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Wednesday, February 6, 2013


The devastating 2nd Battle of Ypres between April 22 and April 30, 1915 cost the 3rd Battalion 19 officers, including three of the four infantry company commanders, and 469 others ranks. Included in that total  and what hurt the 3rd Battalion the most was the fact that 287 men taken as Prisoners of War by the Germans. (the second most of any Canadian unit during the war). Those that were not considered casualties, from the Commander on down, all were suffering from fatigue and irritable nerves. Prior to the end of April, the battalion suffered few casualties but did have a large number of men lost to sickness and illness. These men was replaced by members of the 3rd and 9th Battalions left behind in England. After the 2nd Battle of Ypres the 3rd received a small reinforcement from Shorncliffe Camp on April 28 of 32 men and four officers. However it was not until May 3 when 287 reinforcements from the 23rd Battalion arrived while the battalion was in billets resting. One of these 287 was my Grandfather, Corporal John Cody, #63207. The 23rd Battalion was a composite reinforcement battalion from the beginning consisting of soldiers from British Columbia, Manitoba, Alberta and Quebec thus overnight making the 3rd Battalion very much a National unit, if not in name, at least in effect.


Men of the 3rd Battalion honoured here
"In the third week of May, the Third Canadian Brigade attacked and took the Orchard at Festubert. and on the night of 20-21st the 1st Brigade took over this very difficult position.The trenches were mere ditches, and, being under perfect observation from the hostile position on the Aubers Ridge, were unmercifully pounded by the enemy.On the third night, an attempt was made by "C" Company of the 3rd Battalion and a composite platoon from "A" Company to improve the position. but owing to the lack of artillery support, the intense shell and machine gun fire, and the enemy's uncut wire, the attack could not get forward. On the 28th the battalion , and in earwas withdrawn to close support and later, after a total of eleven very trying days, during which its casualties had been 8 officers and 182 men, was relieved entirely and went into bivouac near Bethune. Here it rested, refitted and reorganized, and in early June was again ready for action.
Festubert Landscape, 1919

A few days later it moved forward to Givenchy, where on June 15th an extensive attack was to be attempted. So far as the 1st Brigade was concerned, the attack was to be made by the 1st Battalion, who carried their objective, but owing to the failure of the troops on their flank, were unable to maintain it and lost extremely heavily. The 3rd Battalion was in support and lost 5 officers and 165 other ranks from shell and machine gun fire. Throughout these two operation Lieut.-Col. Rennie commanded the battalion.

On June 28th, the Canadian Division went into a quiet part of the line at Ploegstreert, commonly known as "Plug Street," after having in two months, fought through three of the most trying battles of the war. Here it remained for over three months, doing regular trench tours and building an elaborate system of trenches, which at that time was considered a model (editor: of which remnants can still be seen). On October 7th, the 1st Brigade side slipped  a few miles north to Dranoutre, near Bailleul, and the battalion went into line line at R.E. Farm, just north of Wulverghem. Also In October, the 2nd Canadian Division arrived, and the old Division  now became known as the 1st Canadian Division. During the month 50 men from the battalion, along with men from other units, were introduced to his majesty King George V, on the battlefield as well  during August, the 3rd Battalion received a large draft of reinforcements from Toronto's 35th Battalion and smaller drafts from the 46th (South Saskatchewan) Battalion and in October, the 60th (Victoria Riffles Montreal) Battalion.


3rd Battalion War Diary May 25, 1915

For the next six months (except for a three weeks rest in January) the battalions of the Brigade held this bit of line, four days in support, four days in the line again, then four days in reserve at Dranoutre, and so on with monotonous regularity. November was extraordinary wet and the unrevetted trenches and flimsy dugouts melted away, so that in spite of desperate and continuous work, it was  nearly Spring before they were hospitable again. Casualties during this time, chiefly from rifle grenades and trench mortar shells, mounted up to 6 officers and 165 men, for the trenches gave little protection and there was not a dugout in the area that would stop even a 4.1 in. shell.

In November, Lieut.-Col. Rennie left to assume command of the 4th Canadian Infantry Infantry Brigade and the command of the Battalion fell to Lt.-Col. (then Major) W.D. Allan. The end of March, 1916 saw the 1st Division on the march to the Ypres Salient again, and early in April the battalion went into the line on the International Sector, immediately south of Hill 60, and St. Eloi. The 2nd Canadian Division were at the time engaged in a protracted struggle for certain mine craters at St. Eloi, and the whole southern part of the Salient was somewhat lively. For two months the battalion did regular trench tours on this and the Hill 60 sector, suffering a good deal from shell-fire, but not involved in any actions."

Private Harold R. Peat #18535 - 3rd Battalion
Battle of Festubert - May 25, 1915
"When a man is lying close to the ground there is not so very great a chance of his being hit by bullets. They pass overhead as a rule. It is when a man is kneeling or standing, or between the two positions that the danger lies. The lad Bob and I were just in the act of rising (to carry in a badly needed ammunition box) when mine came along. I flet no more than a stinging blow in the right shoulder, a searing cut and a thud of pain as the bullet exploded in leaving my body. I fell on my face and blood gushed from my shoulder. I closed my eyes. From a distance I heard Bob speak. "I'm going to fix you," he said, and knelt beside me. He got into such a position that his own body shielded me from any of the enemy bullets. It was a marvelous piece of bravery; less has earned a Victoria Cross. Bob  then turned me around so my head was towards our trench and my feet towards the Germans. Then he struggled to lift the ammunition box. Bob tried to reach the trench, but a rain of bullets got him and he fell dead only a little way from me." ( "Bob" may have been Private Robert Downey #63277, 3rd Battalion, 22 years old, member of "C" Company who was Killed n Action May 25, 1915)"

Private Frank V. Ashbourne #9170 - 3rd Battalion
Battle of Festubert - May 26, 1915
"At Festubert, one thousand of us went in and only five hundred returned. Again reinforced to one thousand we were cut right down to five hundred and sixty at Givenchy. On the morning of May 6, 1915 (editor: this date was an obvious error as the battalion were in reserves, I believe it was meant to be May 26), I was just going to fry some bully beef when a shell dropped beside me, It seemed to lift me lift up in a dense cloud of vile black and green smoke. I was temporarily dazed and choked by the poisonous gases. I found I was wounded in the left side just behind the armpit and up on top of my left rib; also on the left eyebrow and just behind my left ear. As a result I was relieved of further active service as of February 9th, 1916, in Toronto, Ontario."

We thank Marika Pirie for the use of some photographs and newspaper clippings

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