Lever une armée

Cavalry in Training

The Film

Running Time
03 min 58 s

Canadian War Records Office

Three distinct sequences depict various aspects of WWI military horsemanship. In the first segment, a lone soldier parades his horse before troops, probably describing his actions in the process. His fall is likely intended to demonstrate how horses must be trained not to wander and to respond to the calls of fallen soldiers. In battle a horse may be the only means for an injured man to reach safety. Horses were also trained to lie down and act as shields against enemy fire. Such methods date from the South African War, but were of less use in WW1 conditions. Horsed cavalry was considered an army’s principal mobile arm at the beginning of WW1, but its overall role diminished with the onset of trench warfare and the use of barbed wire barriers and machine guns.

The troops depicted in the second segment are British, evident from their lances; Canada did not have a lancer regiment. They demonstrate how to quickly dismount and form a firing line capable of resisting the enemy’s advance. This manoeuvre was employed in the spring of 1918 to stop the last German offensive. Note how one man in four remains mounted to lead the others’ horses to the rear.

The unit depicted in the third segment might be the Canadian Cavalry Brigade (CCB) Machine Gun Squadron. Each dismounted soldier carries a different component of a Vickers machine gun—the tripod, the machine gun itself and the ammunition—which they assemble in firing line. The CCB Machine Gun Squadron had 16 such weapons.

The CCB, formed in 1915, consisted at first of three units—the Royal Canadian Dragoons, Lord Strathcona’s Horse and the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. The Fort Garry Horse, a militia from Winnipeg, and the Machine Gun Squadron were added in 1916. Serving as part of the British cavalry division, the CCB’s first mounted action was at the Somme in 1916. In 1917 they pursued the surprise German withdrawal to a new defensive position called the Hindenburg Line. Lt Frederick Harvey was awarded the CCB’s first Victoria Cross in recognition of his role in liberating a village during this pursuit.

By late 1917 the CCB was considered one of the best brigades within the British Cavalry Corp and took the lead of a large cavalry force during the Battle of Cambrai, where a Canadian unit was the only cavalry to penetrate German lines. Lt Harcus Strachan would win a Victoria Cross for his role in this operation. Later Lt Gordon Flowerdew would win a posthumous Victoria Cross for leading a cavalry charge at Moreuil Wood in 1918 at Amiens. Marshal Foch later credited the Canadians with stopping the Germans at Moreuil and preventing a split between the French and British forces. The CCB was key in the victory against the Germans later that year at Amiens and played a role in ensuring the German retreat in the closing months of the war.

The Canadian Light Horse (CLH), distinct from the CCB, was formed in early 1917 from the 19th Alberta Dragoons, the 1st Hussars and the 16th Light Horse. The unit reported to Canadian Corps Headquarters and first saw action at Vimy Ridge in April 1917. The CLH played a key role at Iwuy on October 10, 1918, where the last ever swords-drawn Canadian cavalry charge took place. In the final month of the war, the CLH were in front as a scouting force that ensured protection against attacks by German layback controls.


Horses and Chargers of Various Units Watering on the March Horse Artillery in Training at Valcartier, Québec, 1914 Soldiers on Horseback Take Guns across a Bridge to an Empty Field to Train at a WW1 Training Camp, Valcartier, Québec, 1914.