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100 years later: remembering Canadian sacrifices at Passchendaele

Injured Canadian soldiers on the battlefield at Passchendaele.   Library and Archives Canada

100 years later: remembering Canadian sacrifices at Passchendaele

by Chris Daponte

WELLINGTON CTY. - Passchendaele was one of the deadliest battles in Canada’s history.

It was also an impressive victory that helped cement the fine reputation of Canadian soldiers and it helped Canada earn its own signature on the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the First World War.

And yet, according to a recent poll conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for the Vimy Foundation, only 35 per cent of Canadians can even correctly identify the Battle of Passchendaele was part of WWI.

Often overshadowed by the April 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge -  the 100th anniversary of which was celebrated with much enthusiasm across the country earlier this year – the Battle of Passchendaele took place later the same year, between Oct. 26 and Nov. 10.

“On a muddy battlefield in northwest Belgium, Canadians overcame almost unimaginable hardships to win an impressive victory in the fall of 1917,” states the Veterans Affairs Canada website.

Also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, the initial battle began at the end of July 1917 and included British, Australian and New Zealand troops.

Canadians were sent to Belgium in early October 1917 to relieve those battered forces and help with the final push to capture Passchendaele.

On Oct. 26, the Canadian offensive began over a muddy, exposed battlefield already littered with casualties. Despite heavy losses, the Canadians advanced slowly, reaching the outskirts of Passchendaele following a second attack during an Oct. 30 rainstorm.

On Nov. 6, the Canadians and British launched the final assault to capture the village of Passchendaele itself and on Nov. 10, they cleared the Germans from the eastern edge of Passchendaele Ridge, bringing the campaign to an end.

Nine Canadians earned the Victoria Cross for their valour during the battle, two of whom were killed in action.

But Canada’s great victory at Passchendaele came at a high price. Of approximately 100,000 members of the Canadian Corps that took part in the battle, more than 4,000 were killed and 12,000 were wounded (at Vimy 3,600 Canadians were killed and more than 7,000 wounded).

Wellington connections

It is unclear exactly how many soldiers from Wellington County fought at Passchendaele, but local men did take part.

According to the Arthur and Area Historical Society, 10 men from the Arthur area fought in the Battle of Passchendaele:

- Stanley Brocklebank, who survived the battle but died in 1918 in France after heroic action for which he was posthumously awarded the Military Cross;

- William Walter Burton, killed by a shell that landed in his trench;

- Alexander Dunbar, died of wounds five days before the Battle of Passchendaele ended;

- James Ford, gassed during the battle but survived to face gassing again in August 1918;

- Wesley Green, killed in action;

- Michael Madigan, survived a gunshot wound and lived to return home;

- Michael Riordan, died instantly of a shrapnel wound to the head;

- Isaac Ritchie, died of wounds;

- Howard William Tucker, died of wounds; and

- Louis Allen Tucker, killed in action.

(John) Wilfred Oakes of Guelph-Eramosa also saw action at Passchendaele, according to Remembering the Fallen, a memorial book compiled by Heritage Guelph-Eramosa. While performing his duties as a message runner during the Battle of Amiens in France, he was shot by an enemy sniper and died instantly on Aug. 12, 1918.

Legacy

According to Veterans Affairs Canada, “The Canadian victory at Passchendaele was truly impressive and added to our nation’s growing reputation as having the best offensive fighting force on the Western Front.

“This status meant that our forces would be at the forefront of the series of advances that eventually won the war for the Allies a year later.”

For more information on the Battle of Passchendaele, visit www.veterans.gc.ca.

- With files from Veterans Affairs Canada

November 10, 2017

 
 

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