Malcolm & Dan Joe (WW1)

"Dan-Joe & Malcolm (WW1)" -- TOC

Ch. 7 - "Arrival, France (March 1916)"

Map Western Front

And so, Dan-Joe and Malcolm joined in on the European war on the 25th of March, 1916. The war had being going on in Europe since August 4, 1914; thus, fourteen months of war had carried on before our two heroes come on the scene. We want to pick up the matter at this point giving some detail of the battles in which Dan-Joe and Malcolm were involved. But first, let us touch on the events of this war on the western front (from the perspective of the Germans) leading up to March, 1916.

On the very opening day German troops entered Belgium. By August 22nd, 1914, the British Expeditionary Force arrived in France and by the 23rd they locked horns with German troops at the battle of Battle of Mons. The Germans had made great strides in the first four months of the war and were advancing on Paris putting everyone in great turmoil. The French and the British counter-attacked at the Marne River (September 5th, the First Battle of the Marne). In October, the first Canadian troops were put into the field - 25,000 of them - just in time to participate in the First Battle of Ypres. By the time this battle ended, it seems the parties went into winter mode with the troops, on both sides, settling into their respective trenches.

The first significant battle of 1915, from what I can see of it, was the Battle of Neuve Chapelle from March 10th to the 12th. It seems that the British punched through the German line, but nothing much was made of it. Then there unfolded, on the 1st of April, the Second Battle of Ypres. There were other battles, including the Second Battle of Artois (May) where the Germans and French fought to a standstill. And so it went, week after week, month after month, and it looked like it was going to be, year after year.

At about the time our heroes arrived in France, one of the foremost battles of all WWI, indeed of all time, The Battle of Verdun, unfolded. A major and quite unexpected offensive was begun by the Germans at Verdun during February of 1916. Dan-Joe & Malcolm did not see any of this battle as it was at a considerable distance from where they were located. It is to be remembered that the front line, as can be seen from the accompanying image, was a long one that stretched from the west on the English Channel, to the east at the French/Switzerland border. It was at the western end that Dan-Joe & Malcolm saw their action. However, to put the overall matter in perspective, a few words on the Battle of Verdun are necessary. The Battle of Verdun went for most all of the year of 1916, from 21 February to 18 December. A quote from Wikipedia:

"The German offensive was reduced to provide artillery and infantry reinforcements for the Somme front, where the Anglo-French relief offensive began on 1 July. During local operations, the village of Fleury changed hands sixteen times from 23 June to 17 August. A German attempt to capture Fort Souville in early July, was repulsed by artillery and small-arms fire. To supply reinforcements for the Somme front, the German offensive was reduced further, along with attempts to deceive the French into expecting more attacks, to keep French reinforcements away from the Somme front. In August and December, French counter-offensives recaptured much of the ground lost on the east bank and recovered Fort Douaumont and Fort Vaux. An estimate in 2000 found a total of 714,231 casualties, 377,231 French and 337,000 German, an average of 70,000 casualties for each month of the battle; other recent estimates increase the number of casualties to 976,000 with 1,250,000 suffered at Verdun from 19141918. The Battle of Verdun lasted for 303 days and became the longest and one of the most costly battles in human history."
By the end of June, 1916, over 200,000 men on each side were dead. However, the Germans kept at it, and the Battle of Verdun continued. It was an important battle for the Germans in itself, but it had the added advantage of bleeding Allied forces from the west of the line, including the River Somme where it was figured that the next strike would likely occur.

We do not know to which part of the line Dan-Joe and Malcolm were first sent. It appears they were somewhere within a distance of but one day of their port of arrival. Likely, coming from Folkstone 40 to 50 km across the channel they disembarked at either Calais or Dunkirk.

NEXT [Chapter 8, "Ypres Salient (March-June, 1916)"]

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Peter Landry
2015