Sir Arthur Currie, Corps Commander

General Sir Arthur Currie, G.C.M.G., K.C.B

Arthur William Currie an Irish Canadian, was born in Napperton Western Ontario, in 1875.  As a very young man he went to British Columbia were he taught school before going into business in Victoria.  He had joined the Militia some years before rising rapidly through the ranks.  He had held every rank from Private to Lt. Colonel by 1914 when Colonel Sam Hughes called him for command of the 2nd. Infantry Brigade.  

He would soon inspire the confidence and respect of his men. They knew him as a senior officer who would stay close to the front lines, chancing shell and shot to see conditions for himself.  This was a practice he would continue later as Corps Commander.

Shortly after the Ypres battle Currie presided over a board of inquiry on the Ross rifle.  The verdict was a damning one, this infuriated Hughes and when Sir John French ordered the Ross rifle withdrawn and re-placed with Lee-Endfields to be issued to the 1st. Division, Hughes blamed Currie.

Currie would be promoted to command 1st. Division in the fall of 1915.  Once again he would tangle with Hughes when the Minister appointed his own son Garnet Hughes as commander of the 1st. Infantry Brigade. It was not because Currie did not like Garnet Hughes, it was simply that he felt that he was not sufficiently confident to command.  This did not increase Currie's popularity with the Minister who saw that his son got the promotion anyway.

Knighting of General Currie
In the King's birthday honours of June 3, 1917, Arthur Currie was made a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George.  On the 7th, Sir Douglas Haig ordered Currie to take command of the Canadian Corps. Two days after taking over as temporary commander, Currie receive a visit from the Canadian representative of the G.H.Q.  Although it is still a matter of conjecture, the visit was to convince Currie into selecting certain parties into his command to assure his position as the permanent commander of the Canadian Corps.  Currie would not accept any position that has strings attached. Several days later Currie would learn that Garnet Hughes the son of Sir Sam Hughes was setting his sights for command of the 1st. Division, Currie made it clear that he would not accept Garnet Hughes as a divisional commander in his Corps.  He needed competent and experienced commanders, a decision that would end the friendship between the two men and start a sinister and nebulous campaign against Currie which would last beyond the end of the war.

Currie's appointment of Brigadier General A.C. Macdonell to command the 1st. Division brought down the wrath of Sir Sam Hughes.  In July without any previous warning, Currie's creditors in Canada suddenly demanded full settlement of all debts or face legal action.  Reports in Canadian news papers implied that Currie was in ill health and did not get along with the British Commanders.  Just before the December election of 1917 the Canadian press reported that  General Currie has been relieved of his command for inefficiency exhibited in the last battle (Passchendaele) and excess loss of life.  This spurious report was even used in a political speech made by Sir Wilfred Laurier on December 5, 1917.  The report was later denied, but the seeds of doubt and suspicion had been sown in the minds of Canadians back home.

This slanderous campaign continued long after the war was over. In the House of Commons, Sir Sam Hughes on several occasions made statements accusing General Currie of cowardice and deliberate slaughter of men due to his incompetence.  That he never went within the range of shells and that there is not one man who served in France that would not curse the name of the officer who ordered the attack on Mons.  The members of Parliament who severed under Currie, hotly defended their commander and took Hughes to task for his lies. But the saboteurs had done their work well and the impression remained in spite of leading editorials in news papers such as the Toronto Globe in 1919.

General Currie was reassured privately by individual members of the cabinet that they would defend and support him, but the time never seem right.  The Prime Minister, when appealed to, privately gave lip service to Currie's great qualities and service, but he never confirmed them openly. There is every evidence of the cabinet's confidence in Sir Arthur.  Had the government collectively and emphatically denied them, the rumors might have been killed and the rumor mongers discredited.  But they reminded silent.

Battle Honours & Awards

July 1915  Proclaimed a hero in London, Commander of the Bath, England
Legion of Honour, France

July 1917 Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, England

November 1917 Croix de Guerre, France
Grand Officer of the Order of Couronne, Belgium
Distinguished Service Medal, United States

December 1917 Croix de Guerre, Belgium

January 1918 Knight Commander of the Bath, England

January 1919 Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Micheal and St. George, England

May 1919 Guest of Honour, Lord Mayor of London

July 1919 Honorary Degree, Cambridge University

August 1919 Private Luncheon with the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Only in Canada General Currie was disparaged, his greatness unacknowledged. To the French and Belgians he was a hero and held in high esteem with many British commanders.  It was not until 1962 when Colonel Nicholson's book on the history of the Canadians in World War I did anyone really understand Currie's accomplishments.  Two generations grew up ignorant of this Canadian hero and the Canadian Corps.  The detractors of Currie did a thorough job. Today he is almost forgotten, a vague memory of doubtful ability.

Currie would eventually become Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University in Montreal, where he was loved and respected.  He died in 1933 after a short illness, still tormented by the false allegations.  Today there is no national recognition or tribute to this great Canadian soldier. He did indeed just fade away.

References : L. Worthington, Amid the Guns Below
                Donald M. Santor, Canadians at War 1914-1918
                Tom Douglas,Valor At Vimy Ridge Canadian Heroes of World War I