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Thursday, February 27, 2014


The 3rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and the 2nd Battle of Ypres
 April 22 – 26, 1915

The Second Battle of Ypres in April 1914 represents Canada’s introduction to modern warfare. It is the first use of Chlorine gas as a weapon of destruction, the first battle  involvement of Canadian troops in World War One and resulted in the death of over two thousand Canadians in four days. Our own 3rd (Toronto Regiment) Battalion played an integral part in the Battle.

Kitchener's Wood near St. Julien, Ypres Salient
By April 22, 1914 the 18,000 Canadian troops of the 1st Canadian Division were established in shallow trenches (2nd and 3rd Brigades) and in reserve (1st Brigade that included the 3rd Battalion) along a line that ran from 50 metres north of the Ypres-Poelcappelle Road, four miles (6km) to the Gravenstafel-Passchendale road. On the right were British troops and on the left, French Colonial troops. The Battle started when German troops, after waiting days for ideal conditions, released the contents 5,500 cylinders of lethal Chlorine gas opposite the French and on the flank of Canada’s 13th Battalion. Leaving an open left flank the 13th and the remainder of the French Colonials did everything possible to stem the tide of onrushing German soldiers in the enlarging gap in the Ypres Salient. All immediately available Canadian units were moved up. For the next 24 hours an intense battle ebb and flowed as the Canadian 1st Division was ordered to hold the Germans at all costs otherwise Ypres would be taken with nothing stopping the Germans from rushing to the English Channel.
Late on April 22, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 1st Canadian Brigade were ordered to move up  to reinforce  and be prepared to launch an attack with the 16th and 10th Battalions respectively in Kitchener’s Wood and join up with the 13th Battalion holding the village of St. Julien. At this time the 1st and 4th Battalions were moved from reserve as well and ordered to recapture (unsuccessfully) the east-south ridge south of Pilckem village, known as Mauser Ridge. By early morning of April 23, “A” and “B” Companies of the 3rd Battalion  had dug in for the night along the roadside and right angles to the new G.H.Q. Line between the original Canadian front and the Yser Canal, along  with four fellow Canadian companies and two British battalions. “C” and “D” Companies settled in farther east. The 2nd Battalion had come to the aid of the suffering 10th Battalion with a remaining company settled on the right flank of the 16th Battalion. However there was a 500-yard gap in the line between the Company from the 2nd Battalion and the 13th Battalion holding St. Julien. “C” and “D” Companies of the 3rd Battalion under command of Major A.J.E. Kirkpatrick were ordered at 4:00am to fill that gap, ”C” Company under command of Captain J.E.L. Streight and “D” Company under Captain C.E.H. Morton. Objective was a German trench  some 400 yards in length about a mile and a half away.  The two companies advanced through a deadly barrage to a position north of Vanheule Farm. From here they crossed an open field swept by machine gun fire. They captured their trench after fierce hand-to-hand combat losing 500 men of their 750  with 250 remaining after the battle. By the time they had plugged the gap between the 2nd and 13th Battalion troops, the two 3rd Battalion companies had been sadly depleted however the line was unbroken from the crossroads east of Keerselaere south-west to Oblong Farm (north of Keerselaere there was still a mile gap eventually to be filled by the 7th and 15th Battalions).                                                                                               
Pte. Frederick Blacklock, T.Eaton Co
At 8:30 on the morning of April 23, orders were received to move “A” and “B” Companies and it’s machine gun detachment to the G.H.Q. Line trenches to the left of the 3rd Brigade H.Q. at Mouse Trap Farm. “C” and “D” Companies remained sustaining casualties and in perilous situation. That evening (April 23) the 3rd Battalion still held the front  west of St. Julien and the G.H.Q. Line near Mouse Trap Farm. During the night supplies were sent in, repairs made and wounded brought out. However before morning and after an intense artillery barrage, the Germans again released deadly Chlorine gas along the Canadian north-west portion manned by the 8th and 15th Battalions. The result was a small arms German attack that opened another hole in the Canadian line. The news of this attack was directly relied to the detached companies of the 3rd Battalion. Soon the St. Julien line was also under attack with “C” and “D” Companies instructed at 4:30am to hold the line at all costs. The artillery attack was intensive all along the line. At 8:30am orders were received at 3rd Battalion H.Q. to send 2 officers and 100 men to fortify the garrison manned by the 13th and units from the 7th and 15th Battalions in St. Julien. Led by Captain L.S. Morrison and Lieutenant W.E.Curry their orders were to provide a rearguard while what was left of the 13th Battalion retired. In the meantime, “C” and “D” Companies facing repeated attacks were running short of ammunition and healthy men. Overwhelming numbers of Germans began to approach from all sides as the right and left flaks gave in with retirements of the 7th, 14th and 15th Battalions. By 12:20 pm St. Julien was reported as being overrun. With the massing of German troops in the direction of Langemarck about 300 yards away and the retirement was mentioned. Orders were given by General Turner, Division commander gave instructions for the all Battalions to retire and fortify the G.H.Q. Line. The remaining men from “C” Company were in no position to retire due to being wounded and surrounded on three sides by machine gun fire. “D” Company fought on. At 3:30 pm, April 24, the few surviving members of 3rd Battalion’s “C” and “D” Companies, including Major Kirkpatrick and Captain Streight, were completely surrounded and captured. Only 43 wounded men from these two companies escaped death or capture. The 100-man party under Captain Morrison fighting in St. Julien divided when the retirement order came in.  Lieutenant Curry and 27 men withdrew with the 14th Battalion however the remaining 70 or so totally disappeared never to be located dead or alive! Some of us remained convinced there is a mass grass of 3rd Battalion men buried very near to St. Julien remaining to be discovered.
Men of the 3rd Battalion Menin Memorial 
In the next few hours masses of British troops were rushed to the Ypres Salient. A new British attack was launched late on April 24th from Mouse Trap Farm on Kitcheners Wood and St. Julien unsuccessfully. The line was reinforced but substantially shorter after the 2nd Battle of Ypres, however Ypres was saved and the line held almost totally responsible by the Canadians. The 3rd Battalion more than valiantly held their  own – the Canadian 1st Division was gradually withdrawn into reserve.  Late on April 25, the 3rd Battalion was relieved by the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. A few days later (May 5) after resting in bivouac near Vlamertinghe the 3rd Battalion received 362 reinforcements from the 23rd Battalion (including my Grandfather, Corporal John Cody).
Between April 22and 30, the 3rd Battalion suffered losses of 19 officers, including four company commanders, and 469 other ranks. A total of 268 men from the 3rd Battalion were captured in St. Julien by the Germans and remained in captivity until the war’s end. Most of the men listed officially as killed were originally missing in action and have no known graves. Their name are inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.

Bob Richardson     (416) 434-7784

 Thanks to Marika Pirie and Library & Archives Canada for photographs.


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