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Friday, April 17, 2015

THE 2ND BATTLE OF GIVENCHY, JUNE 15TH-16TH, 1915

THE BATTLE OF GIVENCHY, JUNE 15TH-16TH, 1916

The Valour of the 7th Battalion
 
If the Canadian Battle of Festubert in May, 1915 was a small, insignificant affair, then the action at Givenchy in June was hardly worth mentioning. Yet if you were to ask any of the 3rd Battalion participants what they remember I suspect most will reveal that that was there most brutal and intense fighting of the war.
Duck's Bill , near Givenchy, 1919
 This battle was the final act of British command that started at Neuve Chapelle and ended with defeats at Aubers Ridge and Festubert. Three Divisions were originally scheduled for the battle however in reality only seven battalions (including one Canadian, 1st (Western Ontario) Battalion) took part. With the Canadian Division remaining in the Bethune area after the Battle of Festubert, they were asked to move a few miles south to the La Bassee Canal and the village of Givenchy. The 1st Battalion held the right flank. Unlike Festubert, where the deadly German machine guns neutralized the British attacks before they started, on this occasion heavy artillery was used to eliminate the machine nests located on the parapets. As well a mine was set by Engineers to blow at Zero hour (5:45 pm, June 15) under the German line. From a Canadian perspective, the attack went well despite the mine blowing up short with heavy casualties. The German strong point H.3 was captured and some men made it across Duck's Bill into the German trench with a Victoria Cross being captured by Lt. Frederick Campbell. However the units on the flanks were not so successfully with the 1st Battalion reversing their attack and withdrawing back to the crater, assisted by the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. By 11:00pm, the men of the 1st Battalion were back behind their parapet. They had 386 casualties, 46% of their strength.
List of Brave Volunteers from 7th Bn
Despite the failure, orders were issued by the 1st Canadian Brigade to renew the attack. The 3rd Battalion  attacked 4:45 pm  June 16 after a two hour artillery attack."The attack seemed from every angle one viewed it, as futile and hopeless. The attackers had no supporting fire. They were shot down as they climbed over the parapet. None of them got over 25 yards, except perhaps a few who were trapped in the sap and could nothing but lie low and await a chance to return".

The 3rd Battalion lost 115 men, killed and wounded, at Givenchy. Total Canadian losses for two days fighting were 802, including 306 killed.  British losses totalled 3,009. The nonsense was called off early on the 19th with the 1st Canadian Division heading north to the Ploegsteert Woods area of Belgium. As mentioned, my Grandfather, John Cody, survived this torrid affair. So did Sgt Frederick James Rigby #18082 although he received a "Bomb Wound" of the left eye. Rigby was born 1891 in Newry, Co. down, Ireland immigrating to Canada in 1913 finding employment as a bank clerk in Edmonton. Joining the 101st Regiment militia in Edmonton, he ended up in the 3rd Battalion when the 9th Battalion was broken up in February in England for reinforcements. Although Sgt Rigby recovered physically from the wound suffered on June 16, his never recovered emotionally and ended up in being transferred to No. 1 Field Butchery, CASC by the end of 1915. He served with this unit through the war moving through the ranks from Private to Sergeant.  However early in 1919 Rigby was caught stealing tobacco, cigarettes and lighters from Government stores. He was sentenced by Field General Court Martial to #1 Field Punishment with penalty 20 days incarceration and loss of rank to Private. No doubt this lack of discretion was due to what we know as  shell shock or  Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS) from fighting in the front line of three intense battles. Frederick was discharged in Vancouver May 1919 dying single there in 1976 at the age of 85. I own his three medals (Victory, BWM, 1914-15 Star).
Pte Frank Potter #9478, 3rd Bn  KIA 16/06/1915
After the battle, as in all intense battles, bodies were left on the battleground as it was much too dangerous to remove the dead and wounded from the active battlefield. The same German machine guns and accurate artillery that were reasonable for the disappointing defeat at Givenchy and H.2, H.3 meant the casualties remained where they laid.  However on June 18, occurred an amazing and brave deed by the 7th (British Columbia) Battalion commanded at the time by Lt-Col Victor W. Odlum took place. I will let the 7th Battalion War Diary explain the situation:
Givenchy, Duck's Bill and the Red Dragon Crater, 1915
 June 17 - Marched from 5:30 AM from Oblinghem to Givenchy. Took over trenches from 2nd Batt. Found several dead bodies in trenches and buried them behind. Warm.

June 18 - After Artillery preparation, made feint demonstration of attack towards H.2. When enemy manned parapet, and opened fire, artillery recommended and enemy suffered many casualties.Time 2:45 AM. Many of our shells fell short in our own trenches destroying 1 machine and wounding 2 men. Day hot. At night volunteer party under Lieut G. Brooks brought in bodies of 52 men of 1st Brigade from in front of trenches at Ducks Bill. Buried them behind parapet. Lieut H.H. Owen brought in 1 wounded man who had been out between lines 2 days. Lieut R.F.E. Buscombe killed in early morning of 18th while burying 1st Brigade dead. Collected arms discarded by 1st Brigade.
The dead of the 1st Brigade buried
in Red Dragon Crater by the brave
men of the 7th Bn June 18
LETTER SENT FROM BRIGADIER C.W.CURRIE TO COLONEL ODLUMWar Diary 7th Battalion June 1915 Appendix III

18/06/1915
O/C 7th Bn.

Dear Col. Odlum
I want to let you know how much I appreciate the gallant conduct of your Officers + men last night in bringing in + burying so many of the 1st Brigade AAA Please tell your brave fellows that it was a brave deed + impress upon them that the 2nd Brigade will never have a wounded man unsuccessfully recovered or the dead unburied if it be written the power of mortal man to do otherwise.

C.W. Currie, Brigadier
2nd Inf. Batt. 5:00pm         

Some of the 1st Brigade men moved in 1925
 from Red Dragon Crater to Cabaret Rouge Cemetery
So this was the brave action by the men of the 7th Battalion. We also see that the men responsible for blowing the mine on June 15 were the 1st Field Coy, Canadian Engineers. Their War Diary states the sappers were resident in trenches, while the 1st Brigade were attacking H.2, H.3 and Duck's Bill. However the Engineers faced disaster as well as Capt Morrison was killed by shellfire, 9 O.R. (sappers) of 1st Coy were killed while 9 were wounded. During battlefield clearances by Exhumation teams after the war, the mass grave with the 52 men buried by the 7th Battalion was discovered. Although the majority of the 52 men had been identified during the original burial along with plot numbers, the reburial in 1925 in Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery was not so successful at identifying the remains. Only a handful of 2nd and 3rd Battalion men were identified. The remaining were buried as "Soldiers of the Great War" and had their names added to the Vimy Memorial.




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