Artillery guns are unique as they are often valued by Gunners as being equivalent to unit colours. To have your colour captured in battle was the worst fate a unit could experience. Canadians captured a variety of guns in WW1 and turned them into war trophies. Citizens today young and old alike do not know the value of these guns and often mistake these “colours” for being Canadian guns and not German. Sadly, a century later the price paid in blood by Canadians to capture them has lost both their significance and value!
Although Canada lost a few of its guns in battles against the Germans, they were later recaptured by the Canadians. My understanding is no other Canadian Guns rest on foreign soil. However, a field gun from Lethbridge is one exception.
After the Armistice, claims would arise as to which unit fired the very last shot of the war. In a special ceremony in Mons, Belgium on 15 August 1919 claims were finally laid to rest.
Upon my posting to Lethbridge in 1995, I was looking at the many artefacts and pictures placed throughout the Armoury. In a classroom I saw a typed single page certified true copy of a document from the curator of the Mons Military Museum. It had at the bottom some blue ink markings from Brigadier General Stewart who donated it to the 39th Battery. Upon digesting its content, it provided an education to me that as a gunner I did not even know. It clearly provided exact answers as to what units can now claim the distinction of firing the last round before the Armistice.
I inquired with serving members of the Battery to provide some additional context, but no one seemed to know anything about the guns or the Lethbridge connection!
In Volume 1 of the official history of the artillery, titled Gunners of Canada on pages 371-372, I found just a few paragraphs. I took it upon myself as a challenge to take ownership in learning more.
This historical event forms part of my heritage and history belonging to the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. To learn more of my lost heritage and history surrounding both the Lethbridge gun and the howitzer from Sydney, Nova Scotia, as well as the Gunners involved, would be an adventure.
Twenty-three years later with many hours of research across Canada, two personal trips to Mons, and recordings of interviews I have now been able to piece together more of the story as it unfolded a century ago. Having the ability to gather information in a digital format in the last decade for research was key to going back and cross-referencing previous information.
While conducting research I discovered many unknown facts of the Lethbridge gun of which two are highlights for me. The first was the guns were almost captured by the Germans during WW1, but thanks to the heroic efforts of the Mons curator George Licope, they were successfully hidden from the Germans, thus saving the guns. The second was locating a copy of the speech given by Lieutenant Colonel Bovey during his presentation of the guns to the city of Mons on August 15 1919. This I treasure as a time capsule of that day.
"My adventure of discovery for the past two decades
has impacted a bright girl from the youth of today to
be inspired to perhaps preserve Canada's hertiage and
history on her terms tomorrow."
I set a simple goal in order to motivate myself during the years of research. I was finally rewarded in 2013 in realizing a personal goal to physically touch both Canadian guns to connect with my heritage.
The Lethbridge Military Museum provided a family travelling to Europe in 2017 with the knowledge of the Lethbridge gun in Mons. The young student was instructed to contact me after their trip to learn more. The family was excited to see the gun on display and this experience inspired a young student to create a school display for a historical project. But alas, it was not the Lethbridge gun but the 4.5-inch howitzer which they saw. The description of the howitzer in the museum was limited and a young visitor would not know the difference between the two guns.
Very limited information on the internet was available at that point in time. I visited the family armed with my laptop and over 20 years of research. To see the inquisitive nature of this bright student, take such an active interest was rewarding.
Now the challenge was for her to own the story from her perspective as she prepared for the Southern Alberta Heritage Fair where students present topics on Canadian history.
Through determined practice and refinement in preparing her presentation, she went on to win the opportunity to advance to the Regional level. While she was not selected to advance from the Regional Fair to go to Ottawa, she never gave up on her goal of going to Ottawa.
After the Regional Fair her family returned to Mons in an attempt to see the gun a second time. This proved unsuccessful as it was located in storage off site.
The story of the guns needs to be told in time for the Armistice. She and I attended the opening reception of the Last 100-day exhibit at the Canadian War Museum on October 26. It was here that this Grade 7 student from Gilbert Patterson School could not contain her smile when she finally realized her dream of seeing the Lethbridge gun.
To leverage her experience, I had arranged for her to share her experience to a Senator, MP and provincial Minister and the Legion. This served her well as we had an appointment to brief the Belgium Ambassador of the Canadian guns gifted to Mons as the magazine went to press.
It is vital for us to rekindle the knowledge and curiosity of today’s generation so that this historic knowledge is not lost.
This story of a surviving 18 pounder field gun existence from Lethbridge, and part it and the Gunners played in the final days of WW1 will be not lost again in the age of the internet.
As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice this year, Gunners from Canada can be proud to have two of its guns rest in foreign hands and be treasured by the City of Mons as a gift from Canada.