Previous
Next
 
Painting the Canadian Cavalry Brigade
 
Captain Prince Antoine of Orleans and Braganza

Throughout the history of warfare, horses had played important roles - as pack animals, transporting infantry, hauling artillery, and in cavalry operations. This latter task entailed the use of horse and rider - the man fighting from the saddle using sword and lance - as shock forces. European armies included specialized cavalry units; generals and strategists had doted upon these formations, even when it was clear that massed mounted charges against entrenched infantry meant horrendous losses.

 

The Canadian Cavalry Brigade was an anachronism. It was formed in January 1915 with elements of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, Royal Canadian Dragoons, Lord Strathcona's Horse, and 2nd King Edward's Horse (the latter, an Imperial unit, was replaced in February 1916 by the Fort Garry Horse). It went into action in May 1915, not on horseback but as dismounted infantry, a role for which it had not been trained. For most of the war the Canadian troopers either served in the trenches or waited for an opportunity to fight on horseback. A few occasions did allow mounted operations, although the men were as likely to dismount and charge with rifle and bayonet. Such was the case during an organized German withdrawal in March 1917, in the Battle of Cambrai (November 1917), and during the German offensive of March-April 1918 (Moreuil Wood and Rifle Wood). Attempts to use cavalry and tanks jointly in the Battle of Amiens (August 8th-11th, 1918) were unsuccessful. Only once did the brigade fight an essentially textbook cavalry action. On October 9th, 1918, at Le Cateau, the Canadian mounted units advanced eight miles and captured 400 prisoners. It was, however, a bloody action: 168 troopers were killed or wounded; 171 horses also became casualties.

 
Brigade Headquarters at Smallfoot Wood Munnings' first work was an equestrian portrait of the commander of the brigade General the Right Honourable J.E.B. Seely himself, painted less than a mile from the lines and in full view of the enemy. The artist stood on duckboards to keep from sinking into the mud while the general posed on his horse Warrior for more than an hour. When Seely went off to conduct other duties, his batman, wearing the general's uniform, became the model - and cheerfully accepted the salutes of passing officers.
 
Return to Top