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Who was Canada's Artillery Commander in the Great War?

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It took exactly one hundred years for Major-General Sir Edward Morrison, K.C.M.G., C.B., D.S.O. (6 July 1865 - 28 May 1925), Canada's Artillery Commander in the Great War to be fittingly remembered and recognized for his war efforts. It was not until recently that military historian Susan Raby-Dunne rediscovered the close link between Edward Morrison, the former Ottawa Citizen editor-in-chief, and John McCrae, the Canadian surgeon and poet who penned the immortal poem “In Flanders Fields.” While McRae quickly wrote those lines after the funeral of Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, a friend who died at the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, Morrison, his close friend, was inspired during the operations at Passchendaele “...to make a sketch of the scene of the crosses, row on row.” These two had already formed a life-long friendship while serving as artillery lieutenants during the South African War. While undertaking research on Morrison, she not only learned more about the significance of his efforts during the Great War but also noted that his grave marker located at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa had vanished. In Raby-Dunne's new book entitled “Morrison: The Long-Lost Memoir of Canada's Artillery Commander in the Great War", she describes how Morrison was instrumental in the Canadian Army’s efforts and achievements throughout the War, but especially from 1916 until 1918, when he commanded all Canadian artillery, including at the battles of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. She was astonished on how today he was relatively unknown by anyone, other than some artillery troops and a few military historians.

On Sunday, 5 November 2017, Susan Raby-Dunn made a presentation at Beechwood Cemetery on Major-General Morrison and was followed by remarks by Major (Retired) Marc George, director of the Royal Canadian Artillery Museum at Canadian Forces Base Shilo, Manitoba. Major George reminded us that in the summer of 1918, Field Marshal Foch, Allied Commander in Chief stated “the Canadian Corps is the hammer with which we shall break the Hindenburg line” to which George replied that “the artillery was the hammer of the Canadian Corps.” “The guns caused sixty percent of the total casualties during the Great War. Major-General Sir Edward Morrison commanded the artillery of the Canadian Corps from December 1916 until the armistice. During this time, the Canadian Corps never failed to take an objective set for it and it carved out a record of achievement unequalled in military history. By the end of the war, Morrison had more combat experience than eighty percent of the Corps Artillery commanders in the Commonwealth armies. Under his expert leadership, the guns had contributed mightily to the destruction and defeat of the German army on the Western Front. He is one of the most important, and most successful, artillery commanders of any army in the Great War.”

Following the presentation was an unveiling of Morrison's newly restored monument. As shown in the photograph, Brigadier-General (now Major-General) Guy Chapdelaine, O.M.M., C.D., Q.H.C., Chaplain General of the Canadian Armed Forces gave the invocation at the ceremony in the presence of Morrison's family members, friends and the military community. Behind him holding a poppy umbrella is Susan Raby-Dunne who led this restoration project in partnership with Beechwood Cemetery and The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. At Morrison's grave site, the Chaplain General paid tribute by saying: “We remember today all those who served in the First World War and in particular the Canadian Corps in Passchendaele one hundred years ago. We give thanks for their tremendous perseverance in the face of the misery they faced every day: the mud, vermin, lice, disease, and the inescapable stench of death; not to mention the constant noise, the barrage of artillery fire, and the ever present threat of a gas attack. We remember the man honoured by this gravestone - Major General Edward Morrison, General Officer Commanding the Artillery, later named Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George. We echo his praise for those under his command; for the herculean task they accomplished together. As he, himself wrote, “But – oh! What a tale for the generations to come. Never in civilian life are men called upon to labour as those men laboured – with all the might of their bodies, to lift, and carry, and pull, for the sake of their comrades and their cause.” May we never forget their sacrifice, but remember always that “for every inch of ground gained,” Canada’s sons paid “a price more terrible than the human tongue can tell.” We grieve the loss of so many lives during that battle, and the devastation that was wrought on all sides of this horrible conflict. We remember the families who waited at home for word of their loved ones, only to receive silence in return, or the awful word that their loved ones would never come home.”

On this day, 28 May 2018, we commemorate the 93rd anniversary of the death of Major-General Sir Edward Morrison and remember his contribution as well as that of the Canadian Corps during the Great War. Lest We Forget!

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