Blog originally posted July 25, 2018
The success of the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Vimy Ridge on April 9-12, 1917 has been well documented, celebrated, and commemorated in Canada. Details pertaining to the decisive gains made during the Battle of Amiens, which took place August 8-11, 1918, have not been as thoroughly communicated. For many residents and those with ties to Simcoe County, however, the Battle of Amiens was of greater personal significance. From data that has been collected at Simcoe County Archives, it is estimated that 34 men with ties to the County lost their lives on August 8, 1918, compared to 28 who died on the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.1 In total, at least 60 of our men died during the four days of the Battle of Amiens.
979-38 Department de la Somme, ca 1918; Town of Amiens in centre of map
Copyright: Public Domain
So what was the Battle of Amiens?
During the late spring and early summer of 1918 Allied commanders had meticulously planned a major offensive to be launched at Amiens in early August. While the participants were thoroughly trained for the attack, until the last minute they were not made aware of exactly when or where a battle would take place. This was deliberately done to keep the Germans from suspecting that, east of Amiens, weaknesses had been discovered in their defences. The Canadian Corps was seeking revenge for the sinking of the Llandovery Castle that June2 and they found it when the attack was launched at Amiens on August 8, 1918.
On that opening day of battle the Allies, consisting of Australian, British, Canadian, and French forces advanced an astonishing 13 kilometres, barging through lines that had held relatively stagnant for nearly 4 years. The offensive, supported by tanks, cavalry, armoured cars, and the Royal Air Force, took the depleted German Army by surprise. General Erich Ludendorff later described August 8, 1918 as “the black day of the German Army," and marked the beginning of the last 100 days of the First World War. Fewer gains were made during the rest of the battle and major offensive operations were halted on August 11, 1918. But the Battle of Amiens was the first significant breakthrough in what had been a long and costly war of attrition.
One of the soldiers who died at the Battle of Amiens, was William Kennedy, a son of John and Margaret Kennedy. He was born in Penetanguishene in February 1896, and enlisted with the 157th Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. On October 17, 1916, Kennedy embarked from Halifax to England aboard S.S. Cameronia. After arriving in England he was transferred to the 116th Battalion, C.E.F. Kennedy died on August 8, 1918 and was buried in the Hourges Orchard Cemetery, Donart-sur-La-Loce, France. His name is engraved on the Tay side of the Waverley War Memorial.
SCA Photograph Collection Waverley Soldiers' Memorial shown from the East, 2018
Copyright: Simcoe County Archives
1Compiling a complete list of Simcoe County's war dead is exceedingly difficult because the official Attestation Papers more frequently asked for place of birth than place of residence. Furthermore, the two Overseas Battalions which were raised in Simcoe County, the 157th and 177th, were broken up in England in order to provide reinforcements for units already in action. No County of Simcoe Honour Roll was created immediately following the First World War, and each of the smaller communities throughout the county used their own criteria for determining honour rolls and/or memorials.
2The HMHS Llandovery Castle was a Canadian Hospital Ship that had brought Canadian casualties back to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in early June 1918, and was making the return journey back to England. On June 27, as the Llandovery Castle – clearly marked as a hospital ship – approached the coast of Ireland, it was deliberately torpedoed by a German submarine. When news of the sinking was circulated Simcoe County mourned three of its own: Nursing Sister Mae Bell Sampson, Private George Edward Nash, and Private Victor Sanders. Sampson, a graduate nurse with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, was born in Nottawasaga Township, while both Nash, a resident of Midland, and Sanders, of Penetanguishene, had enlisted with the 157th Battalion C.E.F. in early 1916.