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Wednesday, March 26, 2014


The 3rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and the 2nd Battle of Passchendaele, October 26 - November 10, 1917
 The word Passchendaele invokes a feeling of helplessness, terror, horror, mud – all the vulgarities of war – still 100 years after the battle. The British Army commenced a major offensive the Germans at the end of July 1917. The goal was to break the German grip on the Ypres Salient and the Channel posts by seizing the Bellevue Spur and the village of Passchendaele, the village and its surrounding countryside controlling the heights overlooking Ypres. Initially the British attacks met with some success capturing ground lost in 1915. However the attacks soon ground to a stop and by August rains came with the low-lying countryside becoming waterlogged. The villages of Langemarck and St. Julien were recaptured August 16 however between July 31 and August 31, the British suffered 70,800 casualties. British and Anzac attacks were renewed in September and October resulting in the capture of Polygon Wood, Gravenstafel, Poelcapelle and Zonnebeke however by October’s end all had been lost, with the exception of Poelcapelle, However in the worsening weather, the British High Command called in the Canadian Corps led by Sir Arthur Currie, to achieve success where others had failed AGAIN!
Disposition of 1st Brigade Battalions

The Canadian Corps headed by Currie, after intensive planning, were to attack in three waves each with objectives on October 26, October 30 and November 30.  The plan included an upgraded transportation system, artillery placing and extensive communications, all of which were required to be in place prior to any attacks. The rain and resultant mud were omnipresent however everything had to be in place prior to any attacks By October 26 all systems were go with the Canadian Corps ready to go over the top with the overall objective being the Passchendaele Ridge. The 3rd Canadian Division would attack the Bellveue Spur directly, south of the morass of the Ravebeek River, the 4th Canadian Division would attack up the Passchendaele Spur towards the village. In the later stages the 1st Canadian Division would replace the 3rd Division while the 2nd would replace the 4th.  By October 30, the 4th Division had success on the Ridge however the 3rd Division was short of it’s goal and had paid a heavy price. However the Passchendaele Ridge was now under Canadian control.
NOVEMBER 6, 1917
 The 1st Canadian Division entered the fray early on November 6 proceeding farther along the Bellevue Spur with Passchendaele Village within their grasp. The 1st and 2nd Battalions captured Mosselmarkt and the small ridge north of the village. Now the 3rd Battalion was assigned the northern flank and the capture of a number of German strong points including Vine Cottage.
The 3rd Battalion left six officers and 108 other ranks out of the battle and with the transport lines. On the morning of November 4 “C” and “D” Companies were positioned in the Wurst area with “A” And “B”Companies taking their place when “C” and “D” moved into the line that evening. Battalion HQ and First Aid station was positioned at Kronprinz Farm. Most of the low lying land was either under water or covered deep in mud. By day’s end “D” company was at Yetta Cottages, “A”, “B” and “C” Companies were in the line. General Currie’s plan for November 6 called for the 1st Division was to capture the Green Line within 1000 yards of Graf Farm including Mosselmarkt, Goudberg and Passchendaele. The 3rd Battalion on the Division’s left flank, was set to act in two capacities. First it was to provide an attacking force of 10 platoons to capture Vine Cottage, a German strong-point guarding the Goudberg Spur some 350 yards south-east of Vapour Farm. This force was headed by Major Mason and consisted of “C” Company and two platoons from each “A” and “D” Companies. The Battalions second role was to provide “B” Company and the other two platoons of “A” Company, as a supporting force for the 2nd Battalion, on their right.
 At 8:00am Intelligence patrols were sent out and shortly after casualties from the “Hood” Battalion passed back through the lines. During the day also, Headquarters for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions was consolidated at Waterloo House, a large pill-box at the base of Gravenstafel Ridge. At 6:00pm, an intense artillery barrage fell on “A” Company killing six and wounding 13 including Major Hutchinson. At midnight all 16 platoons involved were in place for the attack, at Vanity House, at Yetta Cottage and on the Bellevue Spur. At exactly 6:00am the guns opened up and the men began to move forward into the marsh in front of Vine Cottage. The two main attacking parties advanced their pace quickening when the barrage had lifted, supported by Stokes mortars. Lieutenant Lord’s platoon, attacking Vine Cottage surprised the enemy and with the sentries eliminated, they pressed on. One concrete pill-box was captured with 40 prisoners along with two other strong points. However one concrete pill-box remained in this sector and held up the advance. Corporal Colin Barron was able to get close enough to toss bombs and eliminate the post. For this brave action, Barron was awarded the Victoria Cross. Many more machine guns had to be silenced, one at a time in the drizzling rain with ammunition running low, captured German machine guns being turned on the enemy. After Vine Cottage had fallen, what was left of the attacking force closed up on the final objective. By now Lieutenant Holland had been killed, Lieutenants Lord and Shill wounded, and many other casualties. The 58 enemy prisoners captured were held at Vine Cottage until dark then used as stretcher bearers to the rear. By 12:30pm word had been received by Major Mason that all 3rd Battalion objectives had been captured and their line ran through Vanity House to the left flank and the 2nd Battalion. During the day and evening, British artillery and defensive fire were required as well as stretcher bearers  from the 15th Battalion 48th Highlanders. Later two platoons of “D” Company reinforced the decimated “C” Company in the line. However by 9:30pm Passchendaele Ridge had been reported captured by the 2nd Battalion who were in touch with the 1st Battalion.. The remaining companies supplanted and consolidated the positions during the day and into the night.

The next day (November 7) was spent improving defences, evacuating the wounded, burying the dead and supplying carrying and working parties. Between November 5 and 8, the 3rd Battalion suffered a total of 240 casualties, of which 87 were either killed or missing, including 8 officers killed.
 In 2007,  a local group called the Diggers, found and helped to excavate three Canadian soldiers from the cart path along Vine Cottage which were identified as soldiers from the 3rd (Toronto Regiment) Battalion. One of the soldiers had unique gold teeth. The three soldiers were given military burials in Passchendaele New British Cemetery. I believe the three men were : Private Sydney Churchward, #1024345, a Toronto policeman; Private William Tricker, #1024315, a 17 year old Barnardo Boy and Private John Fielder, #10027,  a 3rd Battalion original from 1914.
Photos courtesy of Marika Pirie and Library & Archives Canada

Bob Richardson  (416) 434-7784

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


The 3rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Battle of Mount Sorrel, June 2 – 14, 1916

The Battle of Mount Sorrel, in the grand scale of War World One was a relatively insignificant albeit bloody and vicious battle. In the short period of twelve days, over 9,600 Canadian soldiers were killed, captured or wounded, the newly arrived 3rd Canadian Division was demolished,  Divisional Commander and former 2nd Regiment Queen’s Own Rifle militia man Major-General Malcolm S. Mercer was killed, a Brigadier General was captured and 5 of the 12 Battalion commanders was killed or captured.  However for the 3rd (Toronto Regiment) Battalion, as we will see, the battle was a success in cementing the comradeship and fighting spirits of over 1000 individuals into a single, dangerous and efficient fighting unit. According to British Official History of the War, the Battle of Mount Sorrel was “the first Canadian deliberately-planned attack in any force resulted in an unqualified success” and the 3rd Battalion played an integral part.
Company Sargeant Major Francis G. Nagle
#63672 Loyola College KIA 13/06/1916

Private Frederick Davis #9311
Sanctuary Wood Cemetery
and Menin Gate Memorial

The Battle of Mount Sorrel (sometimes also called the Battle of Hill 62) was a localized conflict of World War One between three divisions of the British Second Army and three divisions of the German Fourth Army in the Ypres Salient, near Ypres, Belgium, from June 2 to June 14, 1916. It started as a result of the German Army wanting to divert British troops from an obvious observed buildup in the Somme. The XIII (Royal) Wurttemberg) Corps and the 117th Infantry Division attacked an arc of high ground positions defended by the Canadian Corps. The German forces initially captured the heights at Mount Sorrel and Tor Top after an intense artillery barrage before entrenching on the far side of the ridge. In the following days a number of attacks and counterattacks by two divisions of the Canadian Corps, supported by British artillery recaptured most of their former positions at great cost.
After the initial German attack on the 3rd Canadian Division June 2, the failed Canadian counterattack of June 3 and a second German attack June 8 involving exploding four large mines under trenches of the 2nd Canadian Division, a whole scale attack was ordered by the Commander of the Canadian Corps, Sir Julian Byng. Major-General Arthur Currie, as Commander of the 1st Canadian Division, including our 3rd Battalion and the 1st Brigade was ordered to plan a careful attack involving infantry, artillery, deception and specialized forces in composite units, on Mount Sorrel and Tor Top. Brigadier-General Lipsett in turn was ordered to attack with the 1st, 3rd and 8th Battalions from his 1st Brigade, on Mount Sorrel. The 3rd Battalion was chosen to conduct the actual assault with the other Battalions attacking other high ground along the front to with the goal to retake the original front lines.
Private Ovila Dion #416490
Sanctuary Wood Cemetery
With Lt.-Col. W.D. Allan in command of the 3rd Battalion and Major D.H.C. Mason second in command, late on June 12 the artillery concentration stopped and “B” and “D” Companies moved up to their jumping-off trench. By 10:00pm “B” and “D” were in position, with “D” Company on the right, “A” Company in the centre, and “C” Company on the left. “B” Company was in reserve to the right of “D”. Smoke diversions were launched from the left flank made more effective by heavy rainfall. The attack was launched 1:30 am June 13 after the lifting of the artillery barrage through knee-deep mud, putrid shell holes, tree stumps, and remnants of enemy wire with patches of tangled undergrowth all through pitch black of night.
Very little opposition was encountered by “D” company on the right, who were soon in the German trenches using bayonets liberally. “C” and “A” Companies however were met by heavy opposition by rifle and machine-gun fire. Substantial hand-to-hand fighting took place with the enemy finally driven out of his trenches. By 2:00 am red victory flares could be seen above Mount Sorrel and the target 3rd Battalion trenches. “B” Company followed along minutes later under heavy counter fire to consolidate the captured German front line. As they continued on down the far slope the trench disappeared and the forward motion was halted with numerous casualties taken. Reinforcements and supplies were requested and given by a company from the 1st Battalion and a squad of Pioneers. At the same time the attacking Toronto Battalions continued on from the original positions to the second enemy positions taking out threatening enemy machine nests. Lt. H. Gordon led his platoon taking the enemy position being killed immediately afterwards. The crest of Mount Sorrel was taken by bayoneting and hand-to-hand combat. Close to 70 German prisoners were taken. Once the final positions were taken, consolidation was begun immediately with great difficulty. The combination of shell holes, heavy rain and the darkness meant that the new front line was actually built some distance inside the old German position. A continuous trench was impossible so bombing posts were installed at intervals in shell holes.
L/Cpl D'All #63260
40 years old, Married
Menin Gate Memorial
From 2:30 am on the 13th, the Germans commenced an intense bombardment on the new Canadian line with the heaviest concentration on Mount Sorrel and the original Canadian front line. Substantial casualties resulted from shrapnel and high-explosives. Digging, patrols, and wiring were the norm all night while the regimental band acting as stretcher bearers removed the wounded. By morning small but valiant group of 3rd Battalion survivors remained on the summit of Mount Sorrel.  German counter-attacks were stopped at 6:45 and 9:00 am with well placed artillery replies. With bombs, grenades and small arms ammunition running low, urgent details from Battalion Headquarters were required. A reinforcement company from the 1st Battalion was sent out to help “A” Company deal with the harassing Germans soon to be followed by two more 1st Battalion Companies who helped consolidate and hold the position on Mount Sorrel. When Major Mason had been wounded for the third time, command reverted to Captain Van der Smissen. Lt.-Col. F.A. Crieghton, 1st Battalion, then took over operations on Mount Sorrel. The German artillery assault on the heights continued into the afternoon with Captain McNamara, Lieutenants Grasett and Weston being killed. Casualties continued until finally at 11:00 pm that evening, the 3rd Battalion was relieved on Mount Sorrel by the 8th Battalion. During the transfer Captain Van der Smissen was killed, Lt.-Col. Creighton mortally wounded and Lt.-Col Harold Matthews, 8th Battalion seriously wounded all by the same shell. By midnight all the survivors of the 3rd Battalion had been evacuated from Mount Sorrel. 
Trenches of Mount Sorrel, 1916
 The attacks by the Canadian Corps all along the line on June 13 and 14 had been extremely successful. The 16th 13th and 58th Battalions had all enjoyed success in securing their objectives, however at heavy cost. 1st Division casualties for the assaults stood at 1214. The cost to the 3rd Battalion had been high. Casualties totalled 16 officers and 399 other ranks of whom five officers and 132 other ranks either killed or missing. Like 2nd Ypres, the vast majority of the killed and missing were never to be found and identified. Most have their names inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial. A handful of men were identified some time after the conflict and reburied in Sanctuary Woods Cemetery while still having their names on the Menin Gate Memorial. Brave men all!

Photos courtesy of Timothy McTague, Battle Royal, Veterans Affairs Canada, and Library and Achives Canada
Bob Richardson     (416) 434-7784