On 31 July 1917 the 3rd battle Ypres commenced, it is also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, and 102 days later on 10 November 1917 it ended with the Canadian Corps capturing Passchendaele ridge and town. The cost to all British Forces was 275,000 killed, wounded, captured, or missing which includes 15,654 Canadian casualties. The Germans sustained 220,000 casualties. Passchendaele is synonymous with the frightful conditions and waste of lives which was the 1st World War.
After the Victory at Vimy Ridge the 4 Canadian Divisions were pulled from the line for rest and refit and to fill the loses in the ranks. This was merely a short respite as more tough fighting lay ahead. After Vimy would come Hill 70, Passchendaele, and finally the 100 Days. The reputation that the Canucks had built was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it built a great “esprit de corps” and enhanced Canadas’ reputation amongst the allies and on the worlds stage. A curse because now when the Imperial General Staff had a particularly hard objective to overcome the job fell to the Canadians.
This is also the 100th anniversary of The Battle of Hill 70 which took place in August 1917. This battle is often overlooked because of the Vimy Victory. Again the Imperial High Command call on the Canadian Corps to crack this hard nut with the hope of drawing German Troops from the Passchendaele offensive. The Canadian Corps took Hill 70 sustaining 9,000 casualties. The Germans lost an estimated 25,000 casualties. Although Hill 70 was taken the probing attacks against the town of Lens were unsuccessful and by the 25th of August the Canadian attack petered out leaving the Canadians holding the western part of the town. Soon the Canadian Corps would be ordered to move north to Passchendaele.
In mid-October 1917 the Canadian Corps was ordered north to relieve the ANZACs (Australian/New Zealand Corps) at Passchendaele. If Passchendaele itself wasn’t Hell it was surely the foyer. The Ypres Salient was very familiar to the Canadians as it was here on April 22 1915 that they were exposed to the first use of poison gas deployed by the Germans. Here their reputation started and here in October of 1917 it would again be strengthened. Just 7 months before at Vimy it was confirmed and from October 1917 until the end of the Great War it would become enshrined in the History of this first World War. For 3 years the area around Passchendaele had been relentlessly pounded by artillery bombardments that the centuries old drainage system for this low lying area was totally destroyed. Now if one looked out from either frontline they gazed upon a pockmarked carpet of gluttonous mud, shattered trees, and filthy water filled craters where carcasses of the dead floated and hanging over all was the stench of putridness.
The Canadian Corps now under the command of Lt. Gen Arthur Currie were given the task of taking Passchendaele Ridge and Town. Upon inspecting the battleground Currie did not want to commit his corps but was overruled by his superiors. Currie immediately put the Canadians to work improving the roads and tramlines in order to move his artillery and ammunition up to their positions. Currie had predicted that the coming battle would result in 16,000 Canadian casualties. This was almost prophetic as the butchers bill was 15,654 dead and wounded. Since the Canadian Corps stood against the first German gas attack in April 1915 the Imperial High Command put the Canadians at the “Sharp End” of any thrust against German strong points. They became the British “Shock Troops” and in July of 1918 they would be called upon again in what is called “The Hundred Day Offensive” that ended the “War to end all Wars”. Twenty-one years later Canada would be called on again. One year and one day after Passchendaele the war ended and Canada had lost almost 60,000 dead. They are laid to rest in the fields of Flanders and Northern France. Some have never been found and some never identified so it is on November 11 of each year we honour them and all the other brave young men and women who go in Harms Way to keep us safe. LEST WE FORGET.