Unending Seige


Nursing Sister Blanche Lavallée, Canadian Army Medical Corps, 26 June 1916

Caption: Nursing Sister Blanche Lavallée, Canadian Army Medical Corps, 26 June 1916

Canada has not made detailed studies on the causes of death or types of injury sustained on the battlefields of 1914-18. The British statistics are as follows: 59 percent of deaths caused by mortar and cannon fire, 39 percent by rifle bullets and 2 percent by myriad other factors. We may assume that Canadians fighting under British command or in sectors where the British were operating sustained comparable losses. Loss of life due to artillery fire seems to have been heavier among the Germans, where it apparently accounted for 85 percent of the total between 1916 and 1918, a period during which the coalition of Allied countries held a growing material superiority.

Though these percentages show that the casualty rate decreased with combat experience, the figures also show clearly that the rates were terrible and that the turnover at the front was considerable, especially among the infantry units hardest hit in numbers and percentages.

Reaching the front, an infantry battalion comprised 800 to 1,000 men. Some 4,500 to 5,500 men would pass through each fighting unit, which gives an idea of the scale of this steady replacement activity. In the 4th Division: the 44th Battalion, in two years of combat, received 5,640 men of whom 1,193 would be killed; the 38th Battalion saw 3,512 march in and 691 die; the 22nd Battalion had some 5,584 march in and 1,147 killed . 68

These figures illustrate why the Canadian Army Medical Corps, established in 1901, had more than one occasion to prove its worth. The Corps would grow from 13 doctors and five nurses before 1914 to 1,525 doctors, 1,901 nurses and 15,624 NCOs and soldiers at the height of the war. A Canadian peculiarity was that nurses were entitled to officer ranks and privileges. The top-ranked Major Margaret Clothilde MacDonald had already served in South Africa. 69

Additional Images

World War One: Casualties by Battle