The Canadian Expeditionary Force Novels

Forging the Weapon cover 1914
Hammering the Blade cover 1915
Sharpening the Blade cover 1916
Tempering the Blade cover 1917


Frank Rockland

Tempering the Blade - Preface

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Home Front

With the country still at war Canada’s 50th anniversary celebration, on July 1st 1917, is a sombre affair.

The great victory at Vimy Ridge in April by the Canadian Corps was welcome news, but Prime Minister Borden was appalled by the casualties. Fresh from the Imperial War conferences in London, he knew the Allies’ manpower situation was dire and getting worse with Russia being wracked by revolution. The Americans finally entered war after the leaking of the Zimmerman telegram in February. It would take time before enough American troops start arriving in France to make a difference.

In June, Borden announces his intention to introduce conscription to recruit more men for the Canadian Corps. He knows its risky and that could tear the country apart, especially in Quebec. But, time was running out on his government and he has to call an election soon. Despite the opposition inside and outside his party he attempts to form a Union government with the Laurier Liberals. Rebuffed by Sir Wilfrid Laurier who opposes conscription, he recruits disaffected Liberals to form a Union government to take to the polls. To enhance his chances of winning he gives, for the first time, women the right to vote in a federal election. The 1917 election campaign was brutal and vicious with violent clashes between the Unionists and the Liberals.

Then in December, in the midst of the election campaign, devastation strikes Halifax when a ship’s deadly cargo explodes in the harbour destroying much of the city. Adding to the misery, was the snow storm that followed. Borden is horrified by the destruction when he visits the city.

When the election results are finally tabulated his Union government sweeps the country, except in the province of Quebec which he loses to the Liberals.

Western Front

For two years, the British and French had tried to capture, with devastating losses, Vimy Ridge one of the best-defended positions in the German line.

In January, the Canadian Corps was given the task of capturing the ridge. Lieutenant-Colonel Llewellyn and Captain Ryan spent most of the winter drawing detailed plans by scouting and raiding the German lines and training their men hard. The Canadian Corps’ plan for the Easter assault in April was audacious. Despite the doubts by the British and French, they took the ridge in four hours as planned. By noon Llewellyn and Ryan were overlooking the green valley behind the ridge.

Then in August Llewellyn and Ryan were back in action. The Corps had been ordered to capture the well-defended town of Lens. Lieutenant-General Currie, his first operation as the recently promoted commander of the Canadian Corps, has different ideas and decides to capture Hill 70, overlooking Lens, to force the Germans to retreat.

As the Corps accumulates victories they were again called into action when the British Army’s attack at Passchendaele falters. Lieutenant-Colonel Llewellyn and Ryan find themselves up to their necks in the mud of Passchendaele as they plan to attack and capture another bloody ridge.


Matron Samantha Lonsdale has a front row seat to the Russian revolution, in the first half of 1917, from the Anglo- Russian Hospital in Petrograd. The killing of Rasputin in December ignites a powder keg that had been building in the Russian capital. The abdication by Czar Nicholas leaves the country in more turmoil.

The tension at the Anglo-Russian hospital with the loss of the Czar’s and Czarina’s patronage, and the rise of anti-aristocratic sentiments, was running high. Samantha had to deal with poor food, lack of supplies, machine gun bullets striking the hospital, and searches by Russian soldiers looking for weapons. She wasn’t immune to the political infighting that spills onto the streets and that rears its ugly head at the hospital.

By July, with the Bolsheviks starting their ascendency and the situation at the Anglo-Russian hospital becoming more and more untenable Samantha was ordered back to England.

When she returns to England, she is reunited with Llewellyn. But, their reunion is brief as he has to return to the Western Front and she is assigned to the Bromley Convalescent Hospital near London. She is now back to the regular routine of caring for the men suffering from bullet wounds, shrapnel, shell shock, and the damage caused by the latest German weapon, mustard gas.

After her stint in Russia she tried to avoid politics, but when Sir Robert gives the women the right to vote for the December election she votes for the first time.

As the year ends, Samantha, Llewellyn and Ryan have been hardened by the year’s trials. All they could only hope for in 1918 they could finally sheath their blades.