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“From the first he never feared to jeopardize his position, his career, and his reputation, where the lives often were involved.”
Lieutenant Colonel R. Ross Napier - Dec 10, 1933
For a man who had to be talked into volunteering for the 1st Contingent it is remarkable that four years later he would a serious contender to replace Field Marshal Douglas Haig as the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France.
Prior to the war Currie had been a militia officer in British Columbia rising from being an enlisted man to becoming the commanding officer of the 50th Regiment, Gordon Highlanders of Canada. Currie took his position as a militia officer quite seriously taking every course that was offered by the British and Canadian professionals and reading every military text he could get his hands on.
When volunteers where called for the 1st Canadian Contingent his name was prominent, but he had declined because of his dire financial straits. His friend Garnet Hughes who was the son of Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia and Defence, finally convinced him to volunteer. When Currie did he was given command of the 1st Contingent’s 2nd Brigade.
His first major engagement was at the 2nd Battle of Ypres in April 1915 where the Germans launched the first gas attack of the war. While the 1st Canadian Division had been instrumental in defeating the German attack Currie was nearly relieved of his command of the 2nd Brigade because of mistakes he had made during the battle. He would learn from his experiences and continue to develop as an outstanding army commander. Currie was one of the architects of the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge in April 1917.
Currie cared deeply for the welfare and the lives of his men. If he felt a plan carried too a high risk, he would argue with his superiors to make changes necessary to minimize casualties. While Currie was well respected he never developed a warm relationship with his men.
Currie was also open-minded. He would often invite discussion of his battle plans and listen to the various arguments his officers made before making his final decisions. He encouraged his men to attend training courses to better improve their skills. Currie also encouraged new ideas to help win battles and to minimize losses.
One of the reasons Currie was hesitant to volunteer in 1914 was that he was on the verge of bankruptcy. In order to pay off his debts he had embezzled $10,000 from regimental funds. When this had come to Prime Minister Borden attention in 1917 Borden was rather perplexed why Currie still hadn’t repaid the money. Currie would eventually repay the money by borrowing it from some wealthy officers in his command.
For years, General Currie suffered rumours and innuendos on his reputation because of the attack he had ordered on Mons in the final days of the war. Most of these had been fostered by Major-General Sam Hughes, the former Minister of Militia and Defence. In 1919 Hughes had stood up in the House of Commons and had criticized Currie for ordering the attack and for the subsequent casualties.
It wasn’t until the Port Hope’s Evening Guide published an article in 1927 accusing General Currie of being a butcher that he finally decided he had enough. He sued the paper for libel and won vindication.
Generals - Sir Arthur Currie | Canada and the First World War
Biography – CURRIE, Sir ARTHUR WILLIAM – Volume XVI (1931-1940) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography
The History Idol: Sir Arthur Currie - Canada's History
Arthur Currie - Wikipedia
Cook, Tim. The Madman And The Butcher, Allen Lane, 2010
Hyatt, A M J. General Sir Arthur Currie: A Military Biography, University of Toronto Press, 1987
Urquhart, Hugh M. Arthur Currie the Biography of a Great Canadian J. M. Dent & Co., 1950