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Canadian red ensign in Imperial War Museum (Canada)

Last modified: 2015-06-13 by rob raeside
Keywords: red ensign: canada | world war i | imperial war museum |
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[Vimy exhibit]
courtesy Imperial War Museum through Gordon Thompson

[Vimy flag]
contributed by David Penn through Gordon Thompson

In a the quote by Former Prime Minister, Lester Pearson in "Canada's Flag - A Search for an Identity" , it is noted: "The Red Ensign, though many of my correspondents do not seem to appreciate this, was not used during World War I in anyway, shape or form for the Canadian forces".

I have some concerns about this statement. The photo above is the flag donated[1] to the Imperial War Museum in 1918 to commemorate the Battle of Vimy Ridge[2] along with back-up information. The flag is a Red Ensign. Also I have seen photographs in Canadian history books covering WW1 displaying the Red Ensign with Canadian Forces. I also recently purchased a Canadian flag from a collection from an American serviceman who served with the Canadian Forces in the First World War. It also is a four shield Canadian Flag. I believe this refutes the above statement and displays that the Red Ensign was used by Canadian Forces (primarily the Army) in WWI.

I believe that Lester Pearson served in the Royal Flying Corp which was entirely British, since the RCAF was not formed until 1924. The only distinctive Canadian force that served overseas in WWI was the Army[3]. I also believe the former Prime Minister's statement was somewhat politicized due the ongoing debate at that time versus those who wanted the new flag and those, including the Canadian Legion, who wanted to retain the Red Ensign.

The Red Ensign has served this country well both in an official and un-official capacity. For those of us born under it, we mourned its passing. The new Maple Leaf flag has served us well since 1965, but I believe the old Red Ensign deserves it fair shake for the period of time it represented this country.
Gordon Thompson, 23 May 2000

[Note 1] The Red Ensign was presented to this Museum in 1918 to commemorate the Canadian achievement at Vimy Ridge by Lieutenant Colonel Lorn Paulet Owen Tudor of the Saskatchewan Regiment, who commanded the 5th Canadian Infantry Battalion from 29 June 1917 to 8 March 1918.
David Penn
Keeper, Exhibits & Firearms, Imperial War Museum

[Note 2] Vimy Ridge is a ridge near Vimy commune, Pas-de-Calais dept., Northern France, 9 km north of Atrecht (in Dutch/Arras (in French); captured by Canadians April 9-10[4], 1917. (Source: Webster's New Geographical Dictionary, 1988.)
Jarig Bakker, 24 May 2000

The Canadian expeditionary force which fought in Vimy was a part of the 3rd British Army commanded by General Allenby. Despite their successful assault, the German front was not perforated. There is now on Vimy Ridge a big monument, known as the Vimy Canadian Memorial, which recalls the sacrifice of the 75,000 Canadian soldiers who died or disappeared in France during First World War. On the southern part of the hill, a part of the network of the Canadian and German trenches has been restored. Concerning the city mentioned by Jarig, it must be Arras, the prefecture of department Pas-de-Calais and capital of the traditional province of Artois.[5]
Ivan Sache, 24 May 2000

[Note 3] Canada did not have an Army in this conflict. They had a Corps, aptly named 'the Canadian Corps'. There was an opportunity in January 1918 for Canada to expand its force to Army strength, but after careful consideration by both military and political leaders, a decision was made to retain the force at Corps strength, and to secure their position as the 'shock troops' of the British Expeditionary Force.

Canada had an army in WW1, contributing units to both the Canadian Corps on the Western Front and other field formations such as the Siberian Expeditionary Force and others that remained in Canada. All were serviced by the Canadian ARMY Medical Corps, Canadian ARMY Service Corps, Canadian Army Dental Corps, Canadian ARMY Pay Corps, Canadian ARMY Veterinary Corps, Canadian ARMY Ordnance Corps, etc. It's hard to imagine what all these combat service corps were for if Canada had no Army. The 1st Canadian Army had a car flag for its commander and staff.
Dan Mowat, 24 May 2015

Battalions are grouped in brigades, brigades in divisions, divisions in corps, and corps in armies. These are all field formations (in British parlance), but the terms have multiple meanings. It is true that Canada for the first time fielded a corps-sized tactical formation, called appropriately enough the "Canadian Corps," in WW1. In WW2 Canada fielded something even bigger, the "First Canadian Army." It was grouped with the British "2nd Army" to form the "21st Army Group." Note how the latter took its numeral from its two component armies, but by no stretch of the imagination did the British Commonwealth field twenty-one army groups.
T.F. Mills, 27 May 2015

[Note 4] The battle raged from April 9th to the 12th, and although most of the ridge fell to the Canadians earlier in the battle, the 4th Canadian Division suffered heavy casualties in their attempts to take the objective of the highest point on the ridge, nicknamed 'the pimple'. They finally accomplished their objective in a blinding blizzard that was blowing directly into the faces of the German defenders.
Dan Mowat, 24 May 2015

[Note 5] The success of the Canadian Corps at Vimy caused the German forces to be routed, and they were driven back over 7 kilometres east across the Douai plain. The Germans were never able to advance their line again, and they never came any closer than that to retaking the Ridge. To say that the line was 'not perforated' is misleading, because their line was fully routed and they were in full and disorganized retreat, escaping with their very lives. Secondly, the assertion that 75,000 Canadians were casualties or missing in action is not correct. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission puts the number of Canadian casualties at 64,997.
Dan Mowat, 24 May 2015