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This Day in History: World War I Begins

August 4, 1914: Germany invades Belgium, beginning World War I.

“In Flanders Fields the poppies grow and remains of an inordinate number of Okanagan soldiers lie buried. Many believe the Okanagan Valley lost more men per capita in the First World War than any region in Canada. The names of fallen sons inscribed on local cenotaphs bear up that claim.

In Kelowna alone, at least 134 soldiers were killed in action or died from their wounds. For a remote town of fewer than 2,000 citizens, the war inflicted overwhelming losses.

‘All those soldiers in World War One didn’t have a bloody chance. It was brutal — absolutely brutal,’ said Bill Barlee, a longtime Okanagan resident who lost two uncles in the war…. ‘They were ordered to walk over barbed wire and land mines and into the line of machine-gun fire. They got slaughtered. Nine-eight percent of the battalion [at the Battle of Vimy Ridge] were killed or wounded’….

The Okanagan’s only militia before the war broke out in 1914 was a reservist unit called the 30th B.C. Horse. Except for a few veterans who served in the Boer War and other campaigns, the militia was comprised mostly of young recruits who received only part-time battle training.

‘They were lightly trained, poorly equipped and notably lacking in combat experience,’ said Keith Boehmer, curator of the Okanagan Military Museum.

The 30th B. C. Horse contributed 325 officers and men from the Okanagan who became the core of the Second Canadian Mounted Rifles, the first big contingent of Valley solider that sailed to Europe in 1915.”1

1 Plant, Don. “Valley paid heavy price.” The Daily Courier, Tuesday, February 24, 2004, p. A5.



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