01.21.14

Remembering Some Famous Military Figures Associated with Cobourg, Ontario: General Arthur Currie’s Libel Suit

Posted in Cobourg Ontario, North American History, Ontario, World War I at 8:17 pm by admin

Sir Arthur Currie

Sir Arthur Currie (Image from Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

As Cobourg strived to return to normalcy following World War I, the resort community garnered international attention owing to a dramatic trial which scrutinized wartime actions of General Sir Arthur Currie, Canada’s highest ranking military officer. After the War, Currie became Principal and Vice Chancellor of McGill University at Montréal. The retired general brought the $50,000 libel action against W. T. R. Preston, a “politician and publicist;” together with F. W. Wilson, the publisher of the Port Hope Guide.[i] In a June 13, 1927, Guide editorial, Preston accused Currie of ‘deliberate and useless waste of human life’ at Mons on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Specifically, Preston claimed that Currie “‘conceived the mad idea that it would be a fine thing to say that the Canadians had fired the last shot in the great war’” in order “‘to glorify the Canadian Headquarters Staff.’”[ii]

Preston, however, was not the first to censure Currie for the alleged actions cited in the editorial, since similar allegations had been voiced earlier in the House of Commons and elsewhere. Nonetheless, Preston’s editorial represented a breakpoint for Currie, who, until the filing of the lawsuit, maintained a “policy of silence.”

The trial, which the Chicago Tribune pronounced as “perhaps the most extraordinary in Canadian history” and the “second battle of Mons,” opened on April 16, 1928, in the Ontario Supreme Court Assizes at Cobourg.[iii] Thereafter, each day’s proceedings were closely followed by newspapers throughout North America. Finally, on May 1st, “[a]fter days of testimony by Canadian soldiers who fought in the World War,” as the Tribune recounted, the jury entered a verdict in favor of Currie,” to the cheers of “one man” who reportedly rejoiced at his “former leader’s victory.” In the end, while Currie’s courtroom victory helped preserve his public image as a military officer, he derived relatively little monetary compensation from the defendants, since the Court assessed damages at $500 rather than the $50,000 Currie originally requested.[iv]

 



[i] “Canada to Give Arthur Currie Hero’s Funeral: Commanded Dominion’s Forces in War,” Chicago Tribune, December 1, 1933, 20.

 

[ii] “Defends Conduct at Battle of Mons: Gen. Currie, Examined in Libel Suit, Declares No Canadians Fell on Armistice Day,” New York Times, March 12, 1928, 4.

 

[iii] “Canada to Give Arthur Currie Hero’s Funeral.”; “War Chief will Answer Charge of Cowardice,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 13, 1928, 12.

 

[iv] “Canada to Give Arthur Currie Hero’s Funeral.”

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