For Canadian soldiers, the First World War ended in Mons, Belgium, on 11 November 1918, after 4 years of fighting and immense sacrifices that changed Canada forever. Out of a population of a little less than eight million Canadians in 1914, 619,636 men and women served in the Canadian armed forces in the First World War, of whom 59,544 were killed and 172,950 wounded.
In the course of the last week of the First World War, the Canadian army liberated the entire region straddling the Franco-Belgian border, from Quiévrain to Casteau, including the City of Mons. It was the final phase of the “Hundred Days of Canada,” a series of offensives on the Western Front during which the Canadian corps spearheaded the armies of the British Empire.
During the First World War, the Canadian Expeditionary Force acquired an enviable reputation among the allied armies, because it did not lose a single battle during the last two years of the war.
The transformation of a simple, relatively inexperienced militia before the war, into one of the most formidable fighting formations on the Western Front occurred in large measure in Belgium: the Canadian troops took part in most of the major battles waged between April 1915 and November 1917 in the region of Ypres.
All four Canadian divisions underwent their baptism of fire in the plains of Flanders and paid a heavy price in terms of human lives. One fourth of the 60,000 Canadian dead in the First World War fell on Belgian soil.
By the time they returned to Belgium in November 1918, the Canadian corps was very modern in terms of planning, preparation, and execution. The use of armoured tanks, indirect fire, tactical air support, electronic deception techniques and command, control and intelligence systems by the Canadian forces already provided a clear indication of what the Second World War would look like.
The region between Quiévrain and Mons has 13 municipal cemeteries were 164 Canadian soldiers lie buried, namely in: Boussu-Bois, Cuesmes, Dour, Elouges, Frameries, Ghlin, Harchies, Hautrage, Jemappes, Mons, Montbliart, Quiévrain and Tournai. Two Canadian soldiers are buried in the sole military cemetery of the region: Saint-Symphorien.
Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie commanded the Canadian Corps during the Hundred Days of Canada. He is generally considered as one of the best generals the Allies had during the war.
A planner very attentive to detail who refused to send his troops to battle without meticulous preparation, he studied the lessons of previous engagements carefully and then sought to put them to advantage.
Currie's brigade played a central role in holding the allied position already in the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. After the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, Currie was appointed head of the Canadian Corps. Under his direction, the Canadians consolidated their reputation as an elite assault force, carrying off an uninterrupted series of major victories in 1917-1918, including Cote 70, Passchendaele, Amiens, Arras and the pursuit to Mons. After the war, he was appointed president and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University in Montreal.
Although the battle for Valenciennes was the last major prearranged attack in which the Canadian Corps was engaged, 3 of its 4 Divisions were involved in the liberation of the entire region situated on the Franco-Belgian border, from Quiévrain to Casteau, including the City of Mons, between 5 and 11 November 1918. For the Canadians, it was a return to Belgium, after they had left the Ypres region following the Battle of Passchendaele in November 1917.
On 4 November, the 3rd and 4th Canadian divisions arrived close to the Belgian on either side of the Valenciennes-Mons road. The front extended from Marchipont in the south to Condé in the north.
On 5 November, patrols from the 87th Battalion (Montreal Grenadier Guards), a unit of the 4th Division, crossed the River Aunelle, thereby marking the liberation, by the Canadians, of the first part of occupied Belgium.
On 6 November, the rest of the 4th Division entered Belgium over the entire width of the border and liberated the villages of Marchipont and a part of Baisieux. By nightfall, the 4th division controlled the Petite-Honnelle and Grande-Honnelle rivers along its whole front. It was the last feat of arms of the 4th division: In the night of 6 to 7 November, it was replaced by the 2nd Division. In the north, the village of Crespin was liberated and floating crossings were established over the Aunelle and Honnelle rivers.
On 7 November, the 2nd Division liberated the rest of Baisieux and the village of Elouges. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions together liberated Quiévrain and captured 500 prisoners. The 3rd Division continued its advance and liberated La Croix and Hensies, while the 2nd Division retook the villages of Bois-de-Boussu, Petit Hornu, Bois-de-Epinois and part of Bois-de-Leveque right before midnight. The Canadian soldiers were given a warm welcome as liberators in each village they cleared.
The troops then entered in a densely populated region with many mining villages. They faced the German army which was fighting in retreat while engaging in delay tactics. In the meantime, rumours were spreading that peace was imminent.
On 8 November, the 3rd Division liberated Saint-Aybert and, in the evening, crossed the Condé Canal and gained a firm footing on the north bank. On the south front, the 2nd Division took the village of Dour.
The fighting on 9 November yielded minimal gains compared to the advances on previous days. As soon as the Canadians completed the occupation of one village, they were thwarted from entering the next by machine gun fire.
On 10 November, the 2nd and 3rd Divisions reached the outskirts of Mons. To spare Mons as much as possible, General Currie ordered an encircling manoeuvre: the 2nd Division skirted the city from the south to occupy the high grounds to the east, while the 3rd division had to take the northern suburb of Nimy and advance to the centre of the city. At about 11:00 PM, the platoons of the 42nd Montreal Battalion (Canadian Black Watch) of the 7th Brigade entered the City of Mons and began clearing eastward, while others crossed the Canal de la Dérivation and moved northwest into the town.
Canadian soldiers in the streets of Mons on
Nov 11, 1918
In the early morning of 11 November, all four battalions of the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade penetrated the city: The Canadian Royal Regiment, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, the 42nd Montreal Battalion and the 49th Battalion. At 3:10 AM, the first patrol crossed the Grand-Place and at 4:00 AM the entire city was under the control of the Canadian units. At 5:00 AM, the first Canadian officers were received in the Mons town hall.
The pursuit of the German troops continued nonetheless, and the Canadians were already eight kilometres to the northeast of Mons at the time of the Armistice at 11:00 AM. The last Canadian killed was George Lawrence Price, who was tragically shot by a German sniper in Ville-sur-Haine, municipality of Roeulx, just a few minutes before the Armistice.
In all, 280 Canadian soldiers were killed, wounded or reported missing during the last two days of operations in the city of Mons and its surroundings. The very day of 11 November, one was killed and 15 wounded.
The Return to Mons, a painting by Inglis
Sheldon Williams, Canadian War Museum
The celebrations of the Armistice started on 11 November 1918 in Mons with the signing of the City's Golden Book by the liberating military commanders. General Currie presented to the city a flag of the Canadian Corps, tied to a lance on that occasion. The General's bodyguard unit was composed of soldiers from the British 5th Lancers, all wearing their “Mons Star,” the medal they had received for their participation in the First Battle of Mons, on 23 August 1914.
On the same day, General Currie ordered a victory parade on the Grand-Place of Mons, where each unit of the Canadian Corps was represented.
On 18 November, the board of aldermen of Mons unanimously decided to name the four Generals responsible for the liberation, General Horne of Britain and Canadians Generals Currie, Loomis and Clark, “honorary citizens” of the City of Mons.
The route below links a series of Canadian monuments, Commonwealth cemeteries and several significant places. It would have been difficult to include in this circuit all the cemeteries where Canadian soldiers are buried. Nevertheless, this itinerary is intended as a homage to each of those soldiers. The GPS coordinates of each site will enable you to discover the places that are of particular importance for Canada.
GPS address: 50°23'27.0"N 3°40'24.3"E
Bridge over the Aunelle in Quiévrain
The starting point of the itinerary is the bridge on the Aunelle in Baisieux (Quiévrain).
The Canadians embarked on the liberation of the entire region, including the City of Mons, by crossing the Rivers Honnelle and Aunelle, on a 12-km front between Marchipont and Condé. The border town of Quiévrain, a logistical nerve centre, was fiercely defended by the Germans to slow down the allied advance.
To enter in Belgium, the Canadians had to gain control of the bridges over the Petite-Honnelle, the Grande-Honnelle and the Aunelles – the three rivers that cross Quiévrain.
Captain John MacGregor, VC
It was at Quiévrain that one of Canada's most decorated soldiers in the First World War, Captain John MacGregor (2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles), earned his second medal – a second Military Cross – for having captured the bridges over the Honnelle. He personally removed the explosives attached to the bridge over the Grande Honnelle and then provided the information to another unit which managed to gain control over the Honnelle and the Aunelle.
A month before arriving in Belgium, MacGregor had been awarded the Victoria Cross - the Commonwealth’s highest military distinction – during the Battle of Cambrai, from 29 September to 3 October 1918.
John MacGregor also earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Cross, the 2nd and 3rd highest decorations for Commonwealth army officers.
Captain MacGregor survived the war and died in Powell River, British Columbia, on 9 June 1952, where he is buried.
Twenty-nine soldiers from John MacGregor’s unit, the “2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles”, are buried in the municipal cemetery of Quiévrain.
During the fighting to liberate Quiévrain and the surrounding villages in November 1918, several officers and soldiers were decorated for their exploits. Here, as elsewhere, ordinary Canadian soldiers and officers accomplished extraordinary feats.
GPS address: 50°24'10.0"N 3°41'14.5"E
Quiévrain Municipal cemetery
At the Quiévrain Municipal Cemetery, 35 of the 43 Commonwealth soldiers are Canadians: 29 from the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles; 2 from the Royal Canadian Regiment; 1 from the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles; 1 from the Corps of Engineers; 1 from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry; and 1 infantryman from an unknown unit.
Every year on 11 November, the authorities and inhabitants of Quiévrain hold a ceremony in front of the Canadian tombs to pay homage, during which the Canadian national anthem is played and the role of the Canadian liberating troops is honoured.
GPS address: 51 Boulevard Dolez, 7000 Mons
The Mons Memorial Museum, on the site of the former Machine-à-Eau water pumping facility, invites visitors to reflect on the multiple and complex realities of war phenomena. The visitor is immersed in the daily life of soldiers, but also of civilians, in war time, through the fate of men and women who witnessed these events. British, American, Canadian and Belgian testimonials are side by side with German narratives highlighting the events presented in the museum.
The museum uses innovative staging, multimedia, 3D projection, interactive educational software and trilingual audio guides. The permanent exhibition in the museum (over nearly 1200 m²) is chronological and the Great War is centre stage.
The museum has an excellent collection of Canadian military artefacts. The unique pieces include the original tombstone of George Price, the last Canadian soldier killed in the First World War, and a Canadian artillery piece that purportedly fired the last Canadian shells in the war.
Owing to its strategic position and its history, the City of Mons has been the theatre of battles, sieges, fires and reconstructions. Mons was occupied twice in the 20th century.
In the First World War, the city was of great symbolic value, because that is where the British army fought its first major battle against the German invader in August 1914. But Mons was also of strategic value for the German economy: the mines in the region produced the best coal in Belgium at the time.
GPS address: 46 Chaussée de Binche, 7000 Mons
This British and Canadian Memorial commemorates the two Battles of Mons of August 1914 and of November 1918, which were the first and last clashes of the forces of the British Empire in the First World War. It is composed of two Roman Tuscan columns with suitable pedestal and entablature along with a large upright at its front.
British - Canadian Memorial of the two
Battles of Mons
The monument was unveiled in 1952. Sir Winston Churchill personally wrote the text engraved on this monument: “Here the forces of the British Empire fought their first and last battles in the 14-18 War. On 23rd and 24th August 1914, the British Expeditionary Force commanded by Sir John French with supreme courage held the advance of overwhelmingly superior German Forces. On Armistice Day, 1918, after 60 hours of heavy fighting, Canadian Divisions entered Mons. British and Canadian Regiments have erected this tablet to the Glory of God and to commemorate these events.”
An urn embedded in the base contains soil from the tomb of each British and Canadian soldier who fell in the First or Second Battle of Mons.
Please note that there is no parking at the monument itself, but you can park your car 100 m away, in front of the restaurant Chez Léon, 32 Chaussée de Binche, in the direction of Mons.
GPS address: Rue Nestor Dehon, 7030 Mons
The grave of George Price
The Saint-Symphorien military cemetery is a unique and highly symbolic place: it is the burial ground of the remains of the first and last soldier of the British Empire who died in the First World War. It also has the particular feature of containing a nearly equivalent number of British and German graves.
Saint-Symphorien is probably one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Belgium. Situated 5 kilometres to the East of Mons, in a peaceful location, surrounded by trees and fields, it contains the graves of 284 German soldiers and 229 soldiers of the British Empire, including 2 Canadians:
The cemetery contains other symbolic graves also:
The cemetery is managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, an administrative authority responsible for enumeration, identification and maintenance of graves of soldiers from the military forces of Commonwealth countries who were killed in the two World Wars.
GPS address: 261 Rue de Mons, 7070 Le Roeulx
George Price in
George Lawrence Price was killed by a sniper in Ville-sur-Haine. Born in Nova Scotia, Price was 26 years old. His tragic end is commemorated by the plaque unveiled on 11 November 1968 on the 50th anniversary of his death. It was originally placed on the façade of the house from which Price came out when hit by a bullet through the chest. That building was later demolished and the plaque was affixed on a small memorial situated nearly in front of the place where he was killed. The walkway behind the monument was named after Price in 1991. Price's remains today rest in the Saint-Symphorien military cemetery. Private Price belonged to 'A' Company, 28th (North West) Infantry Battalion, 6th Brigade, 2nd Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force.
The text on the plaque reads: “To the memory of 256265 Private Lawrence Price 28th North West Battalion 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade 2nd Canadian Division killed in action near this spot at 10:58 hours November 11th 1918 the last Canadian soldier to die on the Western Front in the First World War erected by his comrades 11 November 1968”.
GPS address: 1 Chaussée de Bruxelles, 7061 Casteau (Soignies)
Plaque commemorating the last shot
fired in the First World War, in Casteau
It was near this symbolic place of the First World War that the British Expeditionary Force engaged in the war on 22 August 1914 and that the Canadian Expeditionary Force brought the war to a close on 11 November 1918. It is here, 5 kilometres to the East of Mons, that the Great War came to an end for Canada.
A Canadian plaque in bronze marks the place where the Canadian 116th Battalion stopped on 11 November 1918, the day of the Armistice. The text on the plaque reads as follows: “The outpost of the 116th Canadian Infantry Battalion stopped at this very point upon the cease-fire on 11 November 1918.” The plaque was inaugurated on 7 July 1956 by Georges Pearkes, who in 1918 was in command of the 116th battalion, the unit which was in Casteau on 11 November 1918.
George Pearkes was himself a hero of the Great War. Wounded five times in battle, he was one of the most decorated Canadian officers of the First World War. He was awarded the Victoria Cross (during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917), the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order.
Seriously wounded during an artillery bombardment on 17 September 1918, he was still convalescing on the day of the Armistice. He resumed his post as commander of the 116th battalion two weeks later.
After the Second World War, George Pearkes ran for the Federal Parliament in Canada, was elected and served as Minister of Defence (1957-1960) in the Diefenbaker Government, before being appointed Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia in 1961, a post which he held until 1968. He died on 30 May 1984, at the age of 96.
A stone monument opposite the Canadian memorial commemorates the place where the first British shot was fired in Western Europe since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, with which Cateau takes its place in the history of the Great War.
GPS Address: 375 Chemin de la Procession, 7000 Mons
Mons Municipal Cemetery
Mons Municipal Cemetery is the resting place of the largest number of Canadian soldiers in the region: 57, of whom 21 died after the Armistice from their wounds and the Spanish flu.
In the cemetery, 74 Russian, 9 Romanian and 3 German soldiers lie side by side with 393 soldiers of the British Empire, including 57 Canadians, in an extension to the north of the cemetery.
This cemetery is the commemorative resting place not only of soldiers but also of civilian victims of the First World War, including deportees who died from the poor living conditions inflicted by the occupiers. They were requisitioned and sent to Germany to reinforce the national workforce.
GPS Address: 22 Grand Place, 7000 Mons
Memorial commemorating the Liberation
of Mons by the Canadians
In 1927, an eight-foot bronze plaque presented by the Canadian Battlefield Memorial Commission was inaugurated under the porches of Mons City Hall, honouring the Canadian soldiers of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, which liberated Mons on 11 November 1918, early in the morning on Armistice Day.
The text reads as follows: “Retaken by the Canadian Army on 11 November 1918, the City of Mons regained its freedom after 50 months of German occupation. The final cannon shot of the Great War was fired in Mons.”