BTR – Episode 2 (tile test)

June 18th, 2020, 12pm EST

Cette deuxième conversation de la série, présentée en collaboration avec le Club universitaire Montréal, explore la place des femmes lors des conflits historiques de la Première et de la Seconde Guerre mondiale d’un point de vue contemporain.

Mentioned in the Webinar

Front Lines – Nurses at the Front

Front Lines – Nurses at the Front, , provided by the National Film Board of Canada

This short documentary made in 2008 looks at the role of nurses and health workers during wartime. Long days, brutal injuries and both sad and triumphant outcomes are part of their reality. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 2008, 90 years will have passed since the signing of the Armistice ending the Great War in Europe. More than 600,000 men and women crossed the Atlantic with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and more than 60,000 of them never returned. Front Lines features veterans’ letters to their families and images from the NFB archives, the Canadian War Museum and Library and Archives Canada.

Women Are Warriors

Women Are Warriors, Jane Marsh, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

This short film from WWII focuses on the increasingly important roles women occupy on the various war fronts. In England, their more active jobs include ferrying planes from factory to airfield and operating anti-aircraft guns. In Russia, they are fighting on the front lines as well as acting as parachute nurses, army doctors and technicians. In Canada women have joined active service auxiliaries, and thousands labour day and night in factories turning out the tools of war. From the Canada Carries On series.

Wings on Her Shoulder

Wings on Her Shoulder, Jane Marsh, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

This short archival film documents the Woman’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force of 1943, 9,000 strong, an able corps trained for service at home and overseas. Their aim is to prepare themselves for an important role in the flying field after the war, when Canada’s civil air power will prove an essential factor in the air communications of peacetime civilization. Part of the World in Action series.

BTR – Episode 1 (tile test)

May 21st, 2020, 12pm EST

The first instalment of this limited series, in collaboration with Defining Moments Canada, explores the 1918 Influenza Pandemic through the lens of Canadian military personnel of the Great War. This conversation between Kandace Bogaert (PhD in medical anthropology) and Caroline Tolton (Vimy Foundation program alumna) will look at Canada’s pandemic reality over a century ago and how it informs our current reactions to the Covid-19 crisis.

Mentioned in the Webinar

Howard Phillips, one of the most prominent 1918 flu scholars, who started his research in the 1980’s, has recently written that without the 1918 influenza pandemic, there might not have been an allied victory in the war – that based on the timing of the pandemic’s arrival in different military forces, if the German army hadn’t been stricken with flu in the fall of 1918, the allies might not have secured the armistice when they did. But not everyone agrees – some military historians don’t believe that the flu had any impact, for instance on the last hundred days campaign of the Canadian corps – so often you won’t see any mention of flu in military histories. Here’s a link to Howard’s article if anyone is interested in reading more about this.

Here is a link to Kandace Bogaert’s article for Defining Moments Canada on the epidemic at the Polish Army Camp at Niagara on the lake.

Further Reading Recomendations

Join the conversation: watch The Last Days of Okak directed by Anne Budgell and Nigel Markham, and produced by the National Film Board of Canada. This short documentary tells the story of the once-thriving town of Okak, an Inuit settlement on the northern Labrador coast that was decimated by the deadly Spanish influenza during the world epidemic of 1919.

The Last Days of Okak, Anne Budgell & Nigel Markham, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

The Last Days of Okak is part of the NFB Inuit audiovisual legacy initiative, Unikkausivut: Sharing Our Stories. The National Film Board of Canada in collaboration with the Inuit Relations Secretariat of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the Government of Nunavut, Department of Education, and with the support of Inuit organizations, has selected more than 60 films from its collection, the most important worldwide, that represent all four Canadian Inuit regions (Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, Nunavut and Inuvialuit), some available in Inuktitut.

The Inuit have a long and vibrant tradition of passing tales and legends down from one generation to the next using visual arts and storytelling. For the past 80 years, the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) has been documenting life in the Arctic through the production of films by, and about, the Inuit. The NFB’s collection of more than 100 documentaries and animated films represents a unique audiovisual account of the life of the Inuit—an account that should be shared with, and celebrated by, all Canadians. For more films, click

More from Defining Moments Canada

Defining Moments Canada, is dedicated to equipping teachers, students, and the Canadian public with the tools and resources necessary to curate stories in a 21st century learning environment. As new challenges force many to take their learning online, they are adapting to better support you working and studying from home. They have led a digital commemoration of the 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic, encouraging participation from schools, museums and community partners across Canada. ( This innovative project is designed to engage Canadians in rich historical inquiry and establish connections for the twenty-first century that extend far beyond the family, classroom or community. Their website contains an extensive collection of academic research, popular writing, digital assets and learning resources on the 1918-19 Pandemic available to Canadians.

Explore the 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic through the lens of one of our many thematic perspectives.

Get up close and personal with a wide range of micro-histories from across Canada: short histories on various individuals, groups, and cultures and how they were impacted by the pandemic.

Find lesson plans developed by educators from across the country.

First World War Victoria Cross Recipients

The Victoria Cross is awarded for most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy. The medal was instituted on February 5, 1856 with awards retroactive to 1854. The first award to a Canadian was in February 1857, to Lt. Alexander DUNN (Charge of the Light Brigade). There have been 1,351 Victoria Crosses and 3 Bars awarded worldwide, 94 to Canadians (Canadian-born or serving in the Canadian Army or with a close connection to Canada).

The following list (though not complete) is of Canadian soldiers awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War.

Lieutenant Robert Grierson Combe, VC – Battle of Fresnoy May 1917.

Captain George B. McKean, VC, MC, MM – Raids of 28-29 April 1918


The Battle of Fresnoy
3-8 May 1917

A Centennial Action
The Battle of Fresnoy – 3-8 May 1917

The village of Fresnoy-en-Gohelle was the next objective of the Canadian Corps after their victory at Arleux in April. Fresnoy was the retreating point for the German forces from the village of Arleux-en-Gohelle, and an important part of the Oppy-Méricourt Line, one of Haig’s objectives for what was known to the British as the Third Battle of the Scarpe, or the Battle of Bullecourt.

Canadian Troops marching through a French town. May, 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001365

Like Arleux, Fresnoy was heavily fortified, and the area for manoeuvring very small. Haig decided that all operations along the line would take place at night, which worked to the advantage of the Canadians since they had a very small advance area. The plan of attack at Fresnoy was very similar to Arleux, with practice runs beforehand and extended slit trenches dug into No Mans Land to allow for a quicker advance into the village. The 1st and 6th Brigades went over the top on 3 May at 3:45 AM under cover of darkness.

Fresnoy was taken within several hours, but the Canadian brigades were now in the typical problem facing armies on the Western Front – holding their position. Counter attacks began almost immediately and the village was shelled for the next seven days, absorbing some 100 000 German artillery and gas shells. For the soldiers of the 1st and 6th Brigades in the village, the time between 3 May and the final German counter-attack on 8 May must have seemed endless.

Beginning at 4:00 AM, the Germans advanced into the village, even reaching Canadian trenches before they were fought off. The day ended with a German retreat and the Canadians were relieved the next day; however, disaster struck during the relief in the form of another German attack against the British troops relieving the village. Fresnoy was lost on 9 May, 1917. Canadian losses for the battle were 1 259 casualties, 1 080 of which were from the 1st Brigade, Canadian Corps.

Technological advancements

In addition to the use of preparatory practice attacks and slit trenches, Fresnoy was initially fought in the dark. The Canadian Corps would frequently use night attacks, one of the most famous being the Canal-du-Nord in 1918, and if successful they could be extremely effective.  For the initial attack, Currie was also lucky enough to have the use of artillery from three of the four Canadian Division, in addition to British units, allowing for a very heavy concentration of fire in such a small area.


Signaller Wilfred Kerr: A student at the University of Toronto, Kerr enlisted in 1916 with the Canadian Field Artillery. His memoir of 1917, Shrieks and Crashes was published for the first time in 1929. Kerr survived Fresnoy and the war, returning to university where he received his PhD. He worked at the University of Buffalo and died in Kenmore, New York in 1950.

Lieutenant Ernst Junger: Junger is now known as the author of the German war memoir Storm of Steel, but in 1917 at Fresnoy he was a company leader with one of the regiments stationed at Fresnoy. Of the battle, Junger wrote Fresnoy was one towering fountain of the earth after another. […] Eyes and ears were utterly compelled by this devastation. After his demobilisation, Junger became an entomologist and a prominent public critic of the Weimar Republic; he had a complicated relationship with the Nazi Party and was never a member, though he served with the army in Paris before being dismissed in 1944 after being implicated in an assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler.

View the Vimy Foundation Fresnoy Battle poster. кредит онлайн

28-29 April 2017
The Arleux Loop

A Centennial Action

Artillery observers watch the fall of shells on the village Arleux. Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001139.

The Arras offensive, of which Vimy Ridge was just one part, continued well after the capture of the ridge until 16 May, 1917. Following Vimy, the Canadians pushed their way forward, mopping up scattered outposts and advancing for two weeks in mid-April before stacking up against serious German resistance. In the midst of the floundering Nivelle offensive, British General Haig hoped to achieve a redeeming victory by ordering a four-battalion attack by the Canadians on the troublesome “Arleux Loop” at Arleux-en-Gohelle.

Canadians search Germans captured at Arleux. Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001210.

Assigned to the attack, the 5th (Western Cavalry), 8th (90th Winnipeg Rifles), 10th (Canadians), and 25th (Nova Scotia Rifles) Battalions refused to be hampered by supply problems, with the 8th Battalion alone hauling 40,000 rounds of ammunition into forward dumps. The Canadians advanced at 04:25 A.M., pushing their way into the village despite a weak barrage. Desperate, chaotic battles of hand-to-hand fighting broke out, favouring the Canadians who were actually outnumbered. Swarming through Arleux’s devastated streets, the German forces were simply overwhelmed; no sooner had they started to check one skirmish before another running firefight would break out elsewhere. By 06:00 A.M., a disjointed retreat from the village was underway.

Admitting the village lost, the German commander of the 111th Division ended all counter-attacks on 29 April. The two-day battle had cost the Canadians 1,255 casualties. As they consolidated their positions they looked out at the next objective a mere two kilometres away – the village of Fresnoy and its accompanying Fresnoy Wood.

A stretcher-bearer and German prisoner tend to a Canadian wounded at Arleux. Note the crucifix in the background – one of few shelters left standing in the village. Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001360.
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14 April 1917

A Centennial Action

All that was left of the village of Monchy-le-Preux in April-May 1919. Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-004367.

On 14 April 1917, two days after the Canadian Expeditionary Force had secured its positions atop Vimy Ridge, an attack was launched by the Newfoundland Regiment (NFLD R) and a battalion of the 1st Essex Regiment from the village of Monchy-le-Preux with the objective of Infantry Hill, along with Bois du Vert and a smaller stand of trees known as Machine Gun Woods.

As a separate dominion of the British Empire, Newfoundland’s military contribution operated independently of Canada’s forces. Consequently, the men known as The Blue Puttees had just entered the line after a lengthy period of recuperation and refitting, following their devastating losses at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916, and the larger Somme campaign.

Striking east of Arras from the village of Monchy-le-Preux at 05:30, the men were fighting with a hurried and inadequate tactical plan, the attack stuttered and stalled under withering fire from German machine gun and artillery positions. By 09:00, the attacking forces were surrounded and pressed from three sides by German counter-attacks.

The nine men of the Newfoundland Regiment, who defended Monchy-le-Preux. The tenth man, of the 1st Essex Regiment, is not in the photograph. Credit: © IWM (Q 5348).

It soon became apparent to Lieutenant-Colonel James Forbes-Robertson that he and his Battalion HQ staff were all that stood between the counter-attacking Germans and a major breakthrough, west towards Arras. Gathering up his staff, along with weapons and ammunition from the dead and wounded they passed, Lt.-Col. Forbes-Robertson led the tiny force of no more than 20 men through the deserted streets of Monchy, toward the battlefield. At the edge of the village, they dashed across 100 yards of open ground to a small embankment and hedge. By the time they reached it, machine gun, rifle, and artillery fire had reduced their force to just ten men.

From the diminutive safety of the embankment, armed only with rifles, the ten men then held off the approaching Germans for eleven hours under Lt.-Col. Forbes-Robertson’s leadership. By alternating between both rapid and sniping fire, while dashing along and firing from various spots of the embankment, they were able to confuse the Germans as to their actual defence and number. Sniping of German scouts sent forward also nullified attempts to gauge the size of the Newfoundlanders’ defence. During a lull in the shelling, Private Rose escaped back to Brigade HQ with the message of Monchy-le-Preux’s endangerment. Against orders, Private Rose returned to his fellow Newfoundlanders’, guiding the first platoon of reinforcements. Finally, at 22:00, Lt.-Col. Forbes-Robertson’s little band of fighters was relieved. Another dark day in the history of the Newfoundland Regiment was over.

In the initial morning attack the NFLD R’s total casualties numbered 460; 166 killed in action, 141 wounded, and 153 Prisoners of War. One of the dead included Lt. Robert Holloway, whom we discussed in our 100 Days of Vimy post on 15 March 2017 (read it here: ). Lt. Holloway was killed by artillery near Bois du Vert while carrying a message back to Battalion HQ.  In a cruel twist of fate, British artillery fire called into later defend the ten men at the embankment fell into the fields east of the village, killing many of the wounded Newfoundlanders who had laid there since the morning attack. After the battle, all ten men of the defence of Monchy-le-Preux were cited for gallantry:

Lt.-Col. James Forbes-Robertson, Commanding Officer – Distinguished Service Order
Lieut. Kevin J. Keegan, Signalling Officer – Military Cross
Sgt. J. Ross Waterfield, Provost Sergeant – Military Medal
Cpl. John Hillier, Battalion Orderly Room Corporal – Military Medal
Cpl. Charles Parsons, Signalling Corporal – Military Medal
Lance-Cpl. Walter Pitcher, Provost Corporal – Military Medal
Pte. Frederick Curran, Signaller – Military Medal
Pte. Japheth Hounsell, Signaller – Military Medal
Pte. Albert S. Rose, Battalion Runner – Military Medal
Pte. V. M. Parsons, 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment – Military Medal

The Monchy-le-Preux Newfoundland Memorial in 1919. Built atop a German strongpoint, the Caribou faces east toward Infantry Hill. Credit: © Artist’s Estate (IWM Q 49547).


In detailing the attack, planners chose to extend a thin salient even deeper into the German lines, which only increased its chances of being surrounded. A shortage of shells led to inadequate fire support in the initial stages of the attack.  Planners also appear to have forgotten to send an occupying force into Monchy-le-Preux, leaving the village-wide open to a counter-attack succeeded through the remnants of the destroyed Newfoundland and 1st Essex Regiments. Re-occupying the village would have provided the Germans with an elevated vantage point just a few kilometres east of Arras, making its defence by “The Monchy Ten” all the more important.

For a detailed account of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s attack and defence of Monchy-le-Preux, we suggest reading “The Greatest Gallantry” by Anthony McAllister, CD. взять деньги в долг на карту

Announcing our 2017 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Recipients

Congratulations to the Canadian recipients of the 2017 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize! 14 students were selected from across the nation to participate in an immersive educational program in England, Belgium, and France. From August 7-21, 2017, they will learn about the interwoven history of our three countries during the First and Second World Wars.

David Alexander – Pointe-Claire, Quebec
Yaman Awad – Anjou, Quebec
Claire Belliveau – Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Madelyn Burgess – Bow Island, Alberta
Ariadne Douglas – Prince George, British Columbia
Abigail Garrettt – Conception Bay, Newfoundland, and Labrador
Eric Jose – Oshawa, Ontario
Evan Kanter – Toronto, Ontario
Daniel Schindel – Surrey, British Columbia
Patricia Kennedy – Fredericton, New Brunswick
Cecilia Haymin Kim – Surrey, British Columbia
Enshia Li – Richmond Hill, Ontario
Cole Oien – Calgary, Alberta
Si Hui Pan – North York, Ontario
Paul Toqueboeuf – France
Lala Israfilova – England

We will be announcing the names of our Beaverbrook Vimy Prize winner from England in early May.

There were so many amazing applications that once again our task was extremely difficult, and we thank all who applied.

This program is made possible due to generous support from the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation and also from the Government of Canada.



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Regina Trench

1 October – 11 November 1916

The Regina Trench system dominated the area held by the Canadians after the initial attack at Thiepval on 26 September. Regina Trench had been part of the original Thiepval objectives, which called for the capture of the system by the end of the day on the 26th, but like most of the battles fought on the Somme, the attack had devolved to a multi-week slog, as the British army tried in vain to take increasingly smaller chunks of territory.

The 3000m system was perfectly placed for defense, being slightly over the top of Thiepval ridge, and surrounded by miles of thick barbed wire. To take Regina Trench, the Canadians would have to advance in full view of the defenders up the slope, with no options for outflanking and massed in a tight area of attack. Pre-attack bombardments were largely unsuccessful in removing the wire and many shells fell short as the Canadian gunners struggled to hit their target. Byng would again be calling on the beleaguered 2nd Division, fresh from the attempt to take Thiepval Ridge in September, to take Regina Trench. Despite protestations from the divisional commanders Turner and Lipsett, and an additional protest from Byng himself, Gough refused to call off the attack, and the 2nd  and 3rd Divisions would go forward into Regina Trench on 1 October at 3:15pm.

The German Marine Brigade, an elite group originally stationed in Belgium, had been moved to the Somme as the German regiments slow weakened from loss of men, and were stationed at Regina Trench. The attack on 1 October briefly took control of Kenora Trench and part of the eastern end of Regina Trench proper, but were pushed out by the Marines by 2 October and forced to abandon their positions. Bad weather and low visibility delayed the next attack until 8 October, though the Canadian barrage continued during this time, always trying to remove chunks of the barbed wire that had proved so disastrous the 2nd and 3rd Divisions on 1 October.

The attack on 8 October would be carried out much as the failed attack on 1 October, this time with the 1st and 3rd Divisions. Both went over the top before dawn behind a creeping barrage towards the maze of trenches making up the Regina system. Most of the battalions would run again into uncut barbed wire, which funneled them into concentrated zones of German machine gun fire. Both attacks, on the Quadrilateral and Regina Trench proper, were ultimately repelled as the Canadians were pushed back to their jumping off points.

A combined British and Canadian attack on 21 October would finally see a large part of Regina Trench captured by the Canadian 4th Division, and many German prisoners taken. It would not be until 10-11 November that the final western section of the trench would be captured during a lightening night attack by battalions of the 4th Division. The same division would be called upon to take Desire Trench, the final support trench in the Regina system on 18 November, which they would do in four successive waves, following their creeping barrage closely. Unlike the early attacks on Regina, Desire was taken relatively easily, though fighting was still fierce in some areas.  In the end, Regina trench would cost thousands of Canadian lives; in total, the Canadian Corps counted over 24 000 casualties during the time it was on the Somme, almost all in the area surrounding Courcelette, Thiepval Ridge and Regina Trench.

Technological advancements

After Thiepval and the first attempt to take Regina Trench, General Gough released a “Memorandum on Attacks” addressing many of the problems that had arisen, and calling for a more platoon based organisational structure empowering leaders at the company and platoon level to make decisions on how to reach their objectives as the need arose, instead of waiting on high command. Gough also called for better organisation of reserves and using those groups who had already taken their objectives to better maintain the force of battle; almost all the battles fought by the British on the Somme had suffered particularly in this regard, with reserves held back behind the front lines who could not move quickly enough to support those objectives already taken. In 1917, the reogranised Canadian Corps would use this “leap frog” technique in every battle, greatly increasing their ability to take and hold objectives.

Notable participants

Lance Corporal Ralph Lewis (25th Battalion CEF) One of the few survivors of the battalion to take Kenora Trench on 1 October, Lewis manned  a Lewis gun in the defensive line formed to hold the trench. He was awarded the Military Medal.  Later a Lieutenant of the battalion.  [Battalion report detailing the conditions in Kenora trench that Lewis fought under ]

Piper James Cleland  Richardson (16th Battalion CEF) The 16th Battalion was tasked with a portion of Regina Trench on 8 October and were being driven back to their own trenches when their piper, James Cleland Richardson, stepped above the trench and began to play his bagpipes. Richardson was surrounded by flying bullets, but continued to play, and the men of the 16th turned and stormed into Regina Trench, taking their objective. Richardson continued to play throughout the day, later putting down his pipes to bring in a wounded comrade, when he returned to retrieve them he never returned and was listed as MIA. His body was found in 1920 and buried in France. His pipes were found in 2006.  Piper Richardson, age 20, was awarded a posthumous VC for his bravery.

Lance Corporal Leo Clarke VC (27th Battalion) Clarke received the VC earlier in September for his actions at Pozières. The 27th Battalion was ordered into Regina Trench on 11 October to secure the area, Clarke was buried by a shell hit and his spine broken. His brother, Charles, was able to dig him out and he was sent to hospital, but died under care on 19 October 1916.

German Prisoners captured by Canadians in the storming of Regina Trench. October, 1916. Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada. PA-000825.
German Prisoners captured by Canadians in the storming of Regina Trench. October, 1916. Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada. PA-000825.

Download our poster about Regina Trench here.

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Thiepval Ridge

 26 September 1916

The Canadian victory at Courcelette earlier in September pushed the Corps up several hundred metres to new lines just after the village. Several weeks later, as part of Haig’s bite and hold plan, the 1st and 2nd Divisions would be jumping off from the new Canadian lines to take Thiepval Ridge, some 1 000 metres north west of their current position. The divisions would be covering fully half of the 6 000 yards of front planned for the attack, and would be advancing in broad daylight towards the Germans’ elevated position on top of the ridge.

After a three day bombardment, the 1st and 2nd Divisions attacked at 12h35 on 26 September.  Like most of the Somme attacks there was little room to manoeuvre or conceal preparations, so the divisions were caught out almost immediately under the German counter bombardment. The Canadian bombardment was able to keep the frontline trenches from functioning, but could not knock out the guns further back, which rained shells onto the battalions trying to cross the open ground to their objectives. Both divisions successfully moved across No Mans Land, though at high loss of life, and crashed into the trenches opposite, over running most over the course of a 3 hour struggle. As with Courcelette, the problem was less capturing a trench than holding the trench, and the battalions holding parts of Hessian, Kenora and the Zollern Graben struggled to hold them against multiple counter attacks.

By the end of the day, the trench systems at the ridge where still not fully captured and the British commander of the operation, Hubert Gough, called the attack off for the night, planned to begin again in the morning. However, the German regiments pulled out during the night, consolidating in the fortified Regina Trench system at the top of the ridge. Some effort was made to probe Regina trench, and the Canadian Divisions continued to skirmish around Kenora trench, but the large scale battle for Thiepval was over for the time being.  Canadian losses for the day were extremely heavy, total Allied losses for Thiepval were over 12 000.

Technological advancements

After their use at Courcelette, Thiepval was the second site of employment for the new British Mark I tanks. The Canadian divisions were given the use of the Corps two remaining workable tanks for the battle, one of which was a casualty of the mechanical problems that continued to plague them, and the other of which was knocked out by a direct hit from a German shell.  As with Courcelette, the small scale of their usage, problems with co-ordination and mechanical failure prevented the tanks from being effective.

Notable participants

Lt. Charles Edward Reynolds, DSO & MC 29th Battalion –Reynolds received the DSO for an attack against German positions that were firing on the 29th Battalion’s new position, one of the only objectives reached during the first minutes of Thiepval. Along with Sergeant W.A. Tennant, Reynolds led the attack, killing two German officers, and the strong point was taken. Tennant and Reynolds were the only survivors of the party.


Burial of Major Edward Lewin Knight, commander of the Eaton Motor Machine Gun Battery (Canadian Machine Gun Corps). Knight was killed on 26 September 1916. Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada. | Colourized for the first time ever by Canadian Colour.
Burial of Major Edward Lewin Knight, commander of the Eaton Motor Machine Gun Battery (Canadian Machine Gun Corps). Knight was killed on 26 September 1916. Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada. | Colourized for the first time ever by Canadian Colour. ]

Download our poster about the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Thiepval Ridge.

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15-22 September 1916


Dressing wounded in trench during the battle of Courcelette. Sept. 15, 1916. Library and Archives Canada | PA-000909 (modified from the original)

The Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916, however the Canadian Corps did not arrive on the field of battle until September 1916. Their first test? To take the fortified village of Courcelette on 15 September. Aside from the Canadian victory at Flers-Courcelette, the battle also marks the debut of General Sir Douglas Haig’s latest weapon, the tank.

The Canadian 2nd and 3rd Divisions attacked the outskirts of the village at 6:20AM on 15 September, under a creeping barrage. The barrage malfunctioned, lifting 100m before the German lines and leaving the men of the advancing first wave open to machinegun fire. Despite this setback, the attack was an unexpected success. With the help of one of the several tanks that were able to reach the battlefield the 20th and 21st Battalions took the Sugar Refinery, an objective outside the town and a German strongpoint. The trenches in front of Courcelette fell around 8AM.

At this point, Byng was faced with a decision.  Should he consider the attack as a single success and halt? Or continue with a second attack on the village itself, exploiting the advantage of the Canadian successes in the morning? Byng decided to take the second option and gave orders for the 22nd and 25th battalions to move up from the reserves for an attack on the village at 6PM, with the 26th Battalion in suppoer. The men had to quick march from their reserve positions to their jumping off points, crossing the battlefield of the morning as medics moved the wounded and dying back to the regimental aid posts.

Due to the spontaneous nature of Byng’s attack, both battalions would advance in full daylight without jumping off trenches, and only a light bombardment. The 22nd and the 25th advanced almost 2km to the outskirts of the village proper, sustaining heavy casualties. Upon reaching the first occupied German trenches, they attacked with bayonets, driving the Germans into the village itself. Attacking from the right, the men of the 22nd split into smaller groups to clear the village, with the 25th Battalion approaching from the left to meet in the middle. The Germans were pushed out of Courcelette by 6:30PM, though for how long no one knew.

Both battalions now had to dig in to face the inevitable German counterattacks. They were low on ammunition, food, and water, and scavenged German ammunition for use. The Germans attacked four times the night of 15 September, by the next day the 22nd Battalion was down to 200 men of the original 900. The battalions received a food and water party from the 26th Battalion on 17 October, their first meal in three days, and were ordered to attack the German trenches outside the village. On 18 September, the 22nd and 25th battalions were finally relieved, after 4 days of constant counterattacks. Casualties for Courcelette were 7,230 killed, wounded, or missing.

Technological advancements:

The use of tanks, a first during the war, was certainly the technological highlight of Courcelette. The British version of an armoured combat vehicle had been under development since 1915, with

Bringing in a wounded Canadian from the Battle of Courcelette, Sept. 1916. Photo: Library and Archives Canada | PA-000664
Bringing in a wounded Canadian from the Battle of Courcelette, Sept. 1916. Photo: Library and Archives Canada | PA-000664

the formation of the Landships Commission. Haig had hoped to use the new tanks on 1 July, but production delays had plagued the project, and they were not able to be used until September. Unfortunately, there were only 32 tanks available for use at Courcelette, of those 9 actually arrived at their starting positions. Most of those were quickly knocked out by German guns. The tanks moved slowly and at that time had very thin armour that could be easily pierced by a shell. Tanks in the First World War were still very much under development and did not see the widespread use that they would in the Second. They would appear again on the British front in 1917 at the Battle of Cambrai, and in the 100 Days campaign at the end of the war.

Notable participants: 

Captain (Later Lt.col)  Joseph Henry Chaballe (22nd Battalion), MC  for the capture and defense of the village or Courcelette against 13 counter attacks. Chabelle was wounded during the defense and continued fighting. He was later promoted and invalided out of a combat position after being diagnosed with shell shock in 1917. He wrote an article for La Canadienne in 1920 describing his experiences at Courcelette, as well as a history of the 22nd Battalion in both wars.

Corporal Arthur Fleming (26th Battalion), MM for leading a party that captured an enemy strong-point in the village of Courcelette. By the end of the battle 4 days later only Fleming and one other man of the party remained alive.

Pte  John Chipman Kerr (49th Battalion), VC for singlehandedly taking 62 prisoners and over 200 yards of trench with only a rifle on the second day of Courcelette. Kerr had the fingers of one hand blown off in the process, but survived the war.




Download our poster about the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Courcelette. 

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