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Legend and propaganda in the First World War

The Story

Nations at war have always turned to past glories to boost morale. The First World War furnished Canada with its own war heroes and legends, and they are summoned when world war breaks out again. This program from the 1942 series Canada Marches uses speeches from Pericles of Athens and Sir Isaac Brock to set the stage for the show's highlight: an inspirational re-enactment of Canadian valour at Givenchy during the First World War. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Canada Marches
Broadcast Date: Aug. 12, 1942
Announcer: Austin Willis
Producer: Mavor Moore
Writer: Alan King
Duration: 5:08

Did You know?

• The first Battle of Givenchy (France) was fought from Dec. 18-22, 1914. Indian troops captured two waterlogged German trenches on the 19th, but they were soon pushed back. The Germans were reinforced and attacked British positions, taking part of the town of Givenchy. British reserve battalions took back the town on Dec. 20. The fighting continued for two more days, and cost 4,000 British and 2,000 German lives. The lines ended up the same as they were before the battle.

• The "Second Action of Givenchy" took place on June 15-16, 1915. The British 7th Division captured a German trench, and Canadian Frederick William Campbell led two gun crews across no man's land to support them. Only Campbell and gunner Harold Vincent reached the trench. The Germans counterattacked, and the Allied troops ran out of grenades. Campbell ordered a retreat, and he and Vincent set up their Colt machine gun to provide covering fire.

• The machine gun's tripod had been shot away, so Vincent supported it on his back while Campbell fired 1,000 rounds. Campbell was shot in the thigh, but managed to crawl back to safety. Vincent was badly burned, but was still able to carry the machine gun back to his own lines.
• William Campbell was taken to a hospital in Boulogne, but fell into a coma and died on June 19. He was 48.

• William Campbell was awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroic actions at Givenchy. A plaque honouring him in Ontario's Wellington County describes his courageous actions: "During an attack on the German trenches, Campbell held an exposed position under heavy fire, despite the loss of most of his detachment. He then advanced and succeeded in holding back a strong counter-attack. Shot by a sniper, Campbell died of his wounds."

• The Victoria Cross is the British Empire's highest decoration of valour. There have been 1,351 Victoria Crosses and three Bars (given for additional acts of bravery) awarded worldwide. Of those, 94 have been awarded to Canadians, 70 of which were awarded during the First World War.

• For his role, Vincent was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). The DCM was the second-highest award for gallantry in action (below the Victoria Cross) for all army ranks below commissioned officers, as well as navy and air force personnel.
• Despite many heroic deeds, the fight at Givenchy was a failure, and cost over 1,000 casualties.


The First World War: Canada Remembers more