Private Harry Brown, VC
A Centenary Action

16 August 1917

Private Harry Brown, VC.
Credit: Canada. Department of National Defence, 2017.

Private Harry Brown, of Gananoque, Ontario, was serving with the 10th Battalion (Canadians) during the attack on Hill 70. On 16 August 1917, while a meagre outpost was being reinforced by a small party of the battalion, the enemy was seen to be massing together. In order to save the outpost, artillery was desperately needed to break up the pending enemy counterattack.  By this stage of the battle, all wires to headquarters had been cut by shellfire. Private Harry Brown and a second runner were sent back with the urgent request for artillery support when they were caught in the open by a hostile barrage. Brown’s companion was killed, while Brown himself had his arm shattered. Still carrying the message, Brown carried on through shell holes and shattered trenches, slowly making his way toward an dugout with a working telephone.  

Looking out from one such dugout was an officer who “was peering out at the devastation” when suddenly “a dark form crawled out of the ruin and stumbled towards the dug-out. It was a soldier – hatless, pale, dirty, haggard, one arm hanging limp and bloody by his side”. (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 46). Reaching relative safety, Brown fell down the dug-out steps utterly exhausted, remaining conscious only ‘long enough to hand over his message, saying, “Important message.” ‘ (The London Gazette, Publication date: 16 October 1917, Supplement: 30338, Page: 10678). With his message passed along and artillery support on the way, Brown slipped into unconsciousness, dying from his wounds a few hours later at a dressing station in the early hours of 17 August 1917. Private Harry Brown, VC, is buried in Noeux-les-Mines Communal Cemetery.  

The official medal citation for Private Harry Brown, VC (first entry in the right-hand column).
The London Gazette, Publication date: 16 October 1917, Supplement: 30338, Page: 10678.

The Battle of Hill 70
A Centenary Action

Canadians in captured trenches on Hill 70. August, 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001718 (modified from the original). Colourized by Canadian Colour.

15-25 August 1917

Fought four months after Vimy Ridge, the Battle of Hill 70 was the first large Canadian engagement of the summer, and the first test of the Canadian Corps’ new commander- Lieutenant-General Arthur Currie. The city of Lens, an industrial coal mining centre, had been in German control since 1914, and was overlooked in the north by Hill 70. The original attack, given to Currie shortly after he took command of the Corps, called for the capture of the city by the end of July. Currie believed that Hill 70 was a more important objective, since controlling meant a strong artillery position above the city, and that rather than waste lives trying to take Lens, it would be better to neutralize the hill first and use it to draw the Germans out into an attack. He convinced his superior, General Henry Horne, at a meeting on 10 July of the worth of a more limited attack, and the battle was set for the end of July. Delays caused by poor weather moved the battle into August. Despite the change in plan, Hill 70 was still a very tough objective, and Currie had less than a month to plan and train his troops. Like his predecessor General Byng at Vimy, Currie wanted his men to know their exact objective, and made similar use of maps, classroom teaching, and scaled battlefields to ensure that every soldier in the Corps knew what they had to do and where.

The Corps attacked on 15 August at 4:25 am under a creeping barrage and smoke screen:

The artillery bombardment unleashed on Lens and Hill 70 left little of the city standing.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001872.

“… At four-twenty A.M. you’d have thought the earth had cracked open. My God, it was marvelous! I don’t know how many guns we have, some say one to every three men… With the first roar we manned the trench and began to move… No power on Earth could keep us from getting on the parapet to have a look. It was too dark to see the men advancing behind the barrage, but the line of fire – ye Gods! Try to imagine a long huge gas main which had been powdered here and there with holes and set fire to. The flame of each shell burst and merged into the flame of the other. It was perfect. It was terrible. The flames were dotted with black specks which were bits of rock and mud… After some while, the barrage died down. Only the scream of the heavies overhead and the whirr of planes and the heavy crump, crump, crump of Fritzie’s shells behind us searching for batteries. He might as well have tried to shove the sea back with a broom.”
18 August 1917
(Watson, Letters of a Canadian Stretcher-Bearer, p. 156 – 157)

Currie’s plan called for three phases of attack; the first to take the German line at the crest of the hill, the second to take the trenches on the downward slope towards Lens, and the third to take the lower-most arc of trenches at the foot of the hill. All three phases had to be achieved very quickly, so that the Canadians were in position against the inevitable German counter attack the Currie was inviting. At the same time, battalions from the 4th Division were engaged in a feint attack against Lens, to draw German attention away from Hill 70 to allow for more time to consolidate the position.

The attacks on 15 August went well, with the formation of a new Canadian front line comprising of parts of the second and third objectives, but German counter attacks began quickly after the initial gains, with the first at 7 am. On 16 August, the 2nd Division completed its objectives on the third line and Hill 70 was considered fully taken by the Canadians. Massed German gas attacks on 18 August made holding the hill miserable work, and many suffered from mustard gas related casualties, which burned the skin and caused blindness. By the end of 18 August, the German counter attacks calmed and the Corps spent the next several days consolidating before Currie ordered them into their next battle on 21 August – the attack on Lens. Casualties for the first six days of battle were 5 600 wounded, killed, or missing.

Dressing wounded Canadians during advance to Hill 70. August, 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001598.

Technological Advancements|

“A wounded Canadian leads in a Boche whose nerves have been shattered during our advance on Hill 70. August, 1917.”
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001597.

The Canadian Field Artillery was already using counter barrage techniques at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, but Hill 70 posed a particular challenge. Many of the Canadian guns and gunners had been moved to support the ongoing British battle at Passchendaele, leaving the CFA undermanned and using much older guns. Additionally, the weather leading up to the fight was consistently bad, making accurate location of the enemy guns difficult. However, Canadian artillery still succeeded in knocking out 40 of over 100 German batteries before the launch of the attack and continued to provide support with a creeping barrage on 15 August

-To meet the German counterattacks that he knew would come, Currie created a complex front zone of overlapping machine gun, rifle, and artillery fire that would be moved into place when the Corps had reached their objectives.  To reach the Canadian trenches, the Germans would have to attack through a field of live fire. Currie’s idea drew on information that he had learned from the French in the winter of 1917, who defended the city of Verdun using a similar technique

-Both the Germans and the Canadians used poison gas to devastating effect during Hill 70. The initial Canadian attack at 4:25 am took place behind a cloud of gas and smoke, which confused the German forces in the city and made them slow to respond. The German Army used mustard gas on 18 August, which unlike chlorine was not immediately detectable, and many Canadians were unwittingly poisoned because they waited too long to put on their respirators.

Pivotal Figures |

Lieutenant-General Arthur Currie –  Hill 70 was Currie’s first battle since his promotion to Corps commander in June 1917. The battle bore all the hallmarks of Currie’s later successes in 1918; careful preparation, co-operation between the artillery and the infantry, and bite and hold tactics. By the end of the war, Currie was considered to be one of the best generals in the British Army.

During the Battle of Hill 70 and subsequent attack on Lens, six Canadians received the Victoria Cross for their actions of valour.
Over the next ten days we will be posting in-depth accounts of each Victoria Cross recipient on the centenary date of their action. Click on an individual name to be taken to the account of their Victoria Cross.

Private Harry Brown (10th Battalion CEF) – A messenger, Brown was badly injured and his partner runner killed while delivering a message on 17 August 1917. He continued on and delivered his message before fainting from loss of blood. Pte Brown died of his wounds the same day.

Private Michael James O’Rourke ( 7th Battalion CEF)O’Rourke served as a stretcher bearer at Hill 70 and worked for three days under heavy fire to ensure that the wounded members of his battalion were evacuated. He survived the war and was the head of a 1 000 strong longshoreman’s strike in Vancouver in 1935.

Sergeant Frederick Hobson (20th Battalion CEF) – On 18 August 1917, after a Lewis gun post was buried and the crew killed, Hobson left his trench, dug out the gun, and fired on the attacking Germans until he was killed.

Major Okill Massey Learmonth (2nd Battalion CEF) – On 19 August 1917, during a German counterattack, Learmonth was wounded, but refused to leave his men instead directing them first from the parapet and then from the bottom of his trench, all the while throwing grenades. He died the same day of his wounds.

Company Sergeant-Major Robert Hill Hanna (29th Battalion CEF)- rushed an enemy machine-gun nest with four other men and captured it on 21 August 1917. Hanna immigrated to Canada from Ireland before the war.

Corporal Filip Konowal (47th Battalion CEF)- Konowal was tasked with clearing occupied cellars in the city of Lens during Currie’s second phase of attack after Hill 70. He single-handedly attacked two machine gun nests before being seriously wounded. Konowal survived the war and lived a tumultuously eventful life in Hull, QC.

Download our poster about the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Hill 70.

Today’s photograph has been colourized as part of the Vimy Foundation’s First World War In Colour project. Learn more about this project, and see additional photographs, by following this link:  http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/projects/ 

Editor’s Note – The term “Battle of Hill 70” is used by historians today to refer to the entire period of fighting from 15 – 25 August 1917. This includes the initial attack on Hill 70 and the attack a few days later on the town of Lens itself. After the war, Canadian Battalions were awarded the Battle Honour of HILL 70, which grouped both attacks as one collective campaign, thus, the “Battle of Hill 70” term endures. As the Vimy Foundation aims to raise awareness of these actions on their centenary, we have chosen to devote coverage to both important battles, based on their respective launch dates. For coverage of the Lens portion of the Battle of Hill 70, visit our Attack On Lens post.

 

 

 

Essex Farm Cemetery

Today, the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize group is visiting Essex Farm Cemetery, the Passchendaele Memorial and taking part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. In May 1915, it is believed Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army Medical Corps wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” while operating at Essex Farm Cemetery. To mark the centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission historians broadcast a series of live videos while visiting CWGC sites. Today we share the recording made at Essex Farm Cemetery.

https://www.facebook.com/commonwealthwargravescommission/videos/10154839965761094/   

Live from #CWGC Essex Farm Cemetery

Posted by Commonwealth War Graves Commission on Friday, July 28, 2017

British Declaration of War – Part II
August 1914-1917

An official notice to recruits, detailing the new standards for service. 
Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-28-2311.

Last week marked the 103rd Anniversary of the British Declaration of War in 1914. In a time before televisions and widespread use of radio, instant communication was less than ideal. Consequently for those not living within major city centres, word that the Empire was at war often took time to trickle down, and it’s delivery at times could be unconventional, to say the least. This was particularly true for those in the northern wilderness, as this account relates:

‘A surveyor working in the province’s Cascade Range more than 150 miles from the nearest telegraph office only learned in late September that a war had broken out somewhere. Trying to get more details was a challenge, for the man who told him could only communicate via the Chinook trade language.

“Who was fighting?” the surveyor asked.  

“Everybody,” the Indian replied. In Victoria and in Vancouver they fought, but not in Seattle.   

None of this made sense to the surveyor, whose questions only elicited more images of street battles in front of the Empress or Georgia hotels. Finally the Indian paused and shouted triumphantly, “King George, he fight.” Knowing that King George in Chinook meant Great Britain and that Englishmen were called King George’s Men, the surveyor suddenly understood. “I knew this meant that England and Germany were at it, and it took no time for me to decide as to what I should do.”

(Zuehlke, Brave Battalion – The Remarkable Saga of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) In The First World War, p. 11)  

Recruits on Station Street in Toronto, 9 November 1915. 
Credit: John Boyd/Library and Archives Canada/PA-071690.

*Editors Note: Today’s post is sourced from Mark Zuehlke’s Brave Battalion, written in 2008. However it should be noted, the story specifically is further cited by Zuehlke from H. M. Urquhart’s The History of the 16th Battalion (The Canadian Scottish) Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War, 1914-1919, written in 1932. The language has not been changed so as to remain true to the original document and reflect the vocabulary of that period, despite the use of language that may not be considered appropriate terminology by today’s standards.   

 

Mademoiselle From Armentières
A Legend In Song

Today we continue our brief post from Sunday, providing the historical context to the popular trench song Mademoiselle From Armentières. 

Although not from Armentières, two “mademoiselles” serve lunch to Canadian officers at their estaminet near Mericourt.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-004503.

The town of Armentières was a major hub for the rest and relaxation of troops pulled off the line. Brimming with estaminets and pubs, it became a legend of the First World War experience. In the midst of such revelry, a song began to circulate through the ranks. Circulating from unit to unit, printed in the trench newspapers, or picked up by new recruits passing through rear areas, “Mademoiselle From Armentières” was universally-known amongst the Commonwealth troops. Despite this, (or very well because of it), the song’s origins are largely unknown. As each group heard it sung, they began to adapt it for their own, adding local names, sayings, or entire verses. As the war went on and men were wounded, killed, or transferred from their original units, nobody could clearly recall where it came from, but most insisted it was from somewhere or someone in their nation’s ranks. In his memoir In The Trenches, 1914-1918Canadian Frank S. Iriam lays claim to at least some of the song for Canada: 

“[in February 1915] we were billeted in barns out in the country and used to walk into Armentières in the evenings just to see what we might see. The song was apparently sprouting at that time or in the formative stage. I remember we invented several lines to fit the air while walking back to our billets at night after visiting the town… The fact that these particular lines are still in common use seems to indicate we may have been the originators of the main body of that soldier’s ditty. I have read several very misleading articles in current papers and periodicals in regards to this song… I do not claim that we were the originators of this song and I do not remember just how it came to us. I do know that quite a few of those lines were invented by us at that time while walking back to the billets at night, and those lines are still in common use by ex-soldiers who sing it at times when they obtain sufficient lubrication to cause them to bust loose.” (Iriam, In The Trenches, 1914-1918, p. 27-28). 

British and French soldiers playing cards outside a family-run estaminet. Braisne, 16 October 1914.
© IWM (Q 53337)

In this reel from the Imperial War Museum,  1917 recording of sounds from behind the lines has captured troops lustily singing trench songs, including Mademoiselle From Armentières. For those interested, the entire reel provides a haunting opportunity to “listen-in” on the First World War one hundred years later. 

Listen here: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80000964
2:45 – It’s A Long Way To Tipperary, Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag
3:37 – Mademoiselle From Armentières 
© IWM, Catalogue number 970 

We are only providing a few verses here but it should be noted that some versions of the song reached as many as twenty-six individual verses, while very well hundreds may have been written! As usual, the song’s wording poked fun at the French language and the English inability to pronounce much of it properly. Moreover, this is a relatively “clean” version – a product of the front line, some versions were wickedly obscene and coarse. 

Today, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry continue to use the tune of Mademoiselle From Armentières as part of its regimental march. 

Mademoiselle From Armentières 

Mademoiselle from Armenteers, parlay-voo,
Mademoiselle from Armentieers, parlay-voo,
Mademoiselle from Armentieers,
She hasn’t been kissed for forty years,
Hinky pinky, parlay-voo. 

Our top kick in Armenteers, parlay-voo,
Our top kick in Armenteers, parlay-voo,
Our top kick in Armenteers
Soon broke the spell of forty years,
Hinky pinky, parlay-voo. 

The officers get all the steak, parlay-voo,
The officers get all the steak, parlay-voo,
The officers get all the steak
And all we get is a belly ache,
Hinky pinky, parlay-voo. 

(Lyrics taken from the version found in Max Arthur When This Bloody War Is Over – Soldiers’ Songs of the First World War, p. 76) 

Lord Beaverbrook
William Maxwell "Max" Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook, PC, ONB

Today, sixteen students selected from across Canada, England and France have embarked on the Vimy Foundation’s Beaverbrook Vimy Prize. The Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation is the generous benefactor of the Vimy Foundation’s flagship student program. To mark our students’ departure, today’s post shares the story of William Maxwell “Max” Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook, PC, ONB, revealing his impact on Canada’s First World War effort. 

Lord Beaverbrook
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-006467.

Born on 25 May 1879 in Maple, Ontario, William Maxwell Aitken grew up in Newcastle, New Brunswick. A wily entrepreneur, Aitken had attempted numerous business ventures by the time he wrote his first entrance exams for university. Unable to find his way with neither university nor law school, Aitken again returned to small business ventures, variably selling insurance, writing as a correspondent for the Montreal Star,  working in a law office and running a successful municipal election campaign. Gaining employment with the Stairs family of Halifax in the early 1900’s, Aitken’s business savvy quickly launched him to the fore, soon managing massive dealings of shares, stakes, and entire mergers, with ease. By 1910, Aitken moved to England, where he supported fellow New Brunswicker, Bonar Law, in becoming the only Canadian Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In the years leading up to the First World War, Aitken built up an empire around newspaper publication houses, as well as buying, and selling, a massive share in Rolls-Royce Limited. During this time he was also knighted, choosing the title of Lord Beaverbrook, in reference to a small stream from his hometown of Newcastle, New Brunswick. 

With the outbreak of war, Lord Beaverbrook sought a position of influence, eventually gaining one as the “eyes and ears” of Sir Sam Hughes, (the soon-to-be embattled Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence), in the United Kingdom. Although Beaverbrook was to collect and funnel information on the war back to Canada, on his own initiative, he enlarged this role by becoming something of a Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) historian and publicist. Using the newspapers he owned, Beaverbrook was able to write and publish positive coverage about the CEF overseas, often “highlighting their distinctiveness in relation to British soldiers” (Canadian War Museum, Lord Beaverbrook, 2017). Beaverbrook also variously authored, co-authored, and/or edited a three-volume contemporary history of the CEF titled Canada In Flanders. 

Facing resistance from the Canadian War Office, Beaverbrook then put forward his own funds to establish the Canadian War Records Office, with the goal of recording and publicizing the Canadian war effort. Due to Beaverbrook’s persistence, official photographers, filmmakers, and war artists were eventually permitted to record the scenes at the Canadian front, arriving mid-1916. Beaverbrook simultaneously created the Canadian War Memorials Fund, commissioning official war artists to paint scenes of the entire nation’s war effort. Nearly 120 British and Canadian artists were employed, three of whom were future Group of Seven members, and close to 1,000 works were created of both the war and home front. In 1918, Beaverbrook was appointed Minister of Information of the newly formed Ministry of Information, assuming responsibility for propaganda in the Commonwealth and neutral countries.  

Major Richard Jack paints the iconic The Second Battle of Ypres, 22 April to 25 May 1915 in his London studio. Historic works such as these were only made possible by Lord Beaverbrook’s establishment of the Canadian War Memorials Fund.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-004879

As a lasting legacy of the whirlwind entrepreneur, nearly 8,000 photographs produced by the Canadian War Records Office preserve Canada’s First World War history at Library And Archives Canada. Sadly, a large portion of the film collection was destroyed in a fire at the National Film Board in 1967. Meanwhile, the large canvases of war art were shuffled from various basements and vaults of the National Art Gallery before finally reaching the Canadian War Museum in the 1970’s. Slowly, these works have been carefully restored, preserved and displayed as the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art.

Learn more about Canada’s War Art by clicking here. 

The Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation is the generous benefactor of the Vimy Foundation’s flagship student program, the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize, which offers prestigious summer scholarships to youth 15-17 years of age to study the interwoven history of Canada, France and Great Britain during the First and Second World Wars. 

6 August 2017
Mademoiselle From Armentières

Today we share Mademoiselle From Armentières, an extremely popular trench song among Commonwealth troops. On Tuesday, August 8th we’ll share a post that provides an in-depth look at the historical context behind the song.  


Although not from Armentières, two “mademoiselles” serve lunch to Canadian officers at their estaminet near Mericourt.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-004503.

We are only providing a few verses here but it should be noted that some versions of the song reached as many as twenty-six individual verses! As usual, the song’s wording poked fun at both the French language and the English inability to pronounce much of it properly. Moreover, this is a relatively “clean” version – a product of the front line, some versions were wickedly obscene and coarse. 

In this reel from the Imperial War Museum, a 1917 recording of sounds from the front has captured troops lustily singing trench songs, including Mademoiselle From Armentières. The entire reel provides a haunting opportunity to “listen-in” on the First World War one hundred years later. 

Listen here: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80000964
Starting at 2:45 – It’s A Long Way To Tipperary, Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag
Starting at 3:37 – Mademoiselle From Armentières  

© IWM, Catalogue number 970 

Mademoiselle From Armentières 

Mademoiselle from Armenteers, parlay-voo,
Mademoiselle from Armentieers, parlay-voo,
Mademoiselle from Armentieers,
She hasn’t been kissed for forty years,
Hinky pinky, parlay-voo. 

Our top kick in Armenteers, parlay-voo,
Our top kick in Armenteers, parlay-voo,
Our top kick in Armenteers
Soon broke the spell of forty years,
Hinky pinky, parlay-voo. 

The officers get all the steak, parlay-voo,
The officers get all the steak, parlay-voo,
The officers get all the steak
And all we get is a belly ache,
Hinky pinky, parlay-voo. 

(Lyrics taken from the version found in Max Arthur’s When This Bloody War Is Over – Soldiers’ Songs of the First World War, p. 76) 

4 August 1914-2017
British Declaration of War

The London Gazette Publication date: 4 August 1914 Supplement: 28861 Page: 6161

Today, 4 August 2017, marks the 103rd Anniversary of the British Declaration of War on the German Empire in 1914. The declaration came over a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June 1914. Four years later, countries, empires, and arguably the entire world, had been irrevocably altered.  

One of the popular explanations for Britain’s declaration of war maintains that the English were provoked by Germany’s invasion of Belgium, thus automatically compelling them to honour their alliance to protect Belgian neutrality. While it is beyond the scope of our social media posts to tackle such a complex topic, we would like to share the following podcast, produced by BBC Radio 4 for the 1914-2014 centennial. It provides an interesting primer to the discussion on British reasons for the declaration of war. The entire Month of Madness program is an intriguing, accessible study of the five nations at the centre of that tumultuous summer of 1914. 

Listen to it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03th83q 

Crowds outside Buckingham Palace cheer King George, Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales (who can just be seen on the balcony) following the Declaration of War in August 1914.
© IWM (Q 81832)

 

2 August 1917
A Centenary Action

“A little French paper boy selling English papers in Canadian line. June, 1917.”
Credit: Library and Archives Canada / PA-001436 (modified from the original).
Colourized by Canadian Colour

On 2 August 1917, Ralph Watson, a stretcher-bearer with the 29th (Vancouver) Battalion, humourously wrote home to his wife in Ottawa: 

“This morning got a very old paper. Young French kids bring papers right up, when they can get hold of them, a French “civile” will face the whole German Army for a franc.” (Watson, Letters of a Canadian Stretcher-Bearerp.153) 

Today’s photograph has been colourized as part of the Vimy Foundation’s First World War In Colour project. Learn more about this project, and see additional photographs, by following this link:   http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/projects/ 

 

1 August 1917
A Centenary Action

August 1917 would prove to be another monumental month for the Canadian Corps, with its successful attacks on Hill 70 and Lens. Unfortunately, these battles lie in the shadow of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and for many years have not received the recognition they deserve; indeed, the Battle of Hill 70 has been referred to as the Forgotten Victory. The Vimy Foundation continues to strive to correct this gap in our national memory, by bringing attention to the many centennial events of 1917, including the Battle of Hill 70 and Lens. On 7 August 2017, sixteen students aged 14 – 17 years old will depart Canada on the Vimy Foundation’s Beaverbrook Vimy Prize. In anticipation of their commemoration of the Battle of Hill 70, as well as other important milestones in Canada’s military history, today’s post begins a series of coverage on that monumental battle of August 1917.

On the cusp of the attack on Hill 70, the skies over the Canadian Corps suddenly opened up. Any hope of launching the attack in late July 1917 were dashed by a sudden torrent of rain. For those on the ground, while the weather may have provided comfort by delaying the frightening thoughts of an attack, it also worsened their prospects of a speedy advance and prolonged their exposure to the elements. In letters written home just before the scheduled date of attack, stretcher bearer Ralph Watson of the 29th (Vancouver) Battalion lamented: 

“Unable to ride his cycle through the mud caused by the recent storm. A Canadian messenger carries his “horse”. August, 1917.”
Credit: Library and Archives Canada/PA-001581 (modified from the original).
Colourized by Canadian Colour

“29 July 1917… Today it has unexpectedly rained, heavily; aeroplane work at a most critical moment is suspended; and roads already in very bad shape. In all probability, the advance will be held up. The trenches, incidentally, will be hell…” (Watson, Letters of a Canadian Stretcher Bearer, 1914 – 1917, p. 150-151). 

“1 August 1917… Weather worse – it’s damnable. Was there ever such luck! Rain came so badly through roof had to hunt around for corrugated iron to put on the remains of the ceiling beams – that is, on what was once the bedroom floor. All dry then, huge open wood fire – jake!” (Watson, Letters of a Canadian Stretcher Bearer, 1914 – 1917, p. 153).

Today’s photograph has been colourized as part of the Vimy Foundation’s First World War In Colour project. Learn more about this project, and see additional photographs, by following this link:  http://www.vimyfoundation.ca/projects/