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German Atrocities in Cemetery

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Running Time
02 min 42 s

Canadian War Records Office, Ministry of Information

This clip includes a series of images of cemeteries. The first shot of a German grave is followed by several images of a French civilian cemetery. We then see a small cross inscribed with the words “3 Gunners, 3rd Battery CF, Killed in Action 2 June 1916,” followed by two pans of soldiers walking around cemeteries. A travelling shot shows an immense cemetery with thousands of graves. A still image of a crucifix is followed by a marker inscribed with the phrase “To an Unknown British Hero.” Two shots of a monumental cross commemorating the dead at Vimy Ridge are followed by a series of images of gravestones, one inscribed in German.

Scenes of destroyed graveyards are a staple of wartime propaganda. Along with images of bombed churches and hospitals, they are intended to illustrate the enemy’s barbaric behaviour. In fact, many of these images may be documenting collateral damage — accidental damage inflicted during attacks on adjacent targets. In other cases, cemeteries may have been used for military purposes and thus have become legitimate military targets.

The inscription “3 Gunners, 3rd Battery CF, Killed in Action 2 June 1916” indicates that the cross marks the burial site of three Canadian artillerymen from the 3rd Battery Canadian Field Artillery, a unit of the 1st Canadian Division. The date suggests that they were killed on the first day of the Battle of Mount Sorrel. They probably died in counter-battery fire – i.e. enemy fire that deliberately engaged Canadian artillery in order to silence it.

The Canadians who fought in the Battle of Mount Sorrel were mostly from the 3rd Division. Early in the morning on June 2, 1916, the German forces suddenly unleashed a storm of artillery fire upon the Canadian positions. The attack continued for hours and was the heaviest attack experienced by Canadian troops until that time. The unit that took the hardest hit was the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles – from a total of 702 officers and men, only 76 survived.

The cross at Vimy Ridge honours men from the 2nd Canadian Division as well as members from the 13th British Infantry Brigade, who were attached to the Canadian Division for the Vimy operation. Canadian troops were vital in the capture of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 — the most significant Allied victory until that time. This cross was later brought home to Canada by members of the 22nd Battalion and is now displayed at the Citadel in Quebec City, home of the Royal 22e Régiment.

It was common practice for units and formations to honour fallen comrades by placing markers on the battlefield. Most markers were made of wood and would disintegrate with time, but a number were brought back to Canada and displayed in regimental museums. The only known Canadian unit memorial that remains in its original location is in Passchendaele, Belgium, where the original monument to the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) was replaced in 2002 by a replica made of Nova Scotia granite.


Early-war Military Cemetery RMR Cross, Tara Hill Cemetery on the Somme, 1916 Courcelette - Monument to the Canadians Vimy Memorial, 1917 Troops Looking at Vimy  Memorial, 1917

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