Canadian Expeditionary Force, 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 VI

FESTUBERT

Objective of Aubers and Festubert-Allies' co-operation- Great
.....French offensive-Terrific bombardment-British support
.....-Endless German fortresses~Shortage of munitions
.....-Probable explanation~Effect of Times disclosure~
.....Outcry in England-Coalition Government-After Ypres-
.....The Canadian advance-Disposition of Canadians-Attack
.....on an Orchard-Canadian Scottish-Sapper Harmon's ex-
.....ploits-Drawback to drill-book tactics-A Canadian ruse
.....-"Sam Slick "-The Orchard won-Arrival of Second
.....Brigade-The attempt on "Bexhill "-In the German
.....trenches-Strathcona's Horse-King Edward's Horse-
.....Cavalry fight on foot-Further attack on "Bexhill "-
.....Redoubt taken-" Bexhill" captured-" Dig in and hang
.....on "-Attack on the "Well "-Heroic efforts repulsed-
.....General Seely assumes command-A critical moment-
.....Heavy officer casualties-The courage of the cavalry
.....Major Murray's good work-Gallantry of Sergt. Morris
.....and Corpl. Pym-Death of Sergt. Hickey-Canadian
.....Division withdrawn-Trench warfare till June.

"In records that defy the tooth of time."
...-THE STATESMAN'S CREED.


   To many minds the battle of Festubert, some-
times called the battle of Aubers, in which the
Canadians played so gallant and glorious a part,
represents only a vast conflict which raged for a
long period without any definite objective, any
clearly defined line of attack, and with no decisive
result from which clear conclusions can be drawn.
106
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




FESTUBERT...............107

   This unfortunate impression is largely due to the
fact that it is impossible at the opening of a great
battle for the commander to give any indication of
his intentions; that newspaper correspondents are
debarred from discussing them; and that the official
despatches which reveal the purpose and the plan
of a battle, are only issued when the engagement has
already passed into history and has been lost sight
of among newer feats of arms.
   As a matter of fact, the battle of Festubert is, in
all its aspects, one of the most clearly defined of the
war, notwithstanding the length of time that it
covered and the numerous and confused individual
and sectional engagements fought along its front.
Its aim  was clear, and it was a portion of a definite
scheme on the part of the Allies. The actual fight
is perfectly easy to follow, and the results are im-
portant, not only from the military point of view
(although in this respect Festubert must be counted
a failure), but from the political changes they pro-
duced in England changes designed for the better
conduct of the war.
  As I have already explained, if we had completely
broken the German lines at the battle of Neuve
Chapelle, we should have gained the Auhers Ridge,
which dominates Lille, the retaking of which would
have completely altered the whole aspect of the war
on the Western front.
   General Joffre had determined on a great offen-
sive movement in Artois, in May, for which purpose
he concentrated the most overwhelming artillery
force up to this time assembled in the West.
It was on a par with the terrific masses of
guns with which von Mackensen was, about the
         
108...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.

         
same time, blasting his way through Galicia.  The
French made wonderful progress, and only a few
of the defences of Lens, the key of the whole French
objective, remained in German hands.  But the
Germans were pouring reinforcements into the south.
and it was then that Sir John French, in conjunction;
with General Joffre, moved his forces to the attack
This British offensive was designed to hold up the
German reinforcements destined for Lens, and at
the same time to offer the British a second oppor-
tunity for gaining the Aubers Ridge, from which
Lille and La Bassée could be dominated.  If the
British could gain the ridge, which they hoped.
to secure at the battle of Neuve Chapelle, and
if the French could win through to Lens, the
Allies would then be in a position to sweep on
together towards the city which was their common
goal.
   The attack on the German positions began on
May 9th,1 and continued through several days and
nights, and waned, only to be renewed with re-
doubled fury on May 16th. On May 19th, the 2nd
and 7th Divisions, which had suffered very severely,
were withdrawn, and their places taken by the
Canadian Division and the 51st Highland Division
(Territorial).  With the share of the battle which


1The detailed plan of the engagement was as follows :~Sir
Herbert Plumer with the 2nd Army was to protect Ypres while
the 3rd Corps held Armentières. The 1st Army under Sir Douglas
Haig was to carry the entrenchments and redoubts on the right
of the Crown Prince Rupprecht's Army. Sir John French had
arranged for the 4th Corps to attack the German position at
Rouges-Bancs, to the north-west of Fromelles. The 1st Corps
and the Indian Corps were first to occupy the plain between
Neuve Chapelle and Givenchy, and afterwards take the Aubers
Ridge.


FESTUBERT................109


fell to the lot of the Canadians I will deal in detail
directly.
   The British attack failed to clear the way to Lille,
which still remains in German hands.  With the
reasons which resulted in our check at Neuve
Chapelle I have already dealt, and it is now neces-
sary to consider the two principal reasons which
may be assigned for our second failure to secure
the all-important Aubers Ridge.
second reason is debatable.
   At various points along this sector of the front,
and on many occasions, the German lines were
pierced-pierced but not broken. Again and again
the British and Canadian troops took the first, the
second and the third line German trenches. This
may have destroyed the mathematical precision of
the German line, but it only succeeded in splitting
it up into a series of absolutely impregnable fortins.
It must be remembered that the Germans fought a
defensive battle, and in this they were greatly
assisted by the nature of the ground, which was
dotted with considerable hummocks, cleft with
ravines and indented with chalk pits and quarries,
and was, moreover, abundantly furnished with pit-
heads, mine-works, mills, farms, and the like, all
transformed into miniature fortresses, to approach
which was certain death.  They had constructed
trenches reinforced by concrete-lined galleries, and
linked them up with underground tunnels.  The
battle of the miniature fortresses proved the triumph
of the machine gun. The Germans employed the
machine gun to an extent which turned even a pig-
stye into a Sebastopol. Only overwhelming artil-
         
110...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.
lery fire could have shattered this chain of forts
bound by barbed wire and everywhere covered by
machine guns.
   Our artillery fire was not sufficient to reduce
them, and the British attack slowly weakened; and
finally the battle died out on the 26th, when Sir Johr~
French gave orders for the curtailment of our artil-
lery fire.
  This brings me to the second reason which has
been assigned for our failure to clear the way to
Lille at the battle of Festubert, and that is the
debatable one of "shortage of munitions."
  The military correspondent of The Times, who
had just returned from the front, affirmed in his
journal on May 14th that the first part of the battle
of Festubert had failed through lack of "high
explosives."
  The English public was profoundly disturbed at
the failure of an engagement on which it had set
high hopes, and, rightly or wrongly, it fastened on
this accusation of The Times as an indictment of
the Government at home. Both the Press and the
public settled down with a grim tenacity to discover
what was wrong. They were alike determined that
the British Army in the future should lack nothing
which it required to achieve success.
  Amid the hubbub to which The Times disclosure
gave rise, the undercurrent of the reply of officials
at home was never heard, and certainly was never
understood. Probably the answer of Lord Kitchener
was this: that the requirements of those in command
in the field, based on the calculations of the art~
lery experts there, had been faithfully fulfilled so
far as our resources permitted.
         


FESTUBERT...............111


   In any case, Festubert led us to believe that high
explosives must determine the issue of similar battles
in the future, and the outcry in England against the
shortage of munitions" produced the crisis from
which emerged the Coalition Government.
   It may therefore be said that the political effects
results.  The munitions crisis cleared the political
atmosphere and gave England a better understand-
ing of the difficulties of the war and a steadier
determination to see it through. It paved the way
for the War Committee, and, finally, for the Allies'
Grand Council of War in Paris.
   I will now proceed to deal with the battle of
Festubert as it concerns the fortunes of the Cana-
dians. The record is a bald one of work in the
trenches by our own people. It is couched almost
in official phrases, but now and then I have inter-
polated some personal anecdote which may help
to show you what triumph and terror and tragedy
lie behind the smooth, impersonal stage directions
of this war.
   After the second battle of Ypres the Canadian
Division, worn but not shattered, retired into billets
and rested until May 14th, when the Headquarters
moved to the southern section of the British line in
readiness for new operations. During that time re-
inforcements had poured in from the Canadian base
in England, where were gathered the Dominion
troops, whose numbers we owe to the large vision
and untiring energy of the Minister of Militia and
Defence.
   On May 17th the remade infantry brigades ad-
vanced towards the firing line once more.
         
         




112...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.
          
   It must be understood that on the afternoon of
May 18th, the 3rd Brigade occupied reserve trenches,
two companies of the 14th (Royal Montreal) Batta-
lion, commanded by Lieut.-Colonel Meighen,1 and
two companies of the 16th (Canadian Scottish),under
Lieut.-Colonel (now Brig.-General) Leckie, being
ordered to make an immediate advance on La
Quinque Rue, north-west of an Orchard which had
been placed in a state of defence by the enemy.
One company of the 16th Canadian Scottish was
to make a flanking movement on the enemy's position
in the Orchard by way of an old German commun-
cating trench, and this attack was to be made, of
course, in conjunction with a frontal one.
   Little time was available to make dispositions.
and as there was no opportunity to reconnoitre tbe
ground, it was very difficult to determine the proper
objective. The flanking company of the 16th Batta-
lion reached its allotted position, but after the
advance of the remaining company of that regiment.
 and the 14th, under very heavy shell fire, the proper
direction was not maintained.  The detachments
reached part of their objective, but owing to the lack
of covering fire it was undesirable at the moment
to make an attack on the Orchard.  The companies
were told to dig themselves in and connect up with
the Wiltshire Battalion on their right and the Cold-
stream Guards on their left. They had then gained


1 Lt.-Colonel Meighan led his troops with capacity and judg-
ment. He had already won distinction at Ypres. In accordance
with the English custom of recalling men who have acquired
experience in the field for training purposes at home, Colonel
Meighan has been sent to Canada, and given charge of the instruc-
tional scheme of the Canadian Forces from the Atlantic to the
Pacific, with the temporary rank of Brigadier-General.




FESTUBERT................113
   
500 yards. Lieut.-Colonel Leckie sent up the other
two companies of the 16th to assist in the digging
and to  relieve the original two companies at day
break. During the night the companies of the 14th
Battalion (Royal Montreal) were also withdrawn, and
the trench occupied by these was taken over by
stretching out the Coldstream Guards on one flank
and the 16th Canadian Scottish on the other.1
   On the morning of the 20th orders were issued
for an attack on the Orchard that night. A recon-
naissance of the position was made by Major Leckie,
brother of Lieut.-Colonel Leckie, when patrols were
sent out, one of which very neatly managed to escape
being cut off by the enemy, and another suffered a
few casualties. This showed the Germans were in
force and that an attack on the Orchard would be
no light work. That night the Canadian Scottish
occupied a deserted house close to the German lines,
and succeeded in establishing there two machine
guns and a garrison of thirty men. The enemy were
evidently not aware that we were in possession of
this house, for although they bombarded all the
British trenches with great severity throughout the


1Our men were very anxious to get to grips with the enemy
on this day (May 18th), as it was the birthday of Prince
Rupprecht of Bavaria, who had issued an order that no prisoners
were be taken. Some idea of the efforts made to incite the
enemy's forces to further outrages against the conventions of war
may be gathered from the following paragraph extracted from the
Lille War News, an official journal issued to the German troops:-
"comrades, if the enemy were to invade our land, do you think
he would leave one stone upon another of our fathers' houses, our
churches, and all the works of a thousand years of love and toil?
...and if your strong arms did not hold back the English (God
damn them!) and the French (God annihilate them !) do you think
they would spare your homes and your loved ones? What would
these pirates from the Isles do to you if they were to set foot
on German soil?




114...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.
         
whole of the next day, this little garrison was left
untouched. The attacking detachment under Major
Rae consisted of two companies of the Canadian
Scottish, one commanded by Captain Morison, the
other by Major Peck. The attack was to take place
at 7.45 p.m., and at the same time the 15th Battalion
(48th HighLanders) were directed to make an assault
on a position several hundred yards to the right.
During that afternoon the Orchard was very heavily
bombarded by our artillery, the bombardment in-
creasing in severity up to the delivery of the attack.
Promptly to the minute, the guns ceased, and the
two companies of the 16th Canadians climbed out
of their trenches to advance. At the same instant
the two machine guns situated in the advanced post
opened on the enemy. As the advance was carried
out in broad daylight, the movements were at once
seen by the Germans, and immediately a torrent of
machine gun, rifle fire, and shrapnel was directed
upon our troops. Their steadiness and discipline
were remarkable, and were greatly praised by the
officers of the Coldstream Guards who were on our
left.
  When they reached the edge of the Orchard an
unexpected obstacle presented itself in the form of
a deep ditch, and on the further side a wired hedge.
Without hesitation, however, the men plunged
through the ditch, in some places up to their necks
in water, and made for previously reconnoitred gaps
n the hedge.  Not many Germans had stayed in
the Orchard during the bombardment. The bulk of
the garrison, according to the usual German method
under artillery fire, had evidently retired to the sup-
port trenches in the rear.  A few had been left 















116............... CANADA IN FLANDERS.


  
behind to man a machine gun redoubt near to the
centre of the Orchard with the idea of holding up
our advancing infantry till the enemy, withdrawn
during the bombardment, could return in full
strength; but these machine guns retreated when
the Canadians came.  On the far side of the
Orchard, however, the Germans, following their
system indicated above, came up to contest the posi-
tion, but the onset of the Canadians forced them to
beat a hasty retreat. Although double our numbers,
they could not be induced to face a hand-to-hand
fight. Three platoons cleared the Orchard, while a
fourth platoon, advancing towards the north side,
were hampered by a very awkward ditch, which
forced them to make a wide detour, so that they did
not reach the Orchard until its occupation was
complete.
  One company did not enter the Orchard, but
pushed forward and occupied an abandoned German
trench running in a south-westerly direction, to pre-
vent any flank counter-attack being made by the
enemy. They then found themselves in a very ex-
posed position, and consequently suffered heavily.
The casualties, in proportion to the number of men
employed in the attack, were heavy for all engaged,
but the position was a very important one, and had
twice repulsed assault by other regiments.
  Had our advance been less rapid the enemy would
no doubt have got back into this position, and our
task might have been impossible. They argued, as
I have said, that any attack might be held up by the
machine guns in the redoubt and in the fortified
positions on the flank for long enough to enable
them to return to the Orchard after our bombardment
     
         




FESTUBERT. ...............117


had ceased, and then throw us back.  The speed
with which our assault was carried out altogether
checkmated this plan.
   The 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) included
detachments from the 72nd Seaforths of Vancouver,
Camerons of Winnipeg, the 50th Gordons
of Victoria, and the 91st Highianders of Hamilton;
so all Canada, from Lake Ontario to the Pacific
Ocean, was represented in the Orchard that night.
   It was in the course of the struggle in the Orchard
that Sapper Harmon, of the 1st Field Company,
C.E., performed one of those exploits which have
made Canadian arms shine in this war.  He was
attached to a party of twelve sappers and fifty
infantrymen of the 3rd Canadian Battalion which
constructed a barricade of sandbags across the road
leading to the Orchard, in the face of heavy fire.
Later,this barricade was partially demolished by a
shell, and Harmon actually repaired it while under
fire a machine gun only sixty yards away!
Of the party, in whose company Harmon first went
out, six of the twelve sappers were wounded, and of
the fifty infantrymen six were killed and twenty-
four wounded. Later, he remained in the Orchard
alone for thirty-six hours constructing tunnels under
a hedge with a view to further operations. Sapper
B.W.  Harmon is a native of Woodstock, New
Brunswick, and a graduate of the University of
Brunswick.
   The drawback to drill-book tactics is that if one
side does not keep the rules the other suffers. And
a citizen army will not keep to the rules.  For
example, not long after the affair of the Orchard, a
Canadian battalion put up a little arrangement with
         
         




118...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.


the ever-adaptable Canadian artillery in its rear
The artillery opened heavy fire on a section of Ger-
man trenches while the battalion made ostentatious
parade of fixing bayonets, rigging trench ladders
and whistling orders, as a prelude to attack the
instant the bombardment should cease. The Ger-
mans, who are experts in these matters, promptly
retired to their supporting trenches and left the
storm to rage in front, ready to rush forward the
instant it stopped, to meet the Canadian attack. So
far all went perfectly. Our guns were lifted from
the front trenches and shelled the supporting trench,
in the manner laid down by the best authorities, to
prevent the Germans coming up.  The Germans
none the less came, and crowded into the front
trenches. But there was no infantry attack what-
ever.  That deceitful Canadian battalion had not
moved. Only the guns shortened range once more
and the full blast of their fire fell on the German
front trench, now satisfactorily crowded with men.
Next day's German wireless announced that "a
desperate attack had been heavily repulsed." but
the general sense of the enemy was more accurately
represented by a "hyphenated" voice that cried out
peevishly next evening: "Say, Sam Slick, no dirty
tricks to-night." But to resume.
  At seven o'clock in the evening of the 20th the
13th Battalion Royal Highlanders) of the 3rd
Brigade, under  Lieut.-Colonel Loomis, advanced
across the British trenches, under heavy shell fire
and with severe losses, in support of the 16th Batta-
lion Canadian Scottish.
  The attack on the Orchard having succeeded,
three companies of the 13th Battalion (Royal High-




FESTUBERT................119


landers) immediately marched forward.  As four
officers  of one company, including the officer com-
manding, had been severely wounded, the command
was taken over by Major Buchanan, the second in
command of the regiment.
   A fourth company marched to a support trench
immediately in the rear. The position was then
consolidated, and the 16th Battalion, after its hard
work and brilliant triumph, withdrew.
   Next afternoon the enemy in their trenches made
a demonstration fifty yards north of the Orchard,
but our heavy fire soon drove them off the parapets.
During the night the disputed ground between the
trenches was brightly lighted by the enemy's flares
and enlivened by the rattle of continuous musketry.
None the less, our working parties went on with
their improvements and left the position in good
shape for the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion of the 1st
Brigade, which relieved the Royal Highlanders on
Saturday.
   On the night of May 19th, the 2nd Canadian
Infantry Brigade took over some trenches which had
recently been captured by the 21st Brigade (British),
and also a section of trenches from the 47th Divi-
sion.  The 8th and 10th Battalions occupied the
front-line trenches, the 5th Battalion went into
Brigade Reserve, with one company near Festubert,
Willow Road; and the 7th Battalion was posted in
Divisional Reserve.
   On May 20th, at 7.45 p.m., the 10th Canadian
Battalion, under Major Guthrie, who joined the Bat-
talion at Ypres as a lieutenant after the regiment
had lost most of its officers, made an attempt to
         
        
         


120...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.


secure a position known as "Bexhill." This attack
was a failure, as no previous reconnaissance had
been carried out, and the preliminary bombard-
ment had been quite ineffectual.  Moreover, our
troops were in full view of the enemy when crossing
a gap in the fire trench, and as the only approach
to "Bexhill ' was through an old communicating
trench swept by machine guns, the leading men of
the front company were all shot down and the 10th
Battalion retired.1
  During the night a further reconnaissance of the
enemy's position was carried out and repairs were
effected in the gap in the fire trenches, which assured
covered communication to all parts of our line.
   On the evening of May 21st an artillery bombard-
ment opened under direction of Brigadier-General
Burstall, and went on intermittently until 8.30, when
our attack was launched. The attacking force con-
sisted of the grenade company of the 1st Canadian
Brigade and two companies of the 10th Canadian
Battalion.  This attack was met by overwhelming
fire from the "Bexhill" redoubt, and our force on
the left was practically annihilated by machine guns;
indeed, against that steady stream of death no man
could advance. On the right the attackers succeeded
in reaching the enemy's trench line running south
from "Bexhill," and, preceded by bombers, drove
the enemy 400 paces down the trench and erected a
barricade to hold what they had won. During the
night the enemy made several attempts to counter-
attack, but was successfully repulsed.2


1The casualties of the 10th Battalion during the fighting in
April and May were 809. The casualties at Ypres alone were 6oo
of all ranks.

2Coy. Sergt.-Major G. R. Turner (now Lieutenant), of the 3rd






FESTUBERT................121


   In our attack, which was only partially suc-
cessful, Major E. J. Ashton, of Saskatoon, who
was slightly wounded in the head on the previous
night, refused to leave his command.  He was
again wounded, and Privates Swan and Walpole
tried to get him back to safety, and in so doing
Swan was also wounded. During the same night
Corporal W. R. Brooks, one of the 10th Battalion
snipers, went out from our trench under heavy
fire and brought in two men of the 4/7th Camerons
who had been lying wounded in the open for three
days.
   At daybreak of May 22nd the enemy opened a
terrific bombardment on the captured trench, which
continued without ceasing through the whole day
and practically wiped the trench out. After very


Field Company, Canadian Engineers, who served with courage
and coolness throughout the second battle of Ypres, and parti
cularly distinguished himself on the nights of April 22nd and 27th
by bringing in wounded under severe artillery and rifle fire, again
attracted the attention of his superior officers by his courageous
conduct at Festubert. From May 18th to 22nd he was in com-
mand of detachments of sappers employed in digging advanced
lines of trenches, and generally constructing defences. This work
was carried through most efficiently, although under fire from
field guns, machine guns, and rifles.


It was during this bombardment that Captain McMeans,
Lieut. Smith-Rewse, and Lieut. Passmore were killed, and Lieut.
Denison was wounded. The fate of Captain McMeans was parti
cularly regrettable as he had on all occasions borne himself most
gallantly. Such was the force of his example that, when he
himself, and all the other officers, as well as half the men of the
Company, had been killed or wounded, the remainder clung
doggedly to the position. The conduct of Captain J. M. Prower
also calls for mention. He was wounded, but returned to his
command as soon as his wounds were dressed, and though again
buried under the parapet, continued to do his duty. He is now
Brigade Major of the 2nd Infantry Brigade. On the same day
Coy. Sergt.-Major John Hay steadied and most ably controlled
the men of his Company after all the officers and 70 men out of
the 140 had been put out of action.




122............... CANADA IN FLANDERS.


heavy casualties the southern end of the captured
trench was abandoned, and a second barricade was
erected across the portion that remained in Our
hands.
  In the afternoon the enemy's infantry prepared
for an attack, but retired after coming under our
artillery and machine gun fire.  During the night
the trenches were taken over by a detachment of
British troops and a detachment of the 1st Canadian
infantry Brigade, and by King Edward's Horse and
Strathcona's Horse. These latter served, of course,
as infantry, and it was their first introduction to this
war, though Strathcona's Horse took part in the South
African campaign.
  King Edward's Horse took over the trench held
up to that time by the 8th1 Battalion. On the right
of Strathcona's Horse were the Post Office Rifles, of
the 47th Division; but the Post Office Rifles' machine
guns were manned by the machine gun detachment
of the Strathconas.
  May 23rd passed without incident, although the
enemy threatened an attack upon King Edward's
Horse, but broke back in the face of a heavy artil-
lery fire searchingly directed by the Canadian
artillery brigades.2
   At 11 pm. on the night of May 23rd the 5th
Canadian Battalion received orders from the General


1 Casualties of 8th Battalion.-About 90 per cent. of the original
officers and men of the 8th Battalion have been casualties. Only
three of the original officers of the battalion have escaped wounds
or death.

2 This was an attack made by the 7th Prussian Army Corps
which had been very strongly reinforced. The German efforts
to break through the Canadian lines were very determined, and
they advanced in masses, which, however, melted away before
our fire.




FESTUBERT................123


Officer Commanding the 2nd Canadian Infantry
Brigade to take the "Bexhill" salient and redoubt,
on which our previous attack had failed. The force
detailed for the fresh attack then consisted of two
companies of the Battalion, numbering about 500
men, under Major Edgar, together with an additional
100 men furnished by the 7th (British Columbia)
Battalion, divided into two parties-fifty to construct
bridges before the attack, and fifty to consolidate
whatever positions were gained.  The bridging
party was commanded by Lieut. (now Captain) R.
Murdie, and he took his men out at 2.30 a.m. on the
morning of May 24th.  In bright moonlight, and
under machine gun and rifle fire, he managed to
throw twelve bridges across a ditch 10 ft. in width
and full of water, which lay between our line and
the objective of the attack.  This party naturally
suffered heavy casualties.  The attack itself went
over at 2.45, and in it many of the bridging party
joined at the same time the battalion bombers under
Lieut. Tozer forced their way up a German com-
munication trench leading to the redoubt.  Ex-
tremely stiff fighting followed, but in the face of
heavy machine gun fire the redoubt was occupied
shortly after four in the morning. In addition to
the redoubt, the attacking party gained and held
200 yards of trenches to the left of it, and a short
piece to the right, driving the Germans out and back
with heavy losses.
  "Bexhill" proper, however, had still to be taken,
and to that end the two companies of the 5th Batta-
lion, which were in reality inadequate to capture so
strong a position, were reinforced by a company from
the 7th Battalion and a squadron of Strathcona's
         




124...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.


Horse.1 With this reinforcement the attack was im-
mediately pressed home, and "Bexhill" and 130
yards of trenches towards the north fell into our
hands at 5.49 a.m.
   Further progress, however, was impossible owing
to the unbreakable positions of the enemy. Forty
minutes later, at about 6.30 a.m., further reinforce-
ments were received in the form of a platoon from
the 5th Battalion, and with their arrival came orders
to " dig in and hang on," but not to attempt the
taking of any more ground. It was about this time
that Major Odlum, commanding the 7th Battalion,
took charge of the 5th, as Colonel Tuxford was ill
 and Major Edgar had been wounded soon after the
launching of the attack.  The losses among the
officers of Major Edgar's little force had been ter-
rible. Major Tenaille and Captain Hopkins, who
commanded the two companies, were killed, as were
also Captains Maikle, Currie, McGee, and Mundell,
while Major Thornton, Captain S. J. Anderson,
Captain Endicott, Major Morris, Lieut. Quinan, and
Lieut. Davis were wounded. Matters were made
worse by the fact that Major Powley was wounded
just as he came up with his reinforcing company from
the 7th. All through the morning the enemy's artil-
lery was exceedingly active, although the Canadian
artillery surrounded our troops, who were holding on
in the redoubt, with a saving ring of shrapnel, and,
at the same time, distracted the enemy's guns with
accurate fire upon their positions. Canada had good
reason to be proud of her gunners that day.


1Casualties of 5th Battalion during Ypres, Festubert, and
Givenchy about 60 per cent. Casualties at Festubert alone, 380,
all ranks.




FESTUBERT................125


    The captured trenches were held all day, but only
at great cost, by the forces which had won them; and
at night the Royal Canadian Dragoons and the 2nd
Battalion of the 1st Brigade arrived, and took them
over.
    The total losses of the 2nd Brigade amounted to
55 officers and 980 men.
   The hostile shelling was the most severe that the
Brigade ever experienced, but the ordeal was borne
unshakenly.
   On the night of May 24th, at 11.30 pm., while the
troops which had taken " Bexhill" were still hanging
on to what they had won, the 3rd Battalion, com-
manded by Lieut.-Colonel (now Brigadier-General)
Rennie, attacked a machine-gun redoubt known as
"The Well," which was a very strongly fortified
position. The attacking force gained a section of
trench in the position with fine dash; but to take
in the redoubt, or to hold their line under the pounding
of bombs and the pitiless fire of the machine guns
in the redoubt, was more than flesh and blood could
accomplish. To remain would have been to die to a
man - and win nothing. This heroic attack was re-
pulsed with heavy losses.
   On the following day (May 25th) at noon,
Brigadier-General Seely, M.P., assumed command
of the troops which had won "Bexhill." General
Seely had already endeared himself to the Canadians
by his personality, and now he was to win their con-
fidence as a leader in the field. He arrived at a
perilous and critical moment, and he at once fastened
on the situation with understanding and vigour. He
remained in command until noon on May 27th, and
through two extremely trying and hazardous days
       




126...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.


and nights, displayed soldierly qualities and a gift
for leadership.  Some idea of the severity of the
fighting may be gathered from the fact that the losses
among officers of General Seely's Brigade included,
Lieut. W. G. Tennant, Strathcona's Horse, killed;
Major D. D. Young, Royal Canadian Dragoons
Major J. A. Hesketh, Strathcona's Horse, Lieuts.
A.   D. Cameron, D. C. McDonald, J. A. Sparkes,
Strathcona's Horse, Major C. Harding and Lieuts.
C. Brook and R. C. Everett, King Edward's Horse,
wounded.  The casualties in other ranks, killed,
wounded, and missing, were also very heavy.
  An inspiring feature of the fighting at this par-
ticular period was the dash, gallantry, and steadiness
of the regiments of horse which, to relieve the terrible
pressure of the moment, were called on to serve as
infantry, without any fighting experience, and flung
into the forefront of a desperate and bloody battle.
  It is impossible to record all the acts of heroism
performed by officers and men, but the narrative
would be incomplete without a few of them.
   Major Arthur Cecil Murray, M.P., of King
Edward's Horse, for instance, distinguished himself
by the determined and gallant manner in which he
led his squadron, held his ground, and worked at the
construction of a parapet under heavy machine gun
fire.  The considerable advance made on the left of
the position was in a large measure due to his efforts.
Lieut. (now Captain) J. A. Critchley, of Stratheona's
Horse, armed with bombs, led his men in the assault
on an enemy machine gun redoubt with notable
spirit. Corporal W. Legge, of the Royal Canadian
Dragoons, went out on the night of May 25th and
located a German machine gun which had been




FESTUBERT................127


causing us heavy losses during the day, and so en-
abled his regiment to silence it with converging fire.
   It was on May 25th, too, that Sergeant Morris, of
King Edward's Horse, accompanied the Brigade
Office company, who were sent to assist the Post
Office Rifles of the 47th London Division in an
attack on a certain position on the evening of that
day.
   Morris led the attack down the German com-
muication trench, and all the members of his party,
with the exception of himself, were either killed or
wounded. He got to a point at the end of the trench
and there maintained himself-to use the cold official
phrase - by throwing bombs and by the work of his
single rifle and bayonet. By fighting single-handed
he managed to hold out until the extreme left of the
Post Office Rifles came up to his relief.
   On the following day, the 26th, Corporal Pym,
Royal Canadian Dragoons, exhibited a self-sacrifice
and contempt for danger which can seldom have
been excelled on any battlefield.  Hearing cries for
help in English between the British and German
lines which were only sixty yards apart, he resolved
to go in search of the sufferer.  The space between
the lines  was swept with incessant rifle and machine
gun fire, but Pym crept out and found the man, who
had been wounded in both thigh-bones and had been
lying there for three days and nights. Pym was un-
able move him without causing him pain which
he not in a state to bear. Pym therefore called
back to the trench for help, and Sergeant Hollowell,
Royal  Canadian Dragoons, crept out and joined him,
but was shot dead just as he reached Pym and the
wounded man
         




128...............CANADA IN FLANDERS.


Pym thereupon crept back across the fire-swept
space to see if he could get a stretcher, but having
regained the trench he came to the conclusion that
the ground was too rough to drag the stretcher across
it.
   Once more, therefore, he recrossed the deadly
space between the trenches, and at last, with the
utmost difficulty, brought the wounded man in alive.
Those were days of splendid deeds, and this
chapter cannot be closed without recording the most
splendid of all-that of Sergeant Hickey, of the
4th Canadian Battalion,1 which won for him the
recommendation for the Victoria Cross. Hickey had
joined the Battalion at Valcartier from the 36th Peel
Regiment, and on May 24th he volunteered to go
out and recover two trench mortars belonging to the
Battalion which had been abandoned in a ditch the
previous day. The excursion promised Hickey cer-
tain death, but he seemed to consider that rather an
inducement than a deterrent. After perilous adven-
tures under hells of fire he found the mortars and
brought them in.  But he also found what was of
infinitely greater value - the shortest and safest route


1 The 4th Canadian Battalion was under continuous fire at
Festubert through ten days and eleven nights. On the morning
of May 27th all communication wires between the fire-trench and
the Battalion and Brigade Headquarters were cut by enemy fire,
and at nine o'clock Pte. (now Lieutenant) W. E. F. Hart volun-
teered to mend the wires. Hart was with Major (now Lieut.-
Colonel) M. J. Colquhoun at the time, and they had together
twice been partially buried by shell fire earlier in the morning.
Pte. Hart mended eleven breaks in the wires, and re-established
communication with both Battalion and Brigade Headquarters.
He was at work in the Orchard, under shrapnel, machine-gun,
and rifle fire, without any cover, for an hour and thirty minutes.
Hart, who is now signalling officer of the 4th Battalion, is a
young man, and the owner of a farm near Brantford, Ontario.
He has been with the Battalion since August, 1914.




FESTUBERT................129


by which to bring up men from the reserve trenches
to the firing line.  It was a discovery which saved
many lives at a moment when every life was of the
greatest value, and time and time again, at the risk
of his own as he went back and forth, he guided
party after party up to the trenches by this route.
   Hickey's devotion to duty had been remarkable
throughout, and at Pilckem Ridge, on April 23rd, he
had voluntarily run forward in front of the line to
assist five wounded comrades. How he survived the
shell and rifle fire which the enemy, who had an un-
interrupted view of his heroic efforts, did not scruple
to turn upon him, it is impossible to say; but he
succeeded in dressing the wounds of all the five and
conveying them back to cover.
   Hickey, who was a cheery and a modest soul, and
as brave as any of our brave Canadians, did not live
to receive the honour for which he had been recom-
mended. On May 30th a stray bullet hit him in the
neck and killed him. And so there went home to
the God of Battles a man to whom battle had been
joy.
   May 31st the Canadian Division was with-
drawn from the territory it had seized from the enemy
and moved to the extreme south of the British line.
Here the routine of ordinary trench warfare was
resumed until the middle of June.1


1The following is Sir John French's official reason for bring-
ing the battle of Festubert to a close :-" I had now reasons to
consider that the battle which was commenced by the 1st Army
on May 9th and renewed on the 16th, having attained for the
moment the immediate object I had in view, should not be
further actively proceeded with. . . ." "In the battle of Festubert
the enemy was driven from a position which was strongly
entrenched and fortified, and ground was won on a front of four
miles to an average depth of 600 yards."
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Second Publication: Monday, 12-Mar-2001 21:51:30 MST
First Published: March 1, 2001