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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

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