General Sir Arthur Currie: A Military Biography

Description

178 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
$24.95
ISBN 0-8020-2603-6
DDC 940

Author

Year

1987

Contributor

Reviewed by Ken Ramstead

Ken Ramstead was Associate Researcher at Reader's Digest in Laval, Quebec.

Review

General Sir Arthur Currie by A.M.J. Hyatt is the third biography of the man to appear, the second in as many years. All of this attention is merited, though, as it can be argued that Sir Arthur Currie was the most successful soldier that Canada even produced. Rising from the command of a brigade in 1914 to that of the 1st Division after Vimy Ridge, Currie eventually took over the Canadian Corps in June 1917, leading it to a string of unqualified successes that lasted until the last day of the war.

That much of this success was due to Currie is beyond doubt, as the author makes clear in this fine study. Hyatt shows how Currie strove for methods to break the trench deadlock on the Western Front. Dissatisfied with the inefficient tactics being used, “Currie groped further for solutions.” And Currie was not loathe to clash with his superiors if he felt that their orders would lead to unnecessary casualties. Lens, Passchendaele, and the crossing of the Canal du Nord are just a few examples of Currie’s refusal to rush headlong into an operation if a better way could be found.

While recognizing this, the author has masterfully placed Currie’s innovations in the context of similar developments occurring in other Allied formations. As Dominick Graham has stated, “Currie ... used other people’s ideas but did them better.” This fact has often been ignored by historians of the period who, like Pierre Benton in his Vimy (Toronto, 1986), prefer to gloss over the non-Canadian contribution to the Corps’s effectiveness. The British Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng had assumed command of the Canadian Corps in 1916 and had shaped it into the superb formation that had captured Vimy Ridge. “Currie had inherited from General Byng an efficient organization, which he never ceased honing and refining.” Neither fact should be overlooked.

In keeping with the book’s subtitle, Hyatt’s work does not stray far from the central examination of Currie as a soldier. The reader is nevertheless rewarded with a comprehensive biography that covers Currie’s pre-war financial indiscretions, the celebrated libel suit, and his period as principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University. But the author concludes that “Currie’s service has to be judged by looking at his record of command during the war. By any standard that record is remarkable.” And by any standard, General Sir Arthur Currie is a welcome addition to the study of the First World War.

That so much has been written about Currie is as much a tribute to the soldier himself as it is a sign that Canadian military history is enjoying a healthy period of growth. A major problem will greet the next historian, however, who decides to embark on yet another book on the man. We have now had Arthur Currie, Sir Arthur Currie, and General Sir Arthur Currie. What next? Currie IV: The Voyage Home?

Citation

Hyatt, A.M.J., “General Sir Arthur Currie: A Military Biography,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 25, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/34362.