Search This Blog

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


LATE 1917

"The word "Passchendaele" conjures vivid images of the Great War's fruitless slaughter and epitomizes the nadir of war fighting. This was the place where seemingly homicidal, chateau-dwelling generals sitting kilometers behind the lines ducked their thin gums in delight as they planned to murder off their troops in one hopeless assault after another. The horrific pervasiveness of quicksand-like mud and unburied corpses brought to mind Dante's images of hell. This blighted battlefield has maintained a firm grip on the popular memory of the war. For most of the British troops it was an unwavering horror show of defeat and destruction, but for the Canadians it provided another victory - which seemed Pyrrhic at first, but played a key role in restoring the British Army's morale, and probably saved Sir Douglas Haig's job as Commander-in-chief."  Shock Troops, Tim Cook, 2008
Private Walter Newby,3rd Battalion KIA, Nov.6, 1917

Early in September it was again in the line, holding the newly won trenches covering the ruined mining towns of CITE ST.EMILE and CITE ST.EDOUARD between HILL 70 and LENS. For 19 days the battalion was in the front line or in close support and always under shell-fire. It was one of the most trying tours it had ever done, - as the enemy was extremely aggressive and deluged the whole area with shell-fire, while the advanced posts were so severely hammered by guns and minenwerfer that they were only held by the greatest gallantry on the part of the garrisons and at a cost of 5 officers and 86 men killed and wounded.
Private Roy D. Loomis, Tyne Cot Cemetery

In the middle of October the Canadian Corps marched north to take its part in the Third Battle of YPRES, which had been in full swing for some months. The advance of the 2nd and 4th Armies had by this time almost reached the last high ground in this part of Flanders, the PASSCHENDAELE RIDGE, and to the Canadian Corps was assigned the task of capturing this important position. This was to be done in two phases, the first being assigned to the 3rd and 4th Divisions, who in the end of October secured a footing on the western spurs of the main ridge. The second phase was to be carried out by the 1st and 2nd Divisions.

With thanks to Marika Pirie
After ten days preparation and training near CASSEL in the rear area, the 1st Division, in the beginning of November, moved up and prepared to attack on November 6th. The attack was carried out by the 1st Brigade, with a brigade of the 2nd Division on its right. The 3rd Battalion, under Lt.-Col. Rogers, was divided, "B" Company and half of "A" Company being in support to the main attack, while "C" Company and the other half of "A" Company, supported by "D" Company, and commanded by Major Mason,delivered a subsiduary attack on VINE COTTAGES, a strong point on the GOUDBERG SPUR. This position was surrounded on three sides by almost impassible swampy ground, which cut it off from the main attack and made it very difficult of access except from the enemy's side. The position was, however,  successfully taken by Major Crawford, yielding 40 prisoners and 6 machine guns, and contact established with main attack. The strength of the position, the terrible condition of the ground and the heavy shell=fire made this a very expensive operation, the troops engaged losing 60% in casualties. Corporal Barron of "D" Company was awarded the Victoria Cross for his action on this occasion. The remainder of the battalion composed of "B" Company and half of "A" Company, under Major Cooper, during the day, moved up very gallantly through intense shell-fire to the support of the 2nd Battalion, but did not come into action. The half of "A" Company, having had all its officers killed, was led throughout the action by Company Sergeant Major Williams. Altogether the battalion had lost 9 officers and 254 other ranks.
Passchendaele - Canadian soldiers and prisoners, 1917

On the 7th the battalion was relieved and shortly afterwards moved south in buses, going into the line on the southern outskirts of LENS, just one month after it had left here to go north. After a few tours here, the 1st Division was relieved and moved back for a few month's Christmas rest, the battalion going to DIEVAL, south of BRUAY. Here Christmas was celebrated in much the same way as the proceeding one.

Norm Christie - The Canadians At Passchendaele
October to November, 1917

"The Battle of Passchendaele was the bloodiest and most costly battle of the First World War. Lasting from August to November 1917, it cost the Commonwealth more than 250,000 soldiers - killed, wounded or missing - for an advance of less than 6 kilometres. The losses were sadly typical of the Great War, but it was the truly repulsive conditions of soldiers attacking through knee-deep morass and the wounded drowning in the mud which gave Passchedaele its legacy as "Hell". The Canadians entered the battle in mid-October and between October 26 and November 10, launched four major attacks, finally capturing the village of Passchendaele and a piece of the ridge beyond. The two weeks of fighting cost the Canadians more than 5,000 dead and 11,000 wounded. Many of the men just vanished in the sea of mud. But the tenacity of the men never faltered and their capture of Passchendaele was a huge achievement".

Daniel G. Dancocks - Legacy of Valour, The Canadians At Passchendaele
November 6, 1917

"Pinned down by deadly fire from three machine guns in a fortified post, a number of attempts were made to rush the enemy gunners but the men were mown down each time. Enter Corporal Colin Fraser Barron. Carefully cradling his rifle to protect it from the mud, Corporal Barron began to crawl forward. There was no cover, and it appeared to those watching that Barron's approach would certainly be discovered. Miraculously undetected, he crept to within blank-point range of the enemy post. Tossing several bombs, Barron opened fire on the surprised and stunned gunners. Four were killed outright, and the rest fled. But they did not get far, as Barron shot them down with one of their own machine guns. For his bravery, Barron would be awarded the Victoria Cross".

Canon Frederick Scott (Padre 1st Canadian Division) - The Great War As I Saw It
November 6, 1917

"Then I started to walk up the terrible muddy roads till i came to the different German pill-boxes which had been converted into headquarters for the battalions. Finally, after wading through water and mud nearly up to my knees, I found myself the next afternoon wondering near Goudberg Copse, with a clear view of the ruins of Passchendaele, which was held by another Division on our right. The whole region was unspeakably horrible. Rain was falling, the dreary waste of shell-ploughed mud, yellow and clinging, stretched off into the distance as far as eye could see. Bearer parties. tired and pale., were carrying out the wounded on stretchers, making a journey of several miles in doing so. The bodies of dead men lay here and they were where they had fallen in the advance. I came across one poor boy who had been killed that morrning. His body was covered with a shining coating of yellow mud, and looked like a statue made of bronze. He had a beautiful face, with finely shaped head covered with close, curling hair, and looked more like some work of art than a human being. The huge shell holes were half filled with water often reddened with human blood, and many of the wounded had rolled down in the pools and had been drowned".

No comments: