Malcolm & Dan-Joe (WW1)

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

Ch. 14 - "Vimy (April, 1917) - Part 2"

The Canadians did not rest on their laurels. On May 1st, the men of the 26th were in the front line, again. There they continued to clean out the captured German trenches and dugouts. Coming back to Dan-Joe: We note from his records that on May 4th, he was hurt and brought to the Casualty Clearing Station (C.C.S.) by Field Ambulance. It appears he spent but a short time there, then returned to the line. However, on the 12th, he is brought in again by Field Ambulance with an abscessed Jaw. This proved to be a serious problem for Dan-Joe and it continued into the month of June. On June 5th he was located at "1 Con Depot Boulogne." He was brought from [to?] there by "2 Aust. Gen Hosp. Wimereux." On June 7th he was fit to return to "3 Lo R Camp"; on June 9th, "L.O.S. "A" Detail" [whatever that means]; on June 9th, "To 2nd Entg. Bn."; on June 14th, "2nd Entg. Bn, arrived, Field." It would be an interesting exercise to see where all these places were (I think in France) and what was the function of each; however, it would not significantly advance the story that we tell. The overall point, is that Dan-Joe was out of action for most all of May and the first half of June, 1917. For this period his battalion was mostly in reserve having been moved back on May 7th, four days after Dan-Joe fell ill.

So, it would appear, that our Dan-Joe was back with his battalion (though I wonder, "2nd Entg. Bn"). Not a whole lot was going on for the balance of June. Then came July, 1917; the battalion was back in the trenches. On the 2nd of July, there were signs that a plan for an another Allied offensive was in the air. The Canadians were bundled up and moved into certain areas of the trenches. Because of their reputation of being shock troops, the Germans seemed to always know that something was up when Canadians showed up at a particular trench. Another sign (at least to the Canadians) was when a platoon of the battalion was picked to go back behind the lines. July 2nd, "One Platoon (Reserve Platoon) from each Coy. moved." I have read, that before an anticipated battle, a platoon, a small representative number of the battalion, as a standard procedure, would be sent to a safe area, and to wait it out there. The reason - if the battalion suffered from a large number of causalities, then there will be a nucleus available for the inevitable reorganization. Often the safe area, while in behind the line, would be handy the artillery area, in behind, where the big guns were; this had the added advantage of lending support to the artillery regiment. Night patrols become more frequent. As for example, on the 7th of July, "Our scouts patrolled No Mans Land with a view of locating enemy Advanced Posts. Enemy appears very nervous and sent up numerous flares also firing rifle grenades into No Mans Land." And, of course, "Our artillery active." But all of this did not seem to come to much; by the 11th, the battalion was back at camp getting baths; then, by the 16th, back in the trenches. On the 20th of July there opened up an artillery duel. On the 22nd, the Germans make a rare offensive, but without success. "One of our Lewis Gunners during the raid mounted the parapet and fired into the enemy from the hip." After this exciting day, on the next, the battalion retired to a rest area.

An event in July, 1917, which we will but briefly touch upon is to the east of Germany. Germany was fighting a two front war, one in the west of them where the French and the British were lined against them, then the east with Russia. Germany would like very much to have only the one front on which to concentrate. They got their wish when the political situation and the resolve in Russia broke down. The conditions were tough for all soldiers, maybe more so for the Russians. On July 17th, the Russian troops mutinied and abandoned the Austrian front and retreated to the Ukraine; hundreds are shot by their commanding officers during the retreat. On September 14, 1917, Russia declared itself a republic and set up a Provisional Government. A number of months wore on and on March 3rd, 1918, Germany, Austria and Bolshevist Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, ending Russia's involvement in the war.

The last we heard of Dan-Joe was reference to his sickness in May and June of 1917. What we learn from his particular war records, brief as as they are, is that after six weeks recovering he was returned to the "Field" on June 14th. Beyond that, his record is silent until August 14th, when we see: "To Unit" "Reverted to Ranks" "Field." Not that we should conclude he was sick for those missing two months, but rather it could be that for the intervening time he was seconded to a separate Canadian Engineering unit. The training for Dan-Joe's battalion (the 26th) continued through to the end of the summer of 1917. On the 14th of August when Dan-Joe came back into camp, the battalion was on the move again; "Battalion moves to Assembly Area." Dan-Joe was just in time to join in on yet another battle: The Taking of Hill 70. On the 15th, the "Battalion pushed off at 4:25." The accounts of this battle show it was a complex operation with numerous trench battles. However, the entry in the official diary, was short: "Objective was gained as per schedule." The taking of Hill 70 was yet another feather to be put in the Canadian hats. "The Canadian plan called for an attack by 15 battalions on a two mile front." (See Map) The attack took place in two waves, the first consisting of ten battalions. The second wave of five battalions came in behind but just up the centre and straight through the line created by the first wave and directly to the German defenses. In the middle of this second line was Dan-Joe and his fellows; and as said, they were entirely successful, though likely at a considerable number of casualties. Dan-Joe came through, however, unscathed. Much of the Canadian success is to be attributed to its artillery. The bombardment was all very carefully considered and executed. In the days leading up to the assault the strong points of the German line were determined by patrols and by aircraft. The number of big guns in behind was large at 400. They started in days before and were able to knock out a number of the big guns that the Germans had.

"In the hours leading up to the attack a heavy bombardment by every available gun was directed at the German positions. There was a deliberate lull in this bombardment which was meant to convince the German defenders that the barrage had ended. This would helpfully lure the enemy out of the relative safety of his dugouts so that they would be caught in the act of manning their positions when the barrage resumed a few minutes earlier.
Once the attack started the artillery's role diversified. ... to a 'rolling barrage' [and 'jumping barrage' all carefully timed] ...
The Hill 70 attack was among the very first major operations in which the artillery was to be controlled by wireless radio rather than field telephone [which were often cut by the enemies bombs]."
On the 16th, the Battalion was at the front Line at Hill 70. Then, on the 17th, the Canadians, having done the fighting79, were moved back to a rest area, and training "per syllabus" was carried out to the end of the month.

The Battalion continued their training and reorganization right into the first two weeks September, 1917. During this time: the "Officers and N.C.O.s attended Lecture on Aeroplanes"; "Battalion Baths and Company Parades"; and, Inspections by senior officers. Then on the 15th, we read: "Battalion in Rest Area. Training as usual. Officers had Smoker and men went to Concert in honour of 2nd Anniversary of the landing of the Battalion in France and 1st Anniversary of the Battle of Courcelette." On the 16th, the battalion was on the move again - from Maisnil Bouche to Villers au Bois, then from Villers au Bois to Neuville St Vaast." On the 18th: "Battalion in Divisional Support. Supplied 2 Officers and 100 Other Ranks for work on Light Railway, and at night 5 Officers and 200 Other Ranks on Cable Burying Party. ... Baths at Berthonoval Farm in afternoon." It was on the 18th we see from Dan-Joe's record that he was granted a few days leave and spent them in England. I am sure he did not miss the work his battalion continued on with: Work on Light Railway continues; also a number were "attached to 195 Tunnelling Company"; then, more time in the trenches. On the 26th the battalion was relieved "and proceeded to Training Area, Villers au Boys."

Sunday, the 30th of September, 1917, was an interesting day all the way around.

"Divine Service. ... a number of Officers and Other Ranks proceeded by Motor Lorries to a Tank Demonstration South of Arras, 7 Officers and 67 Other Ranks attended. Five officers attended a Lecture on 'Courts Martial.' It was, too, a divisional sports day was held. "More than a dozen events were held, among which were baseball and football games, boxing matches and an inter-company tug of war. Such traditional track and field events as the high jump, the broad jump and a number of foot races, ranging from the 100 yard dash to a mile long relay race, were also held. To add a touch of levity to the day's proceedings a number of what were aptly termed 'Humorous Events' were also held. These included a band race in which members of the battalion's pipe band ran a 75 yard course while playing their instruments. In another race the runners were blindfolded and guided to the finish line by a bell. Perhaps the two most entertaining events from the spectator's point of view were the Mule Race and the wrestling matches held on horseback."80

The setting was, and is, wonderful. It was on the grounds of the Chateau-de-la-Haie, a wonderful French mansion (shown to the right), 15k west of Vimy, apparently not touched by the ruinous effects of the First World War One.

Come October, we see that the "Battalion in Training Area. Battalion went over Taped Course ... Started to have Tin Containers (Black) in Small Box Respirators exchanged for Brown Containers." On the 2nd, a "Hun plane dropped three Bombs in Field near Battalion Area ... no damage." On the 3rd, "Battalion in Training Area. ... Model of Sallauminee Hill on view, and Battalion Paraded by Platoon to see same." On the 8th, there was carried out a "Rifle Inspection by the Brigade Armourer." By the 12th, they were back in the "Trenches. Situation quiet. Offensive Patrol encountered enemy ... Lewis Gun opened on enemy and screams heard." Throughout, both sides sent out night patrols.

On the 16th of October, 1917, "Battalion taken from Neuville St. Vaast to LePendu by Light Railway." The service of the Canadians, was required elsewhere. In the next few days they kept on the move. On the 24th, the men were put on a train "for Borre Area. Left Tinques at 2:40 p.m. arrived at Caestre at 8:00 p.m. Route through St. Miche, Pernes, Hasebrough." On the 27th, "Fourteen Officers went to Poperinge, to see Model of Passchendaele Ridge."81

NEXT [Chapter 15, "Passchendaele: November, 1917"]


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Peter Landry
2015 (2017)