Our Town

‘The World Convulsed:’ Part IV

Cranbrook turned out to see the boys off to war — the first contingent of 59 men takes the train “to the front,” August 28, 1914. - Cranbrook Historical Archives: 1976-057-001
Cranbrook turned out to see the boys off to war — the first contingent of 59 men takes the train “to the front,” August 28, 1914.
— image credit: Cranbrook Historical Archives: 1976-057-001

There were two setbacks reported on the front page of the Cranbrook Herald of August 27, 1914, some three and a half weeks after Canada found itself at war with Germany and Austria.

"Ladies Defeat Cranbrook Ball Team (Errors by Locals and Steady Playing of Visitors Responsible for Result)"

A visit by the "American Ladies Baseball Team" to Cranbrook on Friday, August 21, left the local baseball squad with a 7-2 loss in a seven-inning game.

"Crowe started twirling for the local team," the Herald reported. ""But it was his day off — or some of the girls had his nanny — for the visitors managed to secure four scores before he was repolaced by Nordman."

The Herald remarked that "St. Clair, the lady twirler for the visitors, officiated on the mound for three innings and was retired, Benway finishing the game and holding the locals safe."

E. Crowe and Sullivan scored the only runs for Cranbrook. Cranbrook also managed to load the bases in the fifth but were unable to connect for runs."

The other setback reported, of considerably more importance, was the initial report of what became known as the Battle of Mons, the British Expeditionary Force's first major engagement of the new war, which would ultimately result in an epic retreat to the west.

"Forced Back On First Offensive Line (Allies Atttempt Forward Movement But Are Repulsed)," was the headline in the Herald, August 27. The information was issued by the French War Office.

“Allies Retire Intact”

“On order of General Joffre, our (French)  troops and the British troops withdrew to covering positions. Our troops are intact; our cavalry has in no way suffered and our artillery has affirmed its superiority. Our officers and soldiers are in the best condition, morally and physically.”

The French War Office added this “aspect of the struggle will not change for a few days. The French Army will remain for a time on the defensive, but at the right moment, to be decided by the commander-in-chief, it will resume a vigorous offensive.

“Our losses are heavy,” the bulletin from the French War Office continued. “It would be premature to enumerate them.”

Apparently losses were heavy on all sides, but the general position was good, and this “ordeal was but temporary.”

“It is to be regretted that the offensive operations failed to achieve their purpose as a result of difficulties impossible to foresee. It would have shortened the war, but our defenses remain intact in the presence of an already weakened enemy.”

The French release was remarkably voluable, compared to that of the British. The Herald printed a single terse paragraph from the London War Office. “British forces were engaged all day Sunday [August 23, 1914] and until after dark with the enemy in the neighbourhood of Mons, Belgium. They held their ground.”

At Mons, the British Army attempted to hold the line of the Mons–Condé Canal against the advancing German 1st Army. Although the British fought well, they were eventually forced to retreat due both to the greater strength of the Germans and the sudden retreat of the French Fifth Army, which exposed the British right flank.

Though initially planned as a simple tactical withdrawal, the British retreat from Mons lasted for two weeks and took the British to the outskirts of Paris before it counter-attacked with the French, at the Battle of the Marne.

The result of the Battle of the Marne was the so-called “Race To The Sea,” with both sides trying to ouflank each other. How this “race” ended up was with four years of stalement and stagnant but bloody trench warfare.

Another short story in the Herald reported the bombing of Antwerp, according to an eyewitness account by one Dr. Chas Sarolea.

“Bombs From Airship Cause Fearful Havoc (Antwerp Bombarded From The Sky By Attack Of Zeppelin.” (This, as it turned out, was an airship called Z IX [Class M] which on 25 August dropped  nine bombs on Antwerp, killing or wounding 26 people and damaging a royal palace. The Belgian royal family were in residence and the attack was widely condemned. Z IX was later destroyed in its hangar at Düsseldorf on October 8, 1914, by bombs dropped by Flt Lt. Reginald Marix, flying a Sopwith Tabloid) .

And thus, the Cranbrook Herald got an exclusive first glimpse of the airborne face of modern warfare, which would come to be so prominent as the century progressed.

Most of the front page of the August 20 edition was taken up with the printing, in its entirety, of the “Eloquent Address by Sir Wilfrid Laurier [Leader of the Opposition] at Opening of Parliament in Ottawa (War Measures Passed Without Opposition).” The address takes up more than 2,000 words, and covers a variety of topics, including the statement that Canada has “no quarrel with the German people,” especially those Canadians of German descent. “They are certainly amongst our best citizens … certainly proud of the land of their adoption, to many of them the land of their birth. But they would not be men if they had not in their hearts a deep feeling of affection for the land of their ancestry. “

Sir Wilfrid went on to tell his fellow Canadians of German ancestry that “if the institutions of the land of their ancestors were as free as the institutions of the land of their adoption, this cruel war should never have taken place.”

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the front page of the Cranbrook Herald, August 27, 1914, was the complete list of Cranbrook’s first contingent — three squads of 59 men in total, 40 of whom had enlisted over the past week. These young men had been feted, feasted and celebrated for days, and the following day would board the train taking them “to the front.” This scene would be captured in Cranbrook’s most famous historical photograph, with the population of Cranbrook turning out on foot, by carriage and by motorcar to see the boys off.

And thus passed Cranbrook’s first month of war, 100 years ago, August, 1914.

Footnote: An unrelated item on the August 27 edition proclaims the site of a Perry Creek Mining Claim as one of the greatest gold mining properties on the continent. They were heady, optimistic times in the late summer of 1914.

Files from The Cranbrook Herald, August 6, 13, 20, 27, 1914; Jim Cameron/Janus; Paul Fussell/The Great War and Modern Memory; Modris Ekland/The Rites of Spring.

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