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On Sunday, June 28, 1914, in the Bosnian town of Sarajevo, nineteen-year old student Gavrilo Princip fired the shots which killed the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie. No  one could have foreseen that this act would unleash upon the world the devastation of the First World War - the Great War, as it came to be known. No one could have foreseen the events which, by war's end in 1918, wiped ancient empires and kingdoms from the map, overturned social systems and saw political and military  power shift from Europe to the United States of America. Certainly no one could have foreseen  the death of more than 8 1/2 million men  on the bloody battlefields of the war, nor the wounding of 20 million others and the wholesale destruction which ravaged cities and their civilian populations as the war progressed.

A month later, on July 23, Austria presented an ultimatum to Serbia designed to make her fight or be humiliated. Russia agreed to come to Serbia's assistance if attacked. On July 28 Austria, backed by Germany, declared war on Serbia. German military leaders were convinced that 1914 would be the last year in which they could defeat Russia, having first taken care of France. It was on this premise that their Schieffen Plan had been devised: the Plan called for a quick knock-out blow against France and the switching of German armies by train to the eastern front. On July 31 Russia mobilized. On August 1st Germany declared war on Russia and the following day occupied Luxembourg. On August 3 she declared war on France and on August 4 invaded neutral Belgium, thereby violating an 1839 Treaty - the Treaty of London - which guaranteed that neutrality.

On August 4 Britain declared war on Germany. With that declaration the British Empire, including Canada, was also at war. British trade depended heavily on access to the ports of Flanders: if these were in enemy hands, not only trade was threatened but also Britain itself. Britain also felt that a treaty obligation to Belgium should be upheld, and there was a moral obligation to come to the assistance of France. The intervention of the British Expeditionary Force held up the German advance long enough to disrupt the Schlieffen Plan. Both sides became bogged down and dug trenches. Germany was obliged to fight on two fronts, east and west, and for the next four years the bloodletting was to continue. It was into this carnage that Canada was drawn.