Canadian Expeditionary Force, local history, Canada, Ca, Can, Canadian, World War 1, WWI, WW1, First World War, 1916-1918
Canada in Flanders Logo
CANADA IN FLANDERS
By SIR MAX AITKEN, M.P.

THE OFFICIAL STORY OF THE
CANADIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
VOLUME I.

CHAPTER IV

YPRES

Canadian's glory -A civilian force-Ypres salient-Poelcappelle
.....road-Disposition of troops-as attack on French-
.....Plight of the 3rd Brigade-Filling the gap-General
.....Turner's move-loss of British guns~Canadian valour-
.....St. Julien-Attack on the wood-Terrible fire-Officer
.....casualties- Reinforcements-Geddes detachment-Second
.....Canadian Brigade bent back-Desperate position-Ter-
.....rible casualties-Col. Birchall's death~Magnificent artil-
.....lery work-Canadian left saved-Canadians relieved-
.....Story of 3rd Brigade-Gas attack on Canadians-Cana-
.....dian recovery - Major Norsworthy killed - Major
.....McCuaig's stand-Disaster averted-Col. Hart-McHarg
.....killed - Major Odlum - General Alderson's efforts -
.....British reinforce Canadians-3rd Brigade withdraws-
.....General Currie stands fast-Trenches wiped out-Fresh
.....gas attack-Germans take St. Julien-British cheer Cana-
.....dians - Canadians relieved - Heroism of men - Col.
.....Watson's dangerous mission-The Ghurkas' dead-
.....Record of all units-Our graveyard in Flanders.

"If my neighbour fails, more devolves upon me."
-Woodsworth.

"Gloucester, 'tis true that we are in great danger;
The greater therefore should our courage be."
-SHAKESPEARE.

   THE fighting in April, in which the Canadians
played so glorious a part, cannot, of course, be
described with precision of military detail until time
has made possible the co-ordination of all the
relevant diaries, and the piecing together in a narra-

46
CANADA IN FLANDERS

Index

I
Mobilisation


II
Warfare


III
Neuve Chapelle


IV
Ypres


V
A Wave of Battle


VI
Festubert


VII
Givenchy


VIII
Princess Patricia's Light Infantry


IX
The Prime Minister


X
The Canadian Corps


Appendix I
The King's Message to the Canadians


Appendix II
Canadians in Despatches


Appendix III
The Prime Minister and the War


Appendix IV
Lieut.-General E.A.H. Alderson, C.B., Commanding the Canadian Corps


Appendix V
Honours and Awards Granted


Appendix VI
Statement of Casualties











YPRES...............47

tive both lucid and exact of much which is confused
and blurred.1
The battle which raged for so many days in the
neighbourhood of Ypres was bloody, even as men
appraise battles in this callous and life engulfing
war.  But as long as brave deeds retain the power
to fire the blood of Anglo-Saxons, the stand made
by the Canadians in those desperate days will be-
told by fathers to their sons; for in the military
records of Canada this defence will shine as brightly
as, in the records of the British Army, the stubborn
valour with which Sir James Macdonnel and the
Guards beat back from Hougoumont the Division
of Foy and the Army Corps of Reille.
   The Canadians wrested from the trenches, over
the bodies of the dead and maimed, the right to
stand side by side with the superb troops who, in the
battle of Ypres, broke and drove before them the
flower of the Prussian Guards.
   Looked at from any point, the performance would
be remarkable. It is amazing to soldiers, when the
genesis and composition of the Canadian Division
are considered. It contained, no doubt, a sprinkling
of South African veterans, but it consisted in the
main of men who were admirable raw material, but
who at the outbreak of war were neither disciplined
nor trained, as men count discipline and training in
these days of scientific warfare.
   It   was, it is true, commanded by a distinguished
English general. Its staff was supplemented, with-
out being replaced, by some brilliant British staff

1Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to Lt.-Colonel Lamb for
extreme care and detailed accuracy with which he has com-
piled the maps and diaries of the 1st Canadian Division.


48...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.



officers. But in its higher and regimental commands
were to be found lawyers, college professors, busi-
ness men, and real estate agents, ready with cool
self-confidence to do battle against an organisation
in which the study of military science is the ex-
clusive pursuit of laborious lives. With what devo-
tion, with a valour how desperate, with resourceful-
ness how cool and how fruitful, the amateur soldiers
of Canada confronted overwhelming odds may,
perhaps, be made clear even by a narrative so
incomplete as this.
  The salient of Ypres has become familiar to all
students of the campaign in Flanders.  Like all
salients, it was, and was known to be, a source of
weakness to the forces holding it; but the reasons
which have led to its retention are apparent, and
need not be explained.
  On April 22nd the Canadian Division held a line
of, roughly, five thousand yards, extending in a
north-westerly direction from the Ypres-Roulers
railway to the Ypres-Poelcappelle road, and connect-
ing at its terminus with the French troops.1 The
Division consisted of three infantry brigades, in
addition to the artillery brigades. Of the infantry
brigades the first was in reserve, the second was on
the right, and the third established contact with
the Allies at the point indicated above.
  The day was a peaceful one, warm and sunny,
and except that the previous day had witnessed a


1 The 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigades took over the line from the French 11th Division on April 17th. It was perhaps true that the French had not developed at this part of the line the elaborate system of support trenches which had been a model to the British troops in the south. The Canadians had planned several supporting points which were in a half-finished state when the gas attack developed.
YPRES................49


further bombardment of the stricken town of Ypres,1
everything seemed quiet in front of the Canadian
line. At five o'clock in the afternoon a plan, care-
fully prepared, was put into execution against our
French allies on the left. Asphyxiating gas of great
intensity was projected into their trenches, probably
by means of force pumps and pipes laid out under
the parapets.
  The fumes, aided by a favourable wind, floated
backwards, poisoning and disabling over an ex-
tended area those who fell under their effects. The
result was that the French were compelled to give
ground for a considerable distance.2 The glory which
French Army has won in this war would make
it impertinent to labour the compelling nature of
the poisonous discharges under which the trenches
were lost. The French did, as everyone knew they


1The great bombardment of Ypres began on April 20th, when
the first 42 centimetre shell fell into the Grand Place of the little
Flemish city. The only military purpose which the wanton
destruction of Ypres could serve was the blocking of our supply
trains, and on the first day alone 15 children were killed as they
were playing in the streets, while many other civilians perished
in the ruined houses.

2The French troops, largely made up of Turcos and Zouaves
surged wildly hack over the canal and through the village of
Vlamertinghe just at dark. The Canadian reserve battalions (of
the 1st Brigade) were amazed at the anguished faces of many
of the French soldiers, twisted and distorted by pain, who were
gasping for breath and vainly trying to gain relief by vomiting.
Traffic in the main streets of the village was demoralised, and
gun-carriages and ammunition wagons added to the confusion.
.....The chaos in the main streets of the village was such that any
coherent movement of troops was, for the moment, impossible;
gun-carriages and ammunition wagons were inextricably mixed,
while galloping gun-teams without their guns were careering
wildly in all directions. When order had been to some extent
restored, Staff Officers learned from fugitives who were in a condi-
tion to speak that the Algerians had left thousands of their
comrades dead and dying along the four mile gap in our Ally's
lines through which the Germans were pouring their gas.


50...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.


         
would, all that stout soldiers could, and the Canadian
Division, officers and men, look forward to many
occasions in the future in which they will stand side
by side with the brave armies of France.
  The immediate consequences of this enforced
withdrawal were, of course, extremely grave. The
3rd Brigade of the Canadian Division was without
any left, or, in other words, its left was "in the air."
The following rough diagrams may make the
position clear





Contrast this with the diagram on the following page.









YPRES............... 51


It became imperatively necessary greatly to extend the Canadian lines to the left rear. It was not, of course, practicable to move the 1st Brigade from reserve at a moment's notice, and the line, extended from 5,000 to 9,000 yeards, was naturally not the line that had been held by the Allies at five o'clock, and a gap still existed on its left. The new line, of which our recent point of contact with the







French formed the apes, ran, quite roughly, as follows:-








As shown above, it became necessary for Brigadier- General Turner (now Major-General), command- ing the 3rd Brigade, to throw back his left flank southward, to protect his rear. In the course of the confusion which followed on the readjustment of the position, the enemy, who had advanced rapidly after his initial successes, took four British 4.7 guns, lent by the 2nd London Division to support the French, in a small wood to the west of the village of St. Julien, two miles in the rear of the original French trenches.




YPRES................53


   The story of the second battle of Ypres is the
story of how the Canadian Division, enormously
outnumbered - for they had in front of them at least
four divisions, supported by immensely heavy artil-
lery - with a gap still existing though reduced, in
their lines, and with dispositions made hurriedly
under the stimulus of critical danger, fought through
the day and through the night, and then through
another day and night; fought under their officers
until, as happened to so many, these perished
gloriously, and then fought from the impulsion of
sheer valour because they came from fighting stock.
   The enemy, of course, was aware - whether fully
or not may perhaps be doubted - of the advantage
his breach in the line had given him, and imme-
diately began to push a formidable series of attacks
on the  whole of the newly-formed Canadian salient.
If it is possible to distinguish, when the attack was
everywhere so fierce, it developed with particular
intensity at this moment on the apex of the newly-
formed line running in the direction of St. Julien.
   It has already been stated that four British guns
were taken in a wood comparatively early in the
evening of April 22nd. The General Officer Com-
manding the Canadian Division had no intention of
allowing the enemy to retain possession of either the
wood or the guns without a desperate struggle, and
he ordered a counter-attack towards the wood to be
made by the 3rd Infantry Brigade under General
This Brigade was then reinforced by the
2nd Battalion under Lieut.-Colonel (now Brigadier-
General ) Watson and the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion
under Lieut.-Colonel Rennie (now also a Brigadier-
General ) both of the 1st Brigade. The 7th Bat-
         




54............... CANADA IN FLANDERS.


         
     
talion (British Columbia Regiment), from the 2nd
Brigade, had by this time occupied entrenchments
in support of the 3rd Brigade. The 10th Battalion
of the 2nd Brigade, intercepted on its way up as a
working party, was also placed in support of the
3rd Brigade.
  The assault upon the wood was launched shortly
after midnight of April 22nd-23rd by the 10th
Battalion and 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion,
respectively commanded by Lieut.-Colonel Boyle
and Lieut.-Colonel (now Brigadier-General) R.G.E.
Leckie  The advance was made under the heaviest
machine gun and rifle fire, the wood was reached,
and, after a desperate struggle by the light of a
misty moon, they took the position at the point of
the bayonet.
 An officer who took part in the attack describes
how the men about him fell under the fire of the
machine guns, which, in his phrase, played upon
them "like a watering pot."  He added quite
simply, "I wrote my own life off."  But the line
never wavered.
   When one man fell another took his place, and,
with a final shout, the survivors of the two Batta-
lions flung themselves into the wood. The German
garrison was completely demoralised, and the im-
petuous advance of the Canadians did not cease
until they reached the far side of the wood and
entrenched themselves there in the position so
dearly gained.  They had, however, the disappoint-
ment of finding that the guns had been destroyed
by the enemy and later in the same night, a most
formidable concentration of artillery fire, sweeping
the wood as a tropical storm sweeps the leaves from
         




55...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.




the trees of a forest, made it impossible for them to hold the position for which they had sacrificed much. Within a few hours of this attack, the 10th Canadian Battalion was again ordered to advance by Lieut.-Colonel Boyle, late a rancher






in the neighbourhood of Calgary.  The assault
was made upon a German trench which was being
hastily constructed within two hundred yards of
the Battalion's right front. Machine gun and rifle
fire opened upon the Battalion at the moment the
charge was begun, and Colonel Boyle fell almost




56...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.


instantly with his left thigh pierced in five places.
Major MacLaren, his second in command, was also
wounded at this time. Battalion stretchers
dressed the Colonel's wounds and carried him back
to the Battalion first aid station. From there he was
moved to Vlamertinghe Field Hospital, and from
there again to Poperinghe. He was unconscious
when he reached the hospital, and died shortly after-
wards without regaining consciousness.
  Major MacLaren, already wounded, was killed by
a shell while on his way to the hospital. The com-
mand of the the battalion passed to Major D.M.
Ormond, who was wounded.  Major Guthrie, a
lawyer from Fredericton, New Brunswick, a member
of the local Parliament and a very  resolute soldier,
then took command of the Battalion.
  The fighting continued without intermission all
through the night of April 22nd-23rd, and to those
who observed the indications that the attack was
being pushed with ever-growing strength, it hardly
seemed possible that the Canadians, fighting in posi-
tions so difficult to defend and so little the subject
of deliberate choice, could maintain their resistance
for any long period.
  Reinforcements of British troops, commanded by
Colonel Geddes, of the Buffs, began to arrive in the
gap early on Friday morning.  These reinforcements
consisting of three and a half battalions of the 28th
Division- drawn from the Buffs, King's Own Royal
Leinsters, Middlesex, and York and Lancasters -
and other units which joined them from time to time,
became known as Geddes' Detachment.  The
grenadier company of a battalion of the Northumber-
land Fusiliers, numbering  two officers and 120 men,
        
         


YPRES............... 57


were on their way to rejoin their division after
days of trench-fighting at Hill 60, encountered
Colonel Geddes' force and joined it.1
   At 6 a.m. on Friday, the 2nd Canadian Brigade
was still in tact, but the 3rd Canadian Brigade, on
the left, was bent back upon St. Julien. It became
apparent that the left was becoming more and more
involved, and a powerful German attempt to out-
flank it developed rapidly. The consequences, if it
had been broken or outflanked, need not be insisted
upon.  They would not have been merely local.
   It was therefore decided, formidable as the
attempt undoubtedly was, to try to give relief by
a counter-attack upon the first line of German
trenches, now far, far advanced from those originally
by the French. The attack was carried
out at 6:3O a.m. by the 1st (Ontario) Battalion and
the 4th Battalion of the 1st Brigade, under Brigadier
General Mercer, acting with Geddes' Detachment.
The 4th Battalion was in advance and the 1st in
support, under the covering fire of the 1st Canadian
Artillery Brigade.
   It is safe to say that the youngest private in the
ranks, as he set his teeth for the advance, knew the
task in front of him, and the youngest subaltern
knew all that rested on its success. It did not seem
that any human being could live in the shower of
shot and shell which began to play upon the
advancing troops.
   They suffered terrible casualties. For a short time
   
1Colonel Geddes was ki1led on the morning of April 28th in tragic circumstances. He had done magnificent work with his
composite force, and after five days' terrific fighting received
orders to retire. He was just leaving his dug-out, after handing
over his command, when a shell ended his career.






CANADA IN FLANDERS................58.


every other man seemed to fall, but the attack was
pressed ever closer and closer. The 4th Canadian
Battalion at one moment came under a particularly
withering fire.  For a moment-not more-it
wavered.  Its most gallant Commanding Officer,
Lieut.-Colonel Birchall, carrying, after an old
fashion, a light cane, coolly and cheerfully rallied
his men, and at the very moment when his example
had infected them, fell dead at the head of his Batta-
lion. With a hoarse cry of anger they sprang for-
ward (for, indeed, they loved him) as if to avenge
his death.
  The astonishing attack which followed, pushed
home in the face of direct frontal fire, made in broad
daylight by battalions whose names should live for
ever in the memories of soldiers, was carried to the
first line of the German trenches. After a hand-to-
hand struggle, the last German who resisted was
bayoneted, and the trench was won.
   The measure of our success may be taken when
it is pointed out that this trench represented, in the
German advance, the apex in the breach which the
enemy had made in the original line of the Allies,
and that it was two and a half miles south of that
line.  This charge, made by men who looked death
indifferently in the face for no man who took part in
it could think that he was likely to live - saved, and
that was much, the Canadian left. But it did more.
  Up to the point where the assailants conquered,
or died, it secured and maintained during the most
critical moment of all, the integrity of the Allied line.
For the trench was not only taken-it was held there-
after against all comers, and in the teeth of every
conceivable projectile, until the night of Sunday,




59...............YPRES.









60............... CANADA IN FLANDERS.


     
April 25th, when all that remained of the war-broken
but victorious battalions was relieved by fresh troops.
  In this attack, the work of the 1st Artillery Brigade
was extremely efficient.  Under the direction of
Lieut.-Colonel Morrison, whose services have gained
him the command of the artillery of the 2nd Divi-
sion with the rank of Brigadier-General, the battery
of four 18-pounders was strengthened, in the after-
noon, with two heavier guns.
  Captain T. E. Powers, of the Signal Company
attached to General Mercer's command, maintained
communication throughout with the advanced line
of the attack under a heavy shell fire that cut the
signal wires continually.  The work of the Company
was admirable, and was rendered at the price of
many casualties.
  It is necessary now to return to the fortunes of
the 3rd Brigade, commanded by General Turner,
which, as we have seen, at five o'clock on Thursday
was holding the Canadian left, and after their first
attack assumed the defence of the new Canadian
salient, at the same time sparing all the men it could
to form an extemporised line between the wood and
St. Julien. This Brigade was also at the first moment
of the German offensive made the object of an attack
by a discharge of poisonous gas.  The discharge
was followed by two enemy assaults.1
Although the fumes were extremely poisonous
1Although methods for resisting gas attacks were quickly
developed when the need was realised, the Canadians were, of
course, at this time unprovided with the proper means for with-
standing them. They discovered that a wet handkerchief stuffed
in the mouth gave relief. To fall back before the gas attack
merely meant that one kept pace with it, while the effort of
running, and the consequent heavy breathing, simply increased the




YPRES............... 61


they were not, perhaps, having regard to the wind
so disabling as on the French lines (which ran almost
east to west), and the Brigade, though affected by the
fumes, stoutly beat back the two German assaults.
Encouraged by this success, it rose to the supreme
effort required by the assault on the wood which has
already been described. At 4 a.m. on the morning
of Friday, the 23rd, a fresh emission of gas was
made both on the 2nd Brigade, which held the line
running north-east, and on the 3rd Brigade which
as has been fully explained, had continued the line
up to the pivotal point as defined above and had
there spread down in a south-easterly direction
   It is, perhaps, worth mentioning that two privates
of the 48th Highlanders, who found their way into
the trenches commanded by Lieut.-Colonel (now
Brig.-General) Lipsett (90th Winnipeg Rifles) 8th
Battalion, perished in the fumes, and it was noticed
that their faces became blue immediately after disso-
lution.  The Royal Highlanders of Montreal 13th
Battalion and the 48th Highlanders, 15th Battalion,
were more especially affected by the discharge. The
Royal Highlanders, though considerably shaken,
remained immovable on their ground.  The 48th
Highlanders, who no doubt received a more poison-
ous discharge, were for the moment dismayed, and,
indeed, their trench, according to the testimony of
very hardened soldiers, became intolerable.
   The Battalion retired from the trench, but for a
very short distance and for a very short time. In a
few moments they were again their own men. They


poison in the lungs. The Canadians quickly realised that it was
best to face the cloud, and hold on in the hope that the blindness
would be temporary, and the cutting pain would pass away.




62............... CANADA IN FLANDERS.


advanced on and reoccupied the trenches which they
had momentarily abandoned.
  In the course of the same night, the 3rd Brigade,
which had already displayed a resource, a gallantry,
and a tenacity for which no eulogy could he exces-
sive, was exposed (and with it the whole Allied
cause) to a peril still more formidable. It has been
explained, and, indeed, the fundamental situation
made the peril clear, that several German divisions
were attempting to crush or drive back this devoted
Brigade, and in any event to use their enormous
numerical superiority to sweep around and over-
whelm its left wing. At some point in the line which
cannot be precisely determined, the last attempt
partially succeeded, and, in the course of this critical
struggle, German troops in considerable, though not
in overwhelming numbers, swung past the unsup-
ported left of the Brigade, and, slipping in between
the wood and St. Julien, added to the torturing
anxieties of the long-drawn struggle by the appear-
ance, and indeed for the moment the reality, of isola-
tion from the Brigade base.
  In the exertions made by the 3rd Brigade during
this supreme crisis it is almost impossible to single
out one battalion without injustice to others, but
though the efforts of the Royal Highlanders of
Montreal, 13th Battalion, were only equal to those
of the other battalions who did such heroic service,
it so happened, by chance, that the fate of some of
its officers attracted special attention.
  Major Norsworthy was in the reserve trenches,
half a mile in the rear of the firing line, when he
was killed in his attempt to reach Major McCuaig
with reinforcements; and Captain Guy Drummond




YPRES...............63


fell in attempting to rally French troops. This was
on the afternoon of the 22nd, and the whole respon-
sibility for coping with the crisis then fell upon the
shoulders of Major McCuaig until he was relieved
early on the morning of the 23rd.  
    All through the afternoon and evening of the
22nd, and all through the night which followed,
McCuaig had had to meet and grapple with difficulties
which might have borne down a far more experi-
enced officer. His communications had been cut by
shell fire, and he was, therefore, left to decide for
himself whether he should retire or whether he
should hold on. He decided to hold on, although
he knew that he was without artillery support and
could not hope for any until, at the earliest, the
morning of the 23rd.
   The decision was a very bold one.  By all the
rules of war McCuaig was a beaten man. But the
very fact that he remained appears to have deceived
the Germans. They might have overwhelmed him,
but they feared the supports, which did not in reality
exist.  It was not in the enemy's psychology to
understand that the sheer and unaided valour of
McCuaig and his little force would hold the position.
   But with a small and dwindling force he did hold
it, until daylight revealed to the enemy the naked
deception of the defence.
   In case the necessity for retreat developed, the
wounded had been moved to the trenches on the
right; and, under the cover of machine gun fire,
Major McCuaig withdrew his men just as Major
Buchanan came up with reinforcements.
    The sorely tried Battalion held on for a time in
dug-outs, and, under cover of darkness, retired again 




64............... CANADA IN FLANDERS.


 to a new line being formed by reinforcements. The
rearguard was under Lieut. (now Captain) Green
shields. But Major McCuaig remained to see that
the wounded were removed.  It was then, after
having escaped a thousand deaths through the long
battle of the night, that he was shot down and made
a prisoner.
   The story of the officers of the 7th Battalion
(British Columbia Regiment) is not less glorious.
This Battalion was attached to the 3rd Brigade on
Thursday night, and on Friday occupied a position
on the forward crest of a ridge, with its left flank
near St. Julien. This position was severely shelled
during the day. In the course of the afternoon the
Battalion received an order to make its position
secure that night. At half-past four Colonel Hart-
McHarg, a lawyer from Vancouver, Major Odlum
(who is now Lieut.-Colonel commanding the Batta-
lion), and Lieut. Mathewson, of the Canadian En-
gineers, went out to reconnoitre the ground and
decide upon the position of the new trenches to be
dug under cover of darkness. The exact location
of the German troops immediately opposed to their
position was not known to them. The reconnoitring
party moved down the slope to the wrecked houses
and shattered walls of the village of Keerselaere-a
distance of about 300 yards - in broad daylight with-
out drawing a shot; but, when they looked through
a window in the rear wall of one of the ruins, they
saw masses of Germans lining hedges not 100 yards
away, and watching them intently.  As the three
Canadian officers were now much nearer the German
line than their own, they turned and began to retire
at the double. They were followed by a burst of
        




YPRES................65


fire the moment they cleared the shelter of the
ruins.  They instantly threw themselves flat on the
ground. Colonel Hart-McHarg and Major Odlum
rolled into a shell-hole near by, and Lieut. Mathew-
son took cover in a ditch close at hand. It was then
that Major Odlum learned that his Commanding
Officer was seriously wounded.  Major Odlum
raced up the hill under fire in search of surgical
aid, leaving Lieut. Mathewson with the wounded
officer.  He found Captain George Gibson, medical
officer of the 7th Battalion, who, accompanied
by Sergt. J. Dryden, went down to the shell-hole
immediately.   Captain Gibson and the sergeant
reached the cramped shelter in safety in the face of
a heavy fire. They moved Colonel Hart-McHarg
into the ditch where Mathewson had first taken
shelter, and there dressed his wound.  They re-
mained with him until after dark, when the stretcher-
bearers arrived and carried him back to Battalion
Headquarters; hut the devotion and heroism of
his friends could not save his life. The day after
he passed away in a hospital at Poperinghe.1
But his regiment endured, and, indeed, through
out the second battle of Ypres fought greatly
and suffered greatly.  Major Odlum succeeded
Coloel Hart McHarg.  At one time the Batta-
lion was flanked, both right and left, by the enemy,
through no fault of its own; and it fell back
when it had been reduced to about 100 men still
able to bear arms. On the following day, strength-
ened by the remnants of the 10th Battalion, the
7th was again sent in to hold a gap in our line,


1Col. Hart-McHarg and Col. Boyle - who fell on the same
day that Col. Hart-McHarg was wounded - lie in the same burial
ground, the new cemetery at Poperinghe.




66...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.


which duty it performed until, again surrounded
by the enemy, it withdrew under cover of a dense
mist.1, 2
   Every effort was made by General Alderson from
first to last, to reinforce the Canadian Division with
the greatest possible speed, and on Friday afternoon
the left of the Canadian line was strengthened by
the 2nd King's Own Scottish Borderers and the
1st Royal West Kents, of the 13th Infantry Brigade.
From this time forward the Division also received
further assistance on the left from a series of French
counter-attacks pushed in a north-easterly direction
from the canal bank.
  But the artillery fire of the enemy continually
grew in intensity, and it became more and more
evident that the Canadian salient could no longer
be maintained against the overwhelming superiority
of numbers by which it was assailed. Slowly, stub-
bornly, and contesting every yard, the defenders
gave ground until the salient gradually receded from
the apex, near the point where it had originally
aligned with the French, and fell back upon St.
Julien. Soon it became evident that even St. Julien
exposed to fire from right and left, was no longer
tenable.3


1The losses of the 7th Battalion were heavy even for this time
of heavy losses. Within a period of less than three days its
colonel was killed and 600 of its officers and men were either
killed or wounded, including every company commander. Some
companies lost every officer.

2Lieut. E. D. Bellew, machine-gun officer of the Battalion,
hoisted a loaf stuck on the point of his bayonet, in defiance of
the enemy, which drew upon him a perfect fury of fire; he
fought his gun till it was smashed to atoms, and then continued
to use relays of loaded rifles instead, until be was wounded and
taken prisoner.

3The remarkable services rendered at St. Julien by the Com-









68............... CANADA IN FLANDERS.


   The 3rd Brigade was therefore ordered to retreat
further south, selling every yard of ground as dearly
as it had done since five o'clock on Thursday. But
it was found impossible, without hazarding far
larger forces, to disentangle detachments of the
Royal Highlanders of Montreal, 13th Battalion, and
of the Royal Montreal Regiment, 14th Battalion.
The Brigade was ordered, and not a moment too
soon, to move back.
  The retirement left these units with heavy heart~
The German tide rolled, indeed, over the deserted
village; but for several hours after the enemy bad
become master of the village, the sullen and per-
sistent rifle fire which survived, showed that they were
not yet master of the Canadian rearguard. If they
died, they died worthily of Canada.
  The enforced retirement of the 3rd Brigade (and
to have stayed longer would have been madness)
reproduced for the 2nd Brigade, commanded by
Brigadier-General Currie (now Major-General), in
a singularly exact fashion, the position of the 3rd
Brigade itself at the moment of the withdrawal of
the French. The 2nd Brigade, it must be remem-
bered, had retained the whole line of trenches,
roughly 2,500 yards, which it was holding at five
o'clock on Thursday afternoon, supported by the
incomparable exertions of the 3rd Brigade, and by
the highly hazardous deployment in which necessity
had involved that Brigade.
  The 2nd Brigade had maintained its lines.  It
now devolved on General Currie, commanding this


mandant, Lt.-Col. Loomis, of the 13th Batt., ought not to be
forgotten. This officer remained at his post under constant and
very heavy fire until the moment of evacuation, and did much by
the example of his tranquillity to encourage the troops.




YPRES................69


Brigade, to repeat the tactical manoeuvres with which,
earlier in the fight, the 3rd Brigade had adapted
itself to the flank movement of overwhelming
numerical superiority. He flung his left flank round
immense struggle, he held his line of trenches from
Thursday at five o'clock till Sunday afternoon. And
on Sunday afternoon he had not abandoned his
trenches.  There were none left. They had been
obliterated by artillery.
   He withdrew his undefeated troops from the
fragments of his field fortifications, and the hearts
of his men were as completely unbroken as the
parapets of his trenches were completely broken.
In such a Brigade it is invidious to single out any
battalion for special praise, but it is perhaps neces-
sary to the story to point out that Lieut.-Colonel
Lipsett, commanding the 8th Battalion (90th Winni-
peg Rifles) of the 2nd Brigade, held the extreme
left of the Brigade position at the most critical
moment.
   The Battalion was expelled from the trenches
early on Friday morning by an emission of poisonous
gas; but recovering, in three-quarters of an hour it
counter-attacked, retook the trenches it had aban-
doned, and bayoneted the enemy. And after the
3rd Brigade had been forced to retire, Lieut.-Colonel
Lipsett held his position, though his left was in the
air, until two British regiments, 8th Durham Light
Infantry and 1st Hampshires, filled up the gap on
night.
   At daybreak on Sunday, April 25th, two com-
panies of the 8th Battalion (90th Winnipeg Rifles),
holding the left of our line, were relieved by the




70................CANADA IN FLANDERS.


Durhams, and retired to reserve trenches.  The
Durhams suffered severely, and at 5 p.m. on Sunday
afternoon, a Company of the 8th Canadian Battalion
took their place on our extreme left The Germans
entrenched in the rear of this Company, and German
batteries on the left flank enfiladed it. The Position
became untenable, and the Company was ordered to
evacuate it, two platoons to retire and two platoons
to cover the retirement. The retiring platoons were
guided back, under terrific fire, by Sergeant (now
Captain) Knobel, with a loss of about 45 per cent.
of their strength. They joined the Battalion Reserve.
Of the platoons which covered this retirement, every
officer and man was either killed or taken prisoner.
All the officers of the Company who were in action at
the time the retirement was ordered, remained with
the covering platoons.
  The individual fortunes of the 2nd and 3rd
Brigades have brought us to the events of Sunday
afternoon, but it is necessary, to make the story
complete, to recur for a moment to the events of
the morning. After a very formidable attack the
enemy succeeded in capturing the village of St.
Julien, which has so often been referred to in
describing the fortunes of the Canadian left. This
success opened up a new and very menacing line of
advance, but by this time further reinforcements
had arrived.
   Here, again, it became evident that the tactical
necessities of the situation dictated an offensive
movement as the surest method of arresting further
progress.  General Alderson, who was also in com-
mand of the reinforcements, accordingly directed that
an advance should be made by two British brigades









72...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.


(the 10th Brigade under Brigadier-General Hull,1
and the Northumberland Brigade), which had been
brought up in support.  The attack was thrust
through the Canadian left and centre; and as the
troops making it swept on, many of them going to
certain death, they paused an instant, and, with
ringing cheers for Canada, gave the first indication
to the Division of the warm admiration which their
exertions had excited in the British Army.2
   The advance was indeed costly, but it was made
with a devotion which could not be denied. The
story is one of which the Brigades may be proud, but
it does not belong to the special account of the
fortunes of the Canadian contingent. It is sufficient
for our purpose to notice that the attack succeeded
in its object, and the German advance along the line,
momentarily threatened, was arrested.
   We had reached, in describing the events of the
afternoon, the points at which the trenches of the
2nd Brigade had been completely destroyed. This
Brigade, the 3rd Brigade, and the considerable re-
inforcements which by this time filled the gap
between the two Brigades, were gradually driven,
fighting every yard, upon a line running roughly


1 Brig.-General Hull rendered distinguished services throughout
this trying time. In addition to his own Brigade - the 10th-
General Hull commanded for a considerable period the York and
Durham Brigade, the 2nd King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry,
the 9th Queen Victoria Rifles, the 1st Suffolk Regiment, the 12th
London Regiment, and the 4th Canadian Battalion.

2The particular objective of the attack was the village of St.
Julien, the wood near by. and the enemy's trenches between these
two points. Arrangements had been made with the Canadian
Artillery for a preparatory bombardment of the wood, and the
St. Julien trenches, but at the last moment the order to fire on
St. Julien had to be cancelled as it was found that some of the
Canadians were still holding on in the village although completely
surrounded.




YPRES................73


from Fortuin, south of St. Julien, in a north-easterly
direction towards Passchendaele.  Here the two
Brigades  were relieved by two British brigades, after
   Monday morning broke bright and clear and found
the Canadians behind the firing line. But this day,
too, was to bring its anxieties The attack was still
pressed, and it became necessary to ask Brigadier-
his shrunken Brigade.
repled, "but they are ready and glad to go again
to the trenches." And so, once more, a hero leading
to the very apex of the line as it existed at that
moment.  The Brigade held this position throughout
Monday; on Tuesday it occupied reserve trenches,
and on Wednesday it was relieved and retired to
billets in the rear.1


1On the morning of April 26th Lt.-Col. Kemis-Betty, Brigade
Major, and Major Mersereau, Staff Captain, were wounded by a
shell. Colonel Kermis-Betty, though his wound was serious,
grievously injured, was carried into General Currie's dug-out;
and there, as no ambulance was avai1able he lay till late that
Lt.-CoL night. Lt.-Col. Mitchell, of the Canadian Divisional Head-
quarters Staff, while on a general reconnaissance, heard of the
plight of the wounded officers, who were badly in need of medical
aid, and he determined to carry them to safety in his own car.
With very great difficulty, for the road was being heavily shelled,
Colonel Mitchell got his motor as far as Fortuin. The rest of
the way had to be cowered on foot, and when General Currie's~
dug-out was reached it was found that only Colonel Kermis-Betty
could be moved. Major Mersereau's injuries were such that he
had to be left in the dug-out until it was practicable to bring up
an ambulance. Finally, he was removed, and is now in Canada
slowly recovering from his wounds.




74...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.


   It is a fitting climax to the story of the Canadians
at Ypres that the last blows were struck by one who
had borne himself throughout gallantly and resource-
fully. Lieut.-Colonel Watson, on the evening of
Wednesday, April 28th, was ordered to advance with
his Battalion and dig a line of trenches which were
to link up the French on the left and a battalion of
the Rifle Brigade on the right. It was both a diffi-
cult and a dangerous task, and Lieut.-Colonel
Watson could only employ two companies to dig,
while two companies acted as cover.
  They started out at 7 o'clock in the evening from
the field in which they had bivouacked all day west
of Brielen, and made north, towards St. Julien. And,
even as they started, there was such a hail of shrap-
nel, intended either for the farm which served as the
Battalion's Headquarters, or for the road junction
which they would have to cross, that they were com-
pelled to stand fast.
  At 8 o'clock, however, Colonel Watson was able
to move on again; and, as the men marched north,
terrible scenes en route showed the fury of the artil-
lery duel which had been in progress since the Batta-
lion had moved out of the firing line on the morning
of the 26th.
  At the bridge crossing Ypres Canal, guides met
the Regiment, and the extraordinary precautions
which were taken to hide its movements indicated
the seriousness of its errand.
  The Battalion had suffered heavy losses at this
very spot only a few days before, and a draft of five
officers and 112 men from England had reinforced
it only that morning. And the officers and men of
this draft received an awful baptism of fire within




YPRES................75


practically a few hours of their arrival at the front.
High explosives were bursting and thundering;
there were shells searching hedgerows and the
avenue of trees between which the Battalion marched,
and falling in dozens into every scrap of shelter
where the enemy imagined horses or wagons might
be hidden. Slowly and cautiously, the march con-
tinued until the Battalion arrived behind the first line
trench held by a battalion of the King's Own Scot-
tish Borderers. Through this line Colonel Watson
and his men had to pass, and on every side were
strewn the bodies of scores of Ghurkas, the gallant
little soldiers who had that morning perished while
attempting the almost impossible task of advancing
to the assault over nearly 700 yards of open ground.
   When the Battalion reached the place where the
trenches were to be dug, two companies were led out
by Colonel Watson himself, to act as cover to the
other two companies, which then began digging
along the line marked by the Engineers. And if
ever men worked with nervous energy, these men
did that night. From enemy rifles on the ridge
came the ping of bullets, which mercifully passed
overhead although, judging from the persistency
and multitude of their flares, the enemy must have
known that work was being done.
   It was two o'clock in the morning before the work
was finished, and the Battalion turned its back
upon about as bad a situation as men have ever
  The return to the billets at Vlamertinghe was dis-
tressing in the extreme.  Officers and men, alike
worn out, slept on the march oblivious of route and
destination 




76................ CANADA IN FLANDERS.


   During the night of May 3rd 1 and the morning of
the 4th, the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade withdrew
to billets at Bailleul. On the night of May 4th
Lieut.-General Alderson handed over the command
of this section of front to the General Officer Com-
manding the 4th Division, and removed his head-
quarters to Nieppe, withdrawing the 3rd Canadian
Infantry Brigade on the night of the 4th, and the
2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade on the 5th of May.2



1 At 5 o'clock on the afternoon of May and the 1st Canadian
lnfantry Brigade moved up in support of the 10th and 12th
Infantry Brigades (British) on account of a gas attack along our
whole front. The gas enveloped all our trenches except at our
extreme right. The 10th Infantry Brigade held fast, but the
12th Infantry Brigade was compelled to fall back, for the attack
was so heavy that men were dazed and reeling, and utterly
incapable of any further fighting. The 1st Canadian Brigade
was not called upon to resist the enemy, but the movements of
the troops show the effects of the gas, and how the men who had
to contend with it contrived to battle the Germans. At 5.40 p.m.
the Reserve Battalion of the 12th Infantry Brigade was thrown
into the battle. In the meantime the General Officer commanding
the 10th Infantry Brigade, observing the troops on his left
very judiciously sent up the 7th Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders to occupy the vacated trenches, and arranged with
the 3rd Cavalry Brigade to assist them. These two units arrived
in time to catch the enemy advancing in the open, and Inflicted
severe losses on him. The manner in which they went through the
gas was worthy of great praise. Each Company of the 2nd Essex
Regiment of the 12th Brigade had one one platoon in support about
150 yards in the rear of the first line. This platoon waited until
the gas had passed the front line trenches, and then, advancing
straight through the gas, occupied the front line trenches in time
to bring heavy fire to bear on the advancing Germans. Some of
the French infantry closed to the right, thus strengthening the
Essex line, while the French artillery gave an intense and excel-
lently directed fire, which raked the German lines. General
Alderison says, "I subsequently wrote to General Joppé thanking
him for this help. and. I received a grateful acknowledgment of
my letter.
2On General Alderson and the Staff of the 1st Canadian Divi-
sion there devolved during the battle the control of 47 Battalions,
2 Cavalry Brigades, Artillery, Engineers,&c. No greater tribute
can he paid to the resources and energy of the General and of his




YPRES................77


   Such, in the most general outline, is the story of
a great and glorious feat of arms. A story told so
soon after the event, while rendering bare justice to
units whose doings fell under the eyes of particular
observers, must do less than justice to others who
played their part - and all did - as gloriously as
those whose special activities it is possible, even at
this stage, to describe. But the friends of men who
fought in other Battalions may he content in the
knowledge that they too will learn, when the his-
torian has achieved the complete correlation of
diaries of all units, the exact part which each played
in these unforgettable days. It is rather accident
than special distinction which has made it possible
to select individual battalions for mention.
   It wou1d not be right to close even this account
without a word of tribute to the auxiliary services.
The signallers were always cool and resourceful.
The telegraph and telephone wires were being con-
stantly cut, and many belonging to this service ren-
dered  up their lives in the discharge of their duty,
carrying out repairs with the most complete calmness
in exposed positions.  The despatch carriers, as
usual, behaved with the greatest bravery. Theirs is
a lonely life, and very often a lonely death. One
cycle messenger lay on the ground badly wounded.
He stopped a passing officer and delivered his mes-
sage, some verbal instructions. These were
coherently given, but be swooned almost before the
words were out of his mouth.
   The Artillery never flagged in the sleepless


Army adequately and intelligently through one of the longest
and most bitterly contested battles of the Western War.




78............... CANADA IN FLANDERS.


struggle in which so much depended upon its exer-
tions. Not a Canadian gun was lost in the long
battle of retreat. And the nature of the position
renders such a record very remarkable. One battery
of four guns found itself in such a situation that it
was compelled to turn two of its guns directly about
and fire on the enemy in positions almost diametric-
ally opposite.
   The members of the Canadian Engineers, and of
the Canadian Army Medical Corps, rivalled in cool-
ness, endurance and valour the men of the battalions
who were their comrades. On more than one occa-
sion during that long battle of many desperate
engagements, our Engineers held positions, working
with the infantry. Lieut.-Colonel (now Brigadier-
General) Armstrong commanded our Engineers
throughout the battle. A fighting force, a construc-
tive force and a destructive force in the battle of
Ypres, the Canadian Engineers plied their rifles,
entrenched, and mined bridges across the canal (the
approaches to which they held) in case of final
necessity.
   No attempt has been made in this description to
explain the recent operations except in so far as
they spring from - or are connected with-the for-
tunes of the Canadian Division. The exertions of
the troops who reinforced, and later relieved, the
Canadians, were not less glorious, but the long-
drawn-out struggle is a lesson to the whole Empire-
"Arise, 0 Israel!" The Empire is engaged in a
struggle, without quarter and without compromise
against an enemy still superbly organised, still
immensely powerful, still confident that its strength
is the mate of its necessities. To arms, then, and




YPRES................79


still to arms! In Great Britain, in Canada, in Aus-
tralia, there is need, and there is need now, of a
community organised alike in military and industrial
co-operation.
    The graveyard of Canada in Flanders is large.
It is very large. Those who lie there have left their
mortal remains on alien soil. To Canada they have
bequeathed their memories and their glory.
       
"On Fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread, And Glory guards with solemn round The bivouac of the dead."
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Copyright Dates:
Second Publication: Monday, 12-Mar-2001 21:50:11 MST
First Published: March 1, 2001