Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. B. Millman


Although the First World War has been characterized as a formative event in Canadian History, little attention has been paid to a neglected and often forgotten arm of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, the Cavalry. The vast majority of Great War historians have ignored the presence of mounted troops on the Western Front, or have written off the entire cavalry arm with a single word – ‘obsolete.’ However, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the Canadian Light Horse remained on the Western Front throughout the Great War because cavalry still had a role to play in modern warfare.

This thesis addresses the expected role of Cavalry in the Great War, and the role that Canadian Cavalry was able to play on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918. Cavalry was an arm of exploitation and protection. The primary responsibilities assigned to the mounted arm were reconnaissance, shock, and pursuit. Cavalry was never expected to perform mass charges through entrenchments. Rather, it was expected to use its superior mobility to perform reconnaissance, delaying actions, and pursue the retreating enemy. Cavalry also had several important roles to play in rear areas, such as traffic control, escort duties, mounted police work, and any duties that required the mobility of a mounted force.

A thorough examination of the role of cavalry in operations and in reserve reveals that Canadian Cavalry was able to perform as expected on the Western Front according to prewar doctrine. When mobility was possible, Cavalry was tactically effective on a local scale, conducting pursuit, delay, and reconnaissance with great effect. When the Front was stagnant, cavalry was still capable of fulfilling its intended role in rear areas. Cavalry was valuable on the Western Front because of its superior mobility, as mounted troops were capable of arriving at a decisive point of action quickly without exhausting men or resources, and could advance where other vehicles could not. Despite conditions on the modern battlefield, Canadian Cavalry still had a role to play on the Western Front.