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SIMON LLOYD: Casualty reports hit home

From September 1918 onward, war coverage in The Guardian began to make increased use of battlefield maps, as in this front-page example of Sept. 16. While the sparing use of maps to date this was partly attributable to the difficulty and expense of presenting cartographic images legibly with contemporary newspaper printing presses and the censorship and restriction of reliable information on which maps could be based, a more important consideration was that any reasonably accurate map of the military situation during most of the preceding four years would have only served to make the depressing stalemate more clear. Now, suddenly, there were dramatic Allied advances to show, often with Canadians at the forefront – Arrow 1 on this map represents British and Canadian forces poised to strike Cambrai.
From September 1918 onward, war coverage in The Guardian began to make increased use of battlefield maps, as in this front-page example of Sept. 16. While the sparing use of maps to date this was partly attributable to the difficulty and expense of presenting cartographic images legibly with contemporary newspaper printing presses and the censorship and restriction of reliable information on which maps could be based, a more important consideration was that any reasonably accurate map of the military situation during most of the preceding four years would have only served to make the depressing stalemate more clear. Now, suddenly, there were dramatic Allied advances to show, often with Canadians at the forefront – Arrow 1 on this map represents British and Canadian forces poised to strike Cambrai. - Contributed

The lead editorial in The Guardian of Sept. 20, 1918, quoted Kipling’s lament from “The Song of The Dead”: “If blood be the price of admiralty, Lord God, we ha’ paid in full!”

Indeed, the editorialist was so moved that he devoted fully half his column to a poem of his own, beginning: “And you, our brothers who, for all our praying, To this dear isle of ours come back no more …”.  Although a critical reader might have concluded that the versifying was better left to Kipling, the depth of feeling was clear.

The eulogizing was occasioned by the casualty reports presented in the previous day’s issue of The Guardian, which, “brought sorrow to many Canadian homes including an unusually large number in this province.  …  Proportionately, although perhaps our Prince Edward Island honour roll is no longer than any of our sister provinces, it is a terrible toll from our young manhood.” In the space of a few days in mid-September, Island households had received word of at least 10 P.E.I.-born soldiers killed, along with approximately 30 notifications of Island soldiers wounded, some critically.

There had been a noticeable increase in casualty reports as early as mid-August, reflecting the deployment of large elements of the Canadian Corps at the forefront of the Allied offensive launched at Amiens on Aug. 8. Emboldened by early successes around Amiens, the Allies unleashed further attacks in the following weeks. On Sept. 2, after a week of fierce fighting, the Canadians successfully pushed the Germans back from strong defensive positions between the French cities of Drocourt and Quéant – the D-Q Line. Canadian Lieut.-Gen. Sir Arthur Currie noted at the time that he considered the Battle of Amiens and the breaking of the D-Q Line Canada’s two greatest military accomplishments to date, but the cost was dreadful: more than 3,800 Canadians killed and wounded in the Amiens campaign and a further 5,600 casualties in the D-Q Line fighting. The heartbreaking mid-September jump in casualty figures in The Guardian, then, likely reflected a sad overlap between late reports from Amiens and its immediate aftermath, and early reports from the D-Q Line attack.

While it would have brought little comfort to scores of bereaved households around the Island, there was, at long last, a realistic prospect that an Allied victory was at hand, although few realized just how soon this would happen. A front-page story on Sept. 16 featured a lengthy interview with Premier Arsenault, just returned from visits with provincial and federal counterparts in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario: “The sentiment regarding the War in the other Provinces is very optimistic … and there seems to be the impression abroad that next summer will bring about the long looked for victory for the allies.”

An editorial on Sept. 21 offered a vague prediction that if the Germans could be pushed off their main Western Front stronghold, the Hindenburg Line, “this Autumn”, then, “the chances of a collapse in the home morale of Germany during the Winter will be much increased.”

By month’s end, however, news of Allied victories seemed to be coming so quickly that The Guardian began to shed the caution that had tempered its predictions only a week or two before. On Sept. 30, The Guardian ran one of the most buoyant headlines in all its war coverage to date: “The Smashing of Germanism is Rapidly Nearing Completion.” Fittingly, the article below included the first information available on the Canadian Corps’ successful crossing of the Canal du Nord several days previously, paving the way for Allied victory in the Battle of Cambrai.

Simon Lloyd is librarian responsible for the P.E.I. collection at the University of Prince Edward Island Robertson Library's University Archives and Special Collections. This is part of a monthly series of lookbacks at the First World War he will be providing, drawing on the historic issues of The Guardian available online at islandnewspapers.ca.

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