By Greg Evans, municipal archivist
“Some wars name themselves. This is the Great War. It names itself.”
This quote from the October 1914 edition of MacLean’s Magazine refers to what is now more generally known as the First World War.
The war broke out 100 years ago and was a conflict on an enormous scale. It is estimated that 70 million military personnel were mobilized around the world. Given advancements in industrial technology and the horrific nature of trench warfare, the First World War was one of the bloodiest conflicts in world history, with more than nine million combatants and six million civilians killed.
When Great Britain declared war on Germany on Aug. 4, 1914, the Dominion of Canada, as part of the British Empire, was automatically drawn into the conflict.
At the time, foreign policy decisions were in the hands of the British government and although Canada was drawn into the war, the level of involvement was left to the Canadian government.
Locally, news of the war was met with enthusiasm. A sense of patriotic duty prevailed as many wanted to serve their country in time of need.
On Aug. 5, the Colonist declared “Canadians Are Ready To Serve – News of Declaration of War Causes Demonstrations of Patriotism in Cities – Thousands of Men Volunteer.”
Three days later, almost as a harbinger of things to come, the newspaper reported “Local Fund For Hospital Ship – Victorian in Mass Meeting Unanimously Endorse Patriotic Proposal of Daughters of Empire’ – an effort to purchase and equip a Canadian hospital ship.
By the fall of 1914, thousands of young Canadians had taken up the call to arms and eventually more than 400,000 would serve overseas.
Many were from Esquimalt who signed up at various locations, including Work Point or at recruiting stations set up in Esquimalt and Victoria. Esquimalt residents who were elsewhere at the time, signed up as far away as Vernon, Valcartier and even at Shorncliffe in England itself. Some were already serving in the regular army but had to give up their positions and sign on with the Canadian Expeditionary Force because at war’s outbreak, it was declared that it would be a volunteer force.
Soon, many would face unbelievable conditions of war on the European continent.
Greg Evans is Esquimalt’s municipal archivisit.