The Liberation of Mons and the Signing of the Armistice

The hundred days campaign had forced the German army into full retreat. German morale hit a new low as death, starvation, and sickness eroded motivation to carry on. Nevertheless, German rear-guards continued to show strong pockets of resistance as it retreated towards the city of Mons. On 7 November, the Canadian Corps crossed into Belgium and on 10 November they began their encirclement of Mons in their final battle to recapture a city that had been under German occupation since 1914.

Image: “Canadian Scottish Entering Mons on Armistice Day”, Alfred Soden English CCGW Collections, 2016.3.1.1-23.

From 8 August to 11 November, the Canadian Corps took 31,537 prisoners, captured more than 3,800 guns, machine guns, and trench mortars, advanced more than 130 kilometres, and encountered and defeated 47 German divisions. [1] While the figures are impressive, the last hundred days were some of the most costly for the Canadian Corps during the war. These figures should also highlight the significant advancement of the Canadians in such a short period of time: they were exhausted. Moreover, as rumours of the war’s end rapidly spread through the Canadian Corps, there was less motivation to continue their pursuit of the Germans and the city of Mons. With no confirmation of the war’s end nor the Kaiser’s abdication, however, Currie ordered the capture of Mons on 10 November.

The Canadian Corps followed orders and began their push towards the city. Unlike previous battles where the Canadian infantry could advance under the protection of a heavy artillery bombardment, however, there were strict instructions from above to avoid heavy bombardment that could destroy the city. [2] Instead, the Canadians were forced to resort to urban warfare. Throughout the night, they encountered stiff German resistance but successfully managed to subdue the city by early morning on the 11 November.

At 6:30 am on 11 November, the Canadian Corps headquarters received notice that fighting would cease at 11 am. Signallers quickly sent word of the good news as runners raced across battlefields to deliver their messages to units spread out over several kilometres. [3] In the city, citizens were woken by the Royal Highlanders of Canada who, as pictured above, marched their pipe band in celebration of the liberation of Mons and the end of the war.

At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent across the Western Front. The war’s ramifications, however, would continue to extend well beyond the battlefields. As soldiers returned to Canada, they returned to a world that, in many ways, did not resemble the one they left in 1914. As soldiers made the difficult transition from military to civilian life, they were met with a Canadian society whose cultural, social, and political landscape changed greatly without them.

This Remembrance Day marks one hundred years since the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War. While it is a remarkable milestone, it should remind us of the importance to continue passing the torch of remembrance from one generation to the next to ensure that the memory of those who sacrificed and fought for our country is not forgotten.

References

[1] Schreiber, Shane B. Shock Army of the British Empire: The Canadian Corps in the Last 100 Days of the Great War. (St. Catharines: Vanwell Publishing, 1997), 132.

[2] Cook, Tim. Cook, Tim. Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1917-1918. (Toronto: Viking Canada, 2008), 576.

[3] Ibid, 577.

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