sending a radio unit and two battalions to Ypres as a diversion. With no preliminary artillery bombardment to warn the Germans, the attack on August 8 was a complete surprise. Currie's usual careful planning paid off as the Canadians and Australians opened up an enormous hole in the German lines and advanced on the first day, although suffering enormous casualties. After three days of continued Allied advances, the Germans abandoned their lines at Amiens and fell back to their prepared defences on the Hindenburg Line.

The Canadians were withdrawn from the line, and moved to the Somme, where they next attacked the Hindenburg Line at the powerful Drocourt-Quéant Line on September 2. The Corps smashed a hole in the "invulnerable" line, forcing the Germans to fall back behind the flooded Canal du Nordmarker.

Currie took three weeks to prepare for the next attack. In what was perhaps Currie's most audacious plan, he proposed to have the entire Corps cross a dry part of the canal using bridges that would have to be built by engineers while under fire. Currie's superiors refused to approve the plan, but finally Douglas Haig gave it assent. On September 27, covered by the most massive artillery bombardment of the war, the entire Corps moved across the canal as planned, and then through the German lines in a series of pre-planned zig-zag maneuvers designed to confuse the Germans as to the Canadians' objectives. The Canadians broke through three German lines and as a bonus, also took Bourlon Woods. Forced out of the Hindenburg Line, the German army now staged a controlled retreat.

Currie was next given the task of taking Cambraimarker, and the Canadian Corps achieved that on October 11. Further action at Valenciennesmarker and Mont Houy denied the Germans any chance to dig in and reinforce their defences in the face of the determined Canadians.

On November 10, in what was to be his most controversial decision, Currie, under orders to continue to advance, ordered elements of the Corps to liberate Monsmarker, although there were rumours that an Armistice would be signed the next day. On the morning of November 11, as Currie received orders that confirmed there would be a general armistice at 11:00:00 a.m., the capture of Mons was completed. At 10:58 a.m., George Lawrence Pricemarker was killed by sniper fire, the last Canadian, and possibly the last Allied soldier, to die in the Great War. Two minutes later, the war ended. The liberation of Mons on November 10-11 cost the Corps 280 casualties, although Price was the only Canadian to be killed on November 11.

In later years, Currie defended his decision to attack Mons by pointing out that not only was he under orders to continue to advance, but that during the last two weeks of the war, rumours of an imminent Armistice had proven to be false several times. In addition, even when the exact hour of the cease-fire was announced early on the morning of November 11, the terms of the proposed Armistice were unknown; many Allied commanders continued to press forward and German commanders continued to defend tenaciously because they believed that post-war boundaries would be drawn where the armies stood when the Armistice was declared.

Occupation of Germany

The 1st and 2nd Divisions of the Corps were made part of the Army of Occupation, and in December 1918, Currie took the salute as the Canadians crossed over the Rhine into Germany.


Currie was Mentioned in Despatches nine times. In addition to being named a Companion of the Order of the Bath after the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, his appointment as KCMG in 1917, Currie was also promoted to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 1918 New Year Honours, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in the 1919 New Year Honours, and also received the French Légion d'honneur and Croix de Guerre (with Palm), the Belgian Croix de guerre and the Order of the Crown, and the U.S. Distinguished Service Medal.

Upon returning to Canada, Currie was promoted to general, the first Canadian to hold that rank, and was made Inspector-General of the Canadian Army.

Although he only held a high school diploma, Currie was offered the position of President and Vice Chancellor of McGill Universitymarker in Montreal, at the time the most prestigious university in Canada. He held this post with distinction from 1920 until his death in 1933.

Honourary degrees were conferred on Currie by many British and American universities, and he became a trustee of the Carnegie Foundation.


Libel Suit

During the war, Currie had continued to deny Garnet Hughes a combat post, believing Hughes would be a danger to the men in his command when under fire. Although Hughes attained the rank of brigadier-general by 1918, he ended the war in an obscure administrative posting in London. Garnet's father, Sir Sam Hughes, was removed from the cabinet in 1916, but he continued to use his seat in the House of Commons to attack Currie's reputation. Although Sam Hughes died in 1921, Garnet Hughes continued to attack Currie's reputation through newspapers owned by his family.

In June 1927, the city of Mons erected a plaque commemorating their liberation by the Canadian Corps; as this event was reported in Canadian newspapers, Currie's enemies took the opportunity to again question the final day of fighting. The Hughes-controlled Port Hope Evening Guide, in a front-page editorial, wrote "It is doubtful whether in any case there was a more deliberate and useless waste of human life than in the so-called capture of Mons..." Currie sued the newspaper for libel, seeking $50,000 in damages. At the trial, Currie testified that he had been under orders from Allied Supreme Commander Ferdinand Foch to pursue German forces; to do otherwise would have been treason. Many of Currie's senior officers testified that Currie urged them to advance with caution, avoiding unnecessary casualties. At the end of the trial, the jury returned a verdict after only 4 hours, finding the newspaper guilty, and awarding Currie $500 in damages. One member of the jury, a former serviceman, dissented.

After the trial, Currie was invited to a dinner in Port Hope by some of the men who had served under him. With tears in his eyes, Currie read a telegram he had received the day before from the father of George Price, the only Canadian killed on the morning of November 11: "As father of George Lawrence Price, the only Canadian killed on Armistice Day, I wish to convey to you, Sir, my humble hope that you will succeed in bringing to justice those responsible for bringing this case before the public, because all of this simply renews old wounds that are best forgotten."

Funeral procession of Arthur Currie: horse-drawn caisson moves along Park Avenue in Montreal, Quebec.


The strain of decades of personal attacks took their toll, and General Currie died a few days after the 15th anniversary of the Armistice, at the relatively young age of 58. He was survived by his wife, a son and a daughter. He is interred in the Mount Royal Cemeterymarker in Montreal, Quebec. The Times wrote of his funeral: "It was, by common consent, the most impressive funeral ever seen at Montreal", attended by family; the Governor-General of Canada; the political establishments of Canada, and of Quebec; foreign diplomats; military personnel, both serving and veterans, with eight general officers acting as pall-bearers; representatives of McGill University; conducted by the Bishop of Montreal, and other clergy including the former chaplain of the Canadian Corps; the funeral procession received a 17 gun salute.


Arthur Currie statue at the Valiants Memorial in Ottawa

Canadian historians, including Pierre Berton and J.L. Granatstein, have described Currie as Canada's greatest military commander. Although physically a large man, standing over six feet tall, Currie did not cut a heroic military figure. Nor was he a charismatic speaker. Described as aloof by his troops, who called him "Guts and Gaiters," he nevertheless inspired them. He was a brilliant tactician who used his skills to reduce casualties and is credited with accelerating the end of the war. According to historian Jack Hyatt, "His slogan was, 'Pay the price of victory in shells—not lives,' and if he did anything heroic it was that."

Tributes and Remembrances

Arthur Currie donated a statue and war memorial to the city of Saint-Lambertmarker, Quebecmarker.


Currie wrote that the "spirit" of the Royal Military College of Canadamarker's graduates, "no less than their military attainments, exercised a potent influence in fashioning a force which, in fighting efficiency, has never been excelled." Currie was a staunch believer in rigorous training as said in the following quote, "Thorough preparation must lead to success. Neglect nothing."

Special Orders

Currie utilised special orders to try to get positive publicity for the Canadian Corps, while it was being successful in the Hundred Days' War. This was because the London press had ignored the Canadian contribution in their articles, but they had produced their casualty lists, and the Canadian papers simply republished the London articles, which caused thoughts that the casualties were unnecessarily heavy. In addition, Currie had also issued a special order to console himself when the Canadian Corps was being split up to help defend against the German Spring Offensive. In addition, the special order quoted below also inspired Douglas Haig to write his own order to try and inspire the troops.

"To those who fall I say; you will not die but step into immortality. Your mothers will not lament your fate, but will be proud to have bourne such sons. Your names will be revered for ever and ever by your grateful country, and God will take you unto himself. Canadians, in this fateful hour, I command you and I trust you to fight as you have ever fought with all your strength, with all your determination, with all your tranquil courage. On many a hard fought field of battle you have overcome this enemy. With God's help you shall achieve victory once more."


  1. Bovey, W. "World War I", in W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. VI, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 398p., pp. 322-347. Online version. Retrieved on: September 18, 2008.
  2. CTVGlobemedia (April 4, 2007). Remembering Arthur Currie: Canadian War Hero. CTV News, Top Stories. Retrieved on: 2009-03-06.

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