J.L. Granatstein, one of Canada’s most celebrated historians, wants you to know more about Canada’s role in the last hundred days of the First World War. Not only does he describe it as “the greatest victory,” he calls the period from Aug. 8 through Nov. 11, 1918, “the most important Canadian role in battle ever, the only time that this nation’s military contribution might truly be called decisive.”
The Greatest Victory argues that while conquering Vimy Ridge in April 1917 filled Canadians with pride, it was not a great military victory. But after months of training and intense logistical planning, the Canadians proceeded to win battle after battle until the Armistice. From Amiens to Cambrai to Valenciennes to Mons, Canadians became known as “shock troops” and contributed heavily to the pressure that finally forced the Germans to seek terms of surrender.
Granatstein feels very passionately about Canadian achievements during this period. His admiration for the soldiers is clear, and he makes a good case for reexamining Canada’s Great War contributions. And yet, the book feels like a brief overview of a defining moment. The Greatest Victory might be appealing to those with a casual interest in the subject, but will feel unsatisfying to anyone wanting to really understand what happened during those hundred days. The material feels especially thin when compared to the volume of information available about Vimy Ridge.
There is also an odd interruption in the second chapter, which is titled “Canada and the War.” This recap of the home front from 1914 to ’18 contains material that has been covered in full elsewhere. It does not contribute to Granatstein’s thesis and disrupts the flow of a narrative that is otherwise very narrowly focused.
While The Greatest Victory hints at a new perspective on Canada’s contribution to the war, one hopes that Granatstein will develop the subject further in a future book – one that more fully explains why we as a country should pay more attention to the period.