Canada in the Second World War

In 1867 the four existing provinces of Canada - Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick - were united into one dominion of the British Empire. Later Manitoba (1870), British Columbia (1871), Prince Edward Island (1873), Alberta and Saskatchewan (1905) joined the other provinces. By 1911 Canada had a population of 7.2 million. A quarter of Canadians were French-speaking and most of these lived in Quebec Province.

The French-Canadian, Wilfrid Laurier, the leader of the Liberal Party, became prime minister in 1896 and he held office for fifteen years. Robert Borden, the leader of the Conservative Party, replaced Laurier in October, 1911.

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).

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.

On 10th September, 1939, the Canadian parliament declared war against Nazi Germany, but refused to send non-volunteers to Europe. The Canadian prime minister, Mackenzie King worked closely with the United States in the defence of North America.

In December 1939 the Ist Canadian Division left for Britain. They were followed later by two other infantry divisions, two armoured divisions and two armoured brigades.

In 1941 two Canadian battalions were sent to the defence of Hong Kong but they were captured by the invading Japanese Army in December 1941. Of these, 246 died as a result of harsh treatment while prisoners of war.

The Royal Canadian Air Force contributed a squadron during the Battle of Britain and 48 other Canadian squadrons fought during the war. Canada also provided facilities and personnel for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan which produced 131,553 airmen for Commonwealth countries.

Canadian soldiers were used on the raid on Dieppe in France in August 1942. The attempt to take and hold the port was a disaster and 3,367 out of the 4,963 Canadians who took part were killed, wounded or captured.

The 3rd Canadian Division and second armoured brigade took part in the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. The Canadians suffered heavily casualties during the fighting at Pas de Calais, Caen and Falaise. They fought throughout the Netherlands and participated in the recapture of Antwerp.

After the surrender of Germany in April 1945, a Canadian occupation force remained in the country until 1946.