The Final Guns of August: Part II

Janus looks at the history of Cranbrook's war trophy

Top: The cannon and the cenotaph in front of the old court-house that once stood at the east end of Baker Street. Bottom:The cannon today in the parking lot of the Heritage Inn (photo by Cameron).

Jim Cameron

A little World War One history, if you please: The period between August 8, 1918, to November 11, 1918, in terms of the First World War is, from the Allied (us) viewpoint generally called the “Hundred Days Offensive.” From a Canadian viewpoint it is termed “Canada’s Hundred Days,” in reference to a series of attacks by the British First Army, of which the Canadian Corps played a substantial role.

The Canadians, including the 7th Canadian (1st British Columbia) Battalion, fought a number of important battles in France including those of Amiens, Arras, Cambrai, and Mons, where they were fighting on the final day of the war.

The Allied victories served to break the German Hindenburg Line of defense, (stretching approximately 150 km) and, thus forced the Germans to retreat from France completely, thereby bringing an end to the brutal, unwavering trench warfare to which both sides had been subjected for years.

The Canadian Corps entry into the French city of Cambrai and beyond, in early October, 1918, compelled the German High Command to accept that they could do little but surrender, which they did of course, on November 11, 1918.

Cranbrook boys were involved throughout the campaign in various regiments. In a letter to the Cranbrook Herald newspaper, written on October 14, 1918 (published Nov. 7) addressed to Mr. R.W. Edmundson of Cranbrook, James Lunn of the Mounted Rifles tells of being among the first to enter Cambrai.

“It was some scrap and from where we are lying now we can hear them going at it … I sent you on a German belt which I got at Monchy: it will make a good razor strop: also a Fritzie [German] camouflaged helmet from Bourlon Wood. It is almost impossible to get a spiked helmet so I did the best I could. I hope they reach you; the helmet will make a good coal scuttle for Mrs. Edmundson … I met Tom Marshall and Bobby Brewer the other day, also Bert Murgatroyd. They are all well … Give all the boys my best wishes and I think I will soon be there to tell them the rest myself, as Fritzie is howling like hell now … Remember me to Lester Clapp … Tom Caven and Dave Spears, Balment and all the other boys.”

Canada’s Hundred Days saw the Canadian boys in some fierce battles. This period accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all Canadian casualties during the First World War.

Lunn also refers to the Bourlon Wood, which was part of a singular campaign that included a clever and complex night crossing of the Canal du Nord in France, by the Canadian Engineering Corps, who constructed the bridges allowing the Canadian troops to cross during the night, taking the German defenders completely by surprise the following morning.

The Germans were put into massive disarray and retreated so quickly that they left behind a great deal of weaponry, including ten field guns (cannons) captured by the 7th Battalion near Sains-les-Marquoin, possibly at the nearby hamlet of Haynecourt.

One of these, a German 7.7cm. Feldkanone 16 n.A., serial number: 19241, which, on August 7, 1920, arrived in Cranbrook, British Columbia, as part of the Federal Government allotment of captured German weapons shared across the country. Known commonly as a “77mm whizz bang”, due to the sound of the shell in flight, it was formidable weapon on the battlefield. There is little doubt that this particular cannon and the others on the battlefield initially spelled destruction for the Canadian soldiers who finally silenced it.

To gain the enemies’ guns was, and is, considered a very noteworthy feat and to lose them is a source of great humiliation.

There were a total of 398 large guns awarded across Canada, allotted according to the percentage of enlistments in each province and, then, according to the percentage of enlistments in each town or city. Ontario received 166; Quebec, 56; Manitoba, 45; British Columbia 35, and so on down the line to the Yukon, which received one. For a town the size of Cranbrook to receive such a trophy was a singular honour.

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One. The captured German cannon has been on display in Cranbrook for almost a century, much of that time situated in a public place of honour. It appears that the Canadian Legion has been acting as caretaker of the gun on behalf of the City of Cranbrook for many years now.

The Legion has moved it to at least four different locations over the decades, the most recent being the rear parking lot of the Heritage Inn. When the gun was first received it came with a letter to the City of Cranbrook from Arthur G. Doughty, Dominion Archivist, which stated, in part: “These trophies, which have been declared the property of the people of Canada, are sent to you with the understanding that proper care will be taken of them and in taking them over, it is understood that you agree to this condition.”

The Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire Memorial Fountain that graced Rotary Park for many years, created from funds donated by many of this community, now ignobly resides in the City Works yard. The captured German field gun sits in a parking lot.

As John McCrae so memorably put it:

…To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.”

The words resonate meaningfully each year in the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the Armistice of the First World War on November 11. Perhaps, with Remembrance Day once again behind us, they are, for the rest of the year, nothing more than words from an old poem.

janusthenandnow@shaw.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares to swab a man at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal North, Sunday, May 10, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
Interior Health records 21 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

Thirty-six cases remain active; two people are in the hospital, one of whom is in intensive care

Leather Apron Revival will live stream on October 24, 2020 through Studio 64 concert series. FaceBook image
Live-streamed concerts at Studio 64 continue

Blues Rock with a Molten Metal Motif

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry to the U.S., still placed in Canadian quarantine

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Nicole Cherlet for the BC NDP, Samson Boyer for the BC Greens and Doug Clovechok for the BC Liberals will be your choices on the ballot in the upcoming provincial election. (Submitted/Revelstoke Review)
Columbia River – Revelstoke candidates adapt to pandemic

COVID-19 protocols make for unique campaign

Kimberley Minor Hockey players scrimmage with the Dynamiters last year. KMH file
Kimberley and Cranbrook Minor Hockey relationship grows the game for local players

Players can now play to their skill level regardless of city of origin

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Fort St. John councillor Trevor Bolin (B.C. Conservative Party)
BC Conservatives leader fights back after BC Liberals leak 2018 workplace harassment case

Sexual harassment case was connected to employee being terminated, WorkSafeBC found

Most Read