5 August 1917
A Centenary Action

By 5 August 1917, the rain that had started on 29 July had still not stopped, much to the chagrin of stretcher-bearer Ralph Watson, who sarcastically called into question the allegiance of the weather man: 

“Still rain, rain, rain, no change. The trenches and shell holes will now be quite full… But we can’t fight the elements too, and as Germany has evidently enlisted the weather man on his side, what can we do? It is beyond words. You can safely arrange your Xmas festivities and leave me out.” (Watson, Letters of a Canadian Stretcher-Bearer, p. 154)

Whether under rain, sun, or shellfire, there was little to be done by the average soldier other than try to grin and bear the brunt. In letters written home, troops often described their suffering in light-hearted descriptions, such as Watson continues to do in his letter from 5 August 1917. 

“Last night, Fritz came back a bit in this little burg. None came too close to our particular bedroom. At least, we didn’t consider it too close, though I guess if shells burst near enough to your house in Ottawa to throw mud and bricks down your basement steps, you wouldn’t sleep much. It depends on your point of view… Last night was the best night I ever had, with my own pillow and sandbag blanket… I pinched a few sandbags today, tied them together, dried them out, and have what I think will make quiet a blanket.” (Watson, Letters of a Canadian Stretcher-Bearer, p. 155) 

Today’s photograph of Canadians on Salisbury Plain 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/ 


“Canadians mudlarking on Salisbury Plain, 1914.” Fortunately for Canadians they were accustomed to mud, having been indoctrinated in its finer points while training on Salisbury Plain.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada / PA-022705 (modified from the original).
Colourized by Canadian Colour.

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/