In 1914 Canada had just over 3,000 regular soldiers. Based at harbour fortifications, the Canadian Army was backed up by a militia of local volunteers. Expecting a war in Europe, during the summer of 1914 the Canadian government asked for volunteers to join a Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).
Over 30,000 Canadian soldiers reached Britain for training at Salisbury Plain in October. Lieutenant-General William Anderson and the 1st Canadian Division arrived on the Western Front in February 1915 and immediately saw action at Ypres. Over the next two weeks the Canadians suffered 5,500 casualties.
Over 13,000 Canadians served with the British air services. Leading Canadian Air Aces included William Bishop, Raymond Collishaw and Donald MacLaren. About 3,000 Canadians joined the British Navy and another 5,100 sailors were recruited to protect Canadian waters.
Men in Canada were enthusiastic volunteers and by 1916 two more divisions had been sent to France. Commanded by the General Julian Byng, the Canadian Corps successfully took the strategically important Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Byng was replaced by the Canadian officer, General Arthur Currie in June 1917 and he led the Canadians through the Amiens Offensive, the Canal du Nord and the other victories on the Western Front during the later stages of the war.
Almost 600,000 Canadians joined the army during the First World War. Of these, 418,000 served overseas with the Canadian Army and sixty-three of these won the Victoria Cross, including William Bishop and John MacGregor. The CEF had 210,000 casualties, of whom, 56,500 were killed. Overall casualties numbered in excess of 60,000 as some Canadians served in other military forces.