Malcolm & Dan Joe (WW1)

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

Ch. 16 - "Winter, Autumn And Spring, 1917-8"

We left off with a short accounting of the monumental events of November and December, 1917. Next, we will bring the matter along to June of 1918. These months can be dealt with, in a relatively few paragraphs, as the 26th was rebuilding and generally filling-in, where they could to assist at the front line.

On the first of January, 1918, the battalion was at a "Divisional Rest Area." We might have seen a military parade lined-up in the Square where numerous metals were handed out to the living . So too, we would see new recruits coming in to fill the ranks. The gaps were large; and re-enforcements kept coming in throughout the coming weeks and months; this, to replace the men lost at Passchendaele through death and casualties. The battalion continue to be in reserve as it was reorganized and the men trained; or, more generally, to get the battalion back to being "Battle Ready." They rested and they trained.

On the 18th of January the battalion was on the move. The men left Camblain l'Abbe at 10:30 a.m. and arrived Neuville St. Vaast at 1:00 p.m. "Baths in afternoon. Number of officers left in morning to look over front line." By the 19th the men were in the trenches. Americans87 began to show up; a certain number of them were attached to the 26th "For Instruction." At the end of the month Dan-Joe and his fellows were still in the trenches. A sweeping shot along the trench line would show that the weather was fine but very misty, and most everywhere as we glide along the trenches, men were employed cleaning and digging. It is reported that the "Trench Strength" of the battalion was, Twenty officers and 576 men.88 Six of these officers and 62 of the men, it should be mentioned, were at Head Quarters.

On February 1st, 1918, we can see that Dan-Joe, with his fellows of the 26th, were in the "Front Line. Situation very quiet. Weather cloudy, with heavy mist." Men can be seen working in the trenches. Sleep is difficult to catch; we see here and there a few men, in turn trying to get comfortable, curled up in a little corner where there is a dugout and wooden pallet on which to lie; certain of them are scratching away, Dan-Joe among them. It was at some point in February that an officer figured out what was going on. Scabies89 was spreading through the trenches. We see from his medical records that, in February of 1918, that Dan-Joe came down with a bad case of it; he was hospitalized and was not returned to his battalion until March 13th.

Chateau-de-la-Haie, Camp Sign

While Dan-Joe was away being treated, his battalion carried on with its established routine. They were in "Divisional Reserve" and were to be seen going back and forth from one camp to the trenches, then from the trenches to another camp.90 There is an entry in the Diary dated March 24th: "Battalion in Brigade Support. ... The Huns put over quite a number of shells to or near our Battery position on the right. ... [Officers] reconnoitred all posts to be manned by Battalion in case of order to 'Man Battle Positions' was received." While camped on the grounds of the Chateau De La Haie, a wonderful setting, on the 28th of February, we read: "Day spent in drying clothes and kit inspections. ... Clear and cool most of the day although a very small blizzard and two showers caused pleasure seekers in the Chateau Grounds to seek cover."

Army camps had been constructed on the grounds of the Chateau.

[The Chateau De La Haie] was a fine stone building standing in beautiful park grounds which had been taken over by the Allies for military purposes. For very many months it was used for Brigade Headquarters by the Divisions operating in the Vimy sector, and in the surrounding grounds there sprang up four camps, known as St. Lawrence, Niagara, Canada, and Vancouver. A good bath-house was constructed at the bottom of the slope leading down from the Chateau, and later in the year a fine theatre was built."91
On March 1st, the Battalion was in "Corps Reserve" and attending "Bath and Shortage Parades." Next day the medical officers were busy inoculating the men. On the 6th, certain of the men attended a "Tank Demonstration near Villers au Bois." So too, we see that the Battalion, having been reduced due to casualties on account of Passchendaele were still trying to fill-up and train those newly arrived in the ranks. Towards the middle of the month, just about the time that Dan-Joe returned, on the 13th, from his weeks of medical treatment, the battalion left the "luxuries" of the Chateau and marched to Raimbert along the way the men stopped at "Maries-Les-Mines for Lunch." On the 17th, the R.C.s were paraded to the local village church; for the Protestants the service was held on the "Battalion Parade Ground."

On the 21st the battalion, in Army Reserve, were sent on a route march. On a local field, sports were played. Also, a warning order was received that the Battalion might have to move on very short notice. It was on the 21st that a battle unfolded off to the left and right of the trench that the 26th Battalion was occupying. Though, it seems, the Germans were avoiding the Canadians, a major German Offensive was launched; to the left of the battalion and to the right of it, the Germans were rushing the lines. It was on March 21st that the Second Battle of the Somme began: it was a Major German offensive. "As evening fell on 21 March, the [the Allies on the western front] ... suffered its first true defeat since warfare had begun three and a half years earlier."92 By April 5th the Germans had advanced twenty miles over a front of fifty miles and were within five miles of Amiens. Though clearly a German victory, the losses they sustained were greater than those of the Allies: losses that they could not replace. On the 22nd Dan-Joe's battalion was marched to Houdain, 20 km west of Lens, near Bray. On the 27th they were marching again, about 15 miles to arrive this time to Bienvillers-au-Bois; "Battalion matched splendidly Lorries were supplied to move blankets. Battalion billeted in deserted buildings and barns. Stood at intervals but quite quiet." On the 28th, they were still marching, "10 miles arrived Blaireville at 4:15 a.m." Next day the battalion was "located in old German and British trenches in the vicinity."

During the first week of April, the battalion was first in the trenches, then out, then in again. When a battalion was moving up to occupy a designated trench, they followed a couple of guides who had been sent back from the battalion to be relieved, the purpose was to lead the relieving battalion through the maze of trenches to the front line. On the 6th: "Moved off at 6:00 p.m. to the Front Line - Trouble, as we were being led the wrong way by the guides. Trenches in muddy condition." New recruits came in, just as they have been doing right along. After their tour in the trenches, the men were moved back to Brigade Support, near Agny. At this point, there is an entry in Dan-Joe's record that on the 20th of April he "Rejoined Unit." Question is - Where had he been? (I note that certain men were pealed-off for duty at Head-Quarters, maybe he was there?) Towards the end of April the battalion was "moved back to Bretencourt where the men were greeted by a Pipe Band which played them to their billets."

As May came in, so did more recruits. Throughout, it seems, as they haul out the wounded and the killed of this Canadian battalion, new (inexperienced) men are brought in, more fodder for German guns. The exception after coming out of the trench would have been to report no casualties, more often the battalion came out with less men than when it went in. Back in reserve, new men were introduced and trained. On the 14th, "the battalion paraded by Companies to attend the Y.M.C.A. Cinema, at Bretencourt, where they were given an entertainment." Next day they were back in the trenches. On May 18th, there had to be a gas attack (not unusual), as, on that date, Dan-Joe's health record discloses he was exposed to "Poison Gas"; it could have been just as easily from an Allied canister as it was from a German one.

Three Nurses

On the 23rd, "Two officers and four N.C.O.s of the U.S. Army were attached to Dan-Joe's Battalion for instruction. At the end of the month, on the 30th, there was a "Battalion Parade in the morning, with usual training. The Divisional Gas Officer gave a lecture, and a Party of about 20 officers and men proceeded to Douilens and returning in evening."

On June the first, the men of the battalion were given a demonstration of aeroplanes flying at various heights. Also, training, as was always noted in the record, such as "Company in Attack." "In afternoon, Battalion paraded by Companies to Grosville to see a baseball game between us and 25th Battalion. Score Two to Nine in our favour." During these days the 26th Battalion was in either reserve or support. As an aside: Two expressions show up throughout the diary: "Reserve" and "Support," such as Divisional Reserve and Brigade Support. Now, I do not know the difference between the expressions, "Division" and "Brigade," I suspect they are interchangeable. Soldiers in reserve are keep at a distance (a few miles) from the front, at the ready to strengthen a flank or fill in a gap that may have opened-up in the line. In support is when they are handy the line or, indeed, on the line in the trenches. On May the 15th we would have seen Dan-Joe' battalion back at the "Wailly Huts," in Divisional Reserve. Numbers are given for the most recent tour. Total Casualties: One Officer Killed, two Officers wounded (remained on duty), four Other Ranks Killed, 31 wounded." One of the wounded was our Dan-Joe, as we read from his medical records: June 14, 1918, "Dangerously Wounded," neck and back."93 He was evacuated and sent off by ambulance to a causality clearing station. Dan-Joe's war was over.

NEXT [Chapter 17, "The Armistice"]


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Peter Landry