General Sir Arthur William Currie (December 5, 1875 – November 30, 1933) was the commander of the Canadian army during World War I.
Arthur Currie was born in Napperton, Ontario, and became a teacher in nearby Strathroy, Ontario. He then moved to Victoria, British Columbia, where he sold real estate. There, he joined the army, with Garnet Hughes, son of the future Canadian minister of militia, Sam Hughes, and was sent to Europe upon the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. He commanded a brigade at the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, and by 1917 had been promoted to general, the first Canadian to receive this honour during the war.
Currie was vehemently opposed to General Douglas Haig, the British commander who was also his superior officer and overall commander of the British, Canadian, and other colonial troops. Haig insisted on sending wave after wave of men into certain death, and Currie did his best win battles with such a strategy. Along with General Julian Byng, Currie was largely responsible for the victory at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April, 1917. One of the most useful innovations introduced at this battle was the creeping barrage, which consisted of troops walking just behind the Canadian line of shell fire, so that they would be essentially invisible to the Germans. Currie was also successful at Passchendaele later in the year, but at the cost of 16 000 men. His victories led him to be granted a knighthood in 1917.
At Canal du Nord in September of 1918, Currie refused to carry out Haig’s orders to attack across a canal and into a fortified German trench. With the support of General Byng, Currie had bridges quickly assembled and crossed the canal at night, surprising the Germans with an attack in the morning. This proved the effectiveness of Canadian engineers, for whom Haig had no use. As the war began to end, the Canadians pressed on towards Germany, gaining a reputation as one of the most feared armies in the war. The last Canadian casualty of the war died under Currie’s command at Mons two minutes before the Armistice on November 11, 1918.
Currie was respected as a competent general by his men, but he was not well-liked, as he was considered to be too arrogant. However, because of his unorthodox tactics and refusal to follow the traditional strategies favoured by his British superiors, Currie was disliked as a general by Sam Hughes, who frequently attempted to have him removed. Currie also refused to allow his former friend Garnet Hughes to serve under him, because of what Currie perceived to be incompetence when they fought together in at Ypres in 1915. This also did not endear him to Garnet’s father.
Currie was also involved in a scandal stemming from his time in Victoria just before the war began. He defrauded his regiment of $10,000 to buy new uniforms, which came to light in 1917; Prime Minister Robert Laird Borden did not wish to disgrace a war hero, however, and let the matter drop.
Currie became President of McGill University in Montreal in 1920. In 1928 a newspaper in Cobourg, Ontario reported that Sam Hughes had accused Currie of being just as much of a “butcher” as General Haig, but Currie sued the newspaper for libel and won the case.
He died soon after the 15th anniversary of the Armistice, on November 30, 1933.