Battle of Arras 2
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04 min 54 s
Canadian War Records Office, Ministry of Information
The British advance toward the enemy’s Hindenburg Line positions was slow, movement hampered by German demolitions and the terrible condition of the ground in a cold, wet winter. Troops moved by road when they could, and supplies were also brought forward.
The German air force in the spring of 1917 generally was outfighting the British and French air forces, its aircraft, such as the shot-down Albatross shown in this clip, superior in manoeuvrability and fire power.
Little in this British-shot film covers the Canadians’ victory at Vimy Ridge, but the photographers did include some footage of artillery firing at the German trenches atop the ridge. The guns were likely British, a useful reminder that much of the artillery support that Easter Monday of 1917 was from the heavy and medium regiments of the Royal Artillery.
Pieces of History
Military Logistics of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914–1919
Canadian military logistics is a dimension of the history of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) that is often overlooked. Yet just a few days after Canada’s entry into the First World War, it was obvious that there was no way of ignoring it. When huge numbers of military and civilian volunteers showed up at Valcartier, near Quebec City, in August 1914, logistical support services, which had only recently been established, were soon put to the test. Clothing and equipping the members of the first contingent turned out to be a real headache. Manufacturers had to be found and contracts drawn up in a hurry for the production of uniforms, boots, belts, weapons, vehicles and so on. From a logistical standpoint, mobilizing the first contingent destined for Europe was a nightmare.
Throughout the Great War, the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s logistical support system was an immense, complex operation. Of all the support services, the Canadian Army Service Corps (CASC) was the most diversified. Its main responsibilities were transporting combat troops, delivering equipment and materials, and providing the troops with fresh supplies. In addition to these essential tasks, the CASC also evacuated the wounded (ambulance drivers belonged to the corps), salvaged equipment that had been captured from the enemy or left behind on the battlefield and delivered mail. The CASC worked closely with the Canadian Ordnance Corps, the Canadian Army Medical Corps, and the Canadian Artillery Corps for the transportation of specialized ordnance.
The CASC operated from seaports located hundreds of kilometres from the battlefield, all the way to just behind the front lines. Its replenishment system could supply not only small groups of just a few men but also formations the size of an infantry battalion (approximately 1,000 men).
Resupplying front-line units was a multistep process. From ports and depots, supplies were first taken by railway to railheads. From there, CASC units were responsible for moving the supplies by truck or light railway to supply dumps. These operations took place in the third line of supply. Thanks to their small size, light railways could run and reach areas closer to the front lines more easily. It was also harder for enemy artillery to pinpoint them. The administrative area behind the front lines was crisscrossed by light rail lines that were built and maintained by Canadian railway troops.
From the supply dumps, the CASC’s divisional train and ammunition supply column, both of which were horse-drawn, were responsible for bringing supplies closer to the front lines, to their respective divisions or individual units. This was the second line of supply.
Lastly, operations to supply front-line units constituted the first line of supply. These units had to come back to the rear to get their own supplies of gear, ammunition, weapons, technical and communications equipment, water, medication and food. These supply expeditions were carried out chiefly at night so that the soldiers could not be seen by the enemy. But assigning combat troops to this task meant that a battalion’s defensive positions at the front would be short of manpower for a time and so vulnerable to enemy attack.
Toward the end of the war, however, a Canadian officer from Montreal proposed using the tumpline system — the method that Canada’s aboriginal people and coureurs de bois had used to carry large loads on foot. Before the introduction of this system, infantryman had to carry supplies in their arms, thus limiting the quantity of materials due to their size and weight. The tumpline system, which involved the use of a head strap, allowed the soldiers to carry more weight and freed up their arms, thus giving them more freedom of movement. With this system, each soldier was able to transport a greater quantity of supplies and so fewer men were required for the job, leaving more troops to ensure the defence of the front lines.
Besides regularly providing drivers and vehicles to other units, the CASC also maintained and repaired its vehicles. It also had to make sure that the troops were fed, which meant that fresh and hard rations had to be allocated and distributed properly; its military cooks oversaw the operation of field bakeries and butcheries.
The CASC was not the only logistical support corps to play a key role in the CEF. The Canadian Ordnance Corps was responsible for procuring, storing and distributing uniforms, boots, equipment, weapons, ammunition and shells to combat troops. Specialized supply depots, located in the second line of supply, helped ensure more effective distribution.
The Canadian Ordnance Corps’ other major role was to maintain equipment in the field. The repairmen in the specialized ordnance mobile workshops could get closer to the deployed units and repair their weapons, both light and heavy, as well as their equipment. If the mobile workshops were not able to do the repairs on site, the weapons and equipment were shipped to heavy or stationary workshops at the rear, where virtually anything could be reassembled or rebuilt. The small detachments of the Ordnance Corps worked closely with the various units of the Army Service Corps.
Despite the gradual mechanization of the war, horses remained a vital component of the CEF. The cavalry, the artillery and, of course, the Army Service Corps used huge numbers of horses right up to the end of the war. At one point, Canadians were using as many as 24,000 horses and mules in their overseas operations. Horses could often manage in places where motorized vehicles could make no headway! Inevitably, some horses suffered injuries or fell ill. The Canadian Veterinary Corps operated mobile sections to take care of horses; it also ran veterinary hospitals for horses, advanced remount depots and specialized basic provisions depots.
Other logistical support services also played a crucial role in enabling combat troops to get on with their job. The Canadian Postal Corps, for instance, helped maintain the morale of soldiers at the front, at the rear and also those convalescing in hospitals. Army chaplains, who constituted the smallest organized support group, provided religious services to Canadian soldiers of different faiths and offered moral support at difficult times. Lastly, despite the enemy’s efforts to maintain a naval blockade by submarines, the Canadian Forestry Corps ensured that Great Britain, France and the Canadian Expeditionary Force obtained all the timber they needed to carry out their military operations.
Thousands of men served in these various organizations. The Army Service Corps, for example, counted over 17,000 officers and non-commissioned soldiers in its organization. Even if these units were not combat troops, many of them, including the Army Service Corps, played important roles in all military actions. One hundred and four members of the CASC were killed, and 363 were wounded.
Brown, Ian Malcolm. British Logistics on the Western Front, 1914-1919. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 1998.
Canadian Army Service Corps, 2nd Divisional Train: Record of Service of Officers, 1914-1919. Brian Pontifex, comp. Toronto: Carswell, 1920.
Davies, W.J.K. Light Railways of the First World War: A History of Tactical Rail Communications on the British Fronts, 1914-18. Newton Abbot, UK: David & Charles, 1967.
French, Cecil. A History of the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps in the Great World War, 1914-1919. C.A.V. Barker and Ian K. Barker, eds. Guelph: Crest Books, 1999.
Jackson, H.M. The 127th Battalion, CEF; 2nd Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops. Montreal: Industrial Shops for the Deaf, 1957?.
Johnston, James Robert. Riding into War: The Memoir of a Horse Transport Driver, 1916-1919. Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions and The New Brunswick Military Heritage Project, 2004.
Love, David W. “A Call to Arms”: The Organization and Administration of Canada’s Military in World War One. Calgary: Bunker To Bunker Books, 1999.
Phelan, Frederick Ross. “Army Supplies in the Forward Area and the Tumpline System: A First World War Canadian Logistical Innovation.” Canadian Military History 9, no 1 (Winter 2000): 31-45 [reprinted from the article published in the Canadian Defence Quarterly in October 1928].
To the Thunderer his Arms: The Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps. William F. Rannie, ed. Lincoln, ON: W.F. Rannie, 1984.
Warren, Arnold. Wait for the Waggon: The Story of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1961.
Artillery: The Great Killer
Historian, Canadian War Museum
In 1914 and 1915, artillery proved it was the great killer. For those caught in the open, shrapnel and high explosive shells wreacked havoc. Thousands were left rotting on the battlefields. However, artillery guns were vulnerable to small arms fire, and they could be driven away from the front. But the guns were soon firing indirectly from hidden positions several kilometeres to the rear, still causing terrible damage. Soldiers were forced to find safety in trenches, digging beneath the ground to escape the murderous fire.
As trenches were strengthened with barbed wire, deep dugouts, and machine -guns, an enormous weight of fire was needed to smash the enemy defences and support the infantry. But there were not always enough shells in the early years to feed the guns. And so the infantry were killed in the tens of thousands as they attacked undamaged enemy trenches in frontal assaults. As the war lengthened, artillerymen received nearly unlimited supplies of shells through the enormous production of munitions factories. New tactics were also developed to improve the accuracy of the guns.
Artillery shells contained high explosives, shrapnel, and, later in the war, poison gas and smoke. Both the high explosive and shrapnel shells were timed to detonate in the air above a target. High explosive shells blasted holes in the trenches and the concussion alone could kill, as lungs collapsed under the force of the explosion. Shrapnel shells were equally deadly, consisting of more than 300 rounded metal balls that exploded downward in a cone-shaped rain of whirling metal. As well, the casing of the shell was designed to explode outward, creating jagged, uneven shards of steel that tore through flesh.
By 1916, commanders believed that massive artillery shoots, involving hundreds of thousands of shells, would annihilate the enemy defenders. This would allow the infantry to punch a hole through enemy lines and restore mobility on the Western Front.
However, it was often hard to hit, and then destroy, the narrow and well-fortified trenches. The problem also lay in the shell fuses. Earlier types were not sensitive enough to explode on contact, especially with shells tasked to clear barbed wire. As a result, many of the shells exploded in the ground, killing very few of the enemy, leaving the infantry to fight their way through defences-in-depth. By the end of 1916, newer, sensitive fuses that exploded on the slightest contact harnessed the destructive power of the artillery and, equally important to the infantry, cleared barbed wire from in front of enemy trenches.
Tactics again changed during the later phases of the bloody battles of the Somme in the last half of 1916. The gunners would never be able to destroy all of the German defences, and even one machine -gunner could kill hundreds of attacking infantry. Instead, the artillery sought to suppress enemy fire through a “creeping barrage,” and give their own attacking infantry enough time to cross the killing zone of nNo Mman’s Lland.
Gunners fired their shells to create a “creeping” wall of fire that slowly moved forward over the enemy lines at fixed intervals: 50 yards (46 m) every couple of minutes, less for muddy ground, more for open warfare. In effect, it was a screen of fire and explosives. As this moving wall of shrapnel and high explosives chewed up the ground in its path, the infantry were told to “lean into the barrage” and stay as close as possible. Although friendly fire was expected and occurred, the casualties would still be lighter than if the creeping barrage moved off and allowed German machine -gunners, waiting in the safety of deep dugouts, to get to the top of their trenches before the infantry crossed nNo Mman’s lLand.
At the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, the gunners had perfected the creeping barrage. Yet enemy gunners still took a fearful toll as they laid down their own counter-barrages to catch the follow-on waves of infantry. The enemy guns had to be stopped, or slowed, but it was exceedingly difficult to identify, target, and destroy camouflaged guns several kilometeres away.
Accurate intelligence was essential, and new and refined forms of science aided the gunners. The Canadian Corps was lucky to have Brigadier-General Andrew McNaughton, commander of the counter-battery office for much of the war, who embraced new technology and tactics. A prewar professor at McGill University, he turned to science to save his soldiers lives.
The Canadian Counter Battery Office (CCBO), established in February 1917, gathered intelligence and processed information on the enemy to assist in knocking out his guns. Aerial reconnaissance from the Royal Flying Corps (later Royal Air Force) was of great assistance as airmen photographed the front from great heights. Later in the war, observation aircraft circled the battlefield, passing real-time information to the gunners through letter drops and primitive wireless radio.
As the CCBO developed after April 1917, this information-gathering and target-selection became more sophisticated, with new technology, like sound-ranging and flash-spotting, assisting gunners to find and destroy enemy targets.
Flash-spotting involved the coordination of observers. At least three posts were needed, usually spread out along several kilometeres. When an enemy gun position was spotted by the revealing flash as the shell left the barrel, the observers were telephoned by headquarters to turn their attention to that spot. After studying the flash of the gun, the observers would hit a key that was connected to a lamp at headquarters. From the observers’ bearings, and by triangulating their estimates, enemy guns could be located with high precision.
Sound-ranging worked on a similar principle. Listeners sat two kilometeres behind the line with their microphones. Additional posts were manned well ahead of these positions. As long as there was not more than one shell per second being fired, on hearing the crash of an enemy gun, the forward listening post pressed a key that started an oscillograph, an instrument that recorded on film the sound of the shell in flight as it reached each microphone in turn. The time-intervals between the microphones allowed the CCBO to analyse the information and, if conditions were optimal, pinpoint enemy guns to within twenty-five 25 yards (23 m). All available counter-battery guns would be aimed on that spot to deliver a destructive shoot of 50-100 shells. Chemical shells were also used to kill or force the enemy gunners to wear debilitating respirators that severely affected the rate of fire.
In the last year of the war, artillery had perfected the creeping barrage and was steadily improving its counter-battery work. Further tactical refinement allowed gunners to fire more complicated barrages, like a box barrage. The box barrages set up a wall of fire and explosives around an enemy position —-- usually a trench —-- which effectively isolated it from reinforcements. It allowed assaulting Canadian infantrymen to capture and consolidate a position without fear of immediate counterattack.
By war’s end, 43,914 gunners had served in the Canadian artillery, and 2,565 had lost their lives from disease, injury, and battlefield wounds. They had fired tens of millions of shells, reducing the landscape to a desolate wasteland, and an estimated 60% of all wounds were inflicted by shell fire. The First World War was indeed a gunner’s war.
Cook, Tim. No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the First World War. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1999.
McNaughton, A.G.L. “Counter-Battery Work.” Canadian Defence Quarterly 3, 4 (July, 1926).
McNaughton, A.G.L. “The Development of Artillery in the Great War.” Canadian Defence Quarterly 4, 2 (January, 1929).
Nicholson, G.W.L. The Gunners of Canada: The History of the Royal Regiment of the Canadian Artillery, Vol. 1: 1534-1919 Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1967.
Rawling, William. Surviving Trench Warfare: Technology and the Canadian Corps, 1914-1918. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.
Swettenham, John. McNaughton, Volume I. Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1968.
By late March 1917, some battle-weary troops thought the war would never end. Many had once thought they’d be home by Christmas in 1914. But now the war was in its 32nd month, with no end in sight.
Worse yet, they seemed bogged down in a stalemate of sodden, static trench warfare. In spite of fierce fighting and grievous casualty lists, there had been no Allied breakthroughs, no stunning victories and no major advances. On the contrary, there had been devastating slaughter on the Somme and at Verdun the year before. And German U-boats were wreaking havoc on the seas, sinking tons of Allied shipping daily. Would it ever end?
In early April came a glimmer of hope. The United States was finally entering the war. Canadian trench raids, though costly, were finding critical intelligence regarding the status of German defences. And the British were planning a new offensive in the critical Arras sector of France. Canadian troops, as part of the British First Army, would have a major role in the “Battle of Arras.”
To the Canadian Corps, under the command of British Lieutenant General Sir Julian Byng, fell the heavy responsibility of providing the defensive flank for the Third Army, and capturing what was reputed to be the strongest German defensive position in Northern France. It was “tactically one of the most important features of the entire Western Front.”1 Its name was Vimy Ridge.
There was just one problem. It was thought to be impregnable. Many, on both sides of No Man’s Land, believed the Ridge couldn’t be taken. After all, the Germans had held it since early in the war (October 1914) and had repulsed both British and French attempts to re-capture it2.
The Germans well appreciated its value, and to this end had tightened up their defensive lines, reinforcing them with concrete gun emplacements, complete with barbed wire. They had also fortified their trenches and dugouts, knowing that well-entrenched troops, with machine guns and artillery, could repulse a numerically superior enemy. They called their massive defensive system the Siegfried Stellung, more popularly known as the Hindenberg Line. Vimy was its “anchor point” or keystone.
And so the scene was set.
Byng had called upon the increasingly impressive Canadian, Major General Arthur Currie, Commander of the 1st Canadian Division, to assist in the Vimy preparations. Both Byng and Currie, respectful of the price their troops would have to pay, were careful planners. Both knew the importance of sound preparation for such an endeavour. They would leave nothing to chance. (Currie even visited Verdun for insights.)
Massive preparations had begun in February. Old roads were repaired. New roads were built. More ammunition dumps were constructed. Light railway tracks were laid. Additional cable and telephone lines were installed. And Byng and Currie insisted that not just the officers but every man know his task and what to expect in the confusion of battle. Soldiers received detailed maps of the enemy territory. (About 40,000 maps were distributed.) They were to memorize the location of every trench, every mound, every fortification. Even a replica of the battle area was constructed behind the Canadian lines to familiarize soldiers with the terrain. It was revised daily as aerial photographs revealed changes in the German front lines. Training was relentless, thorough, disciplined.
And there were more arrows in Canada’s quiver. The attacking troops would approach Vimy Ridge in stealth through 12 underground tunnels (“subways”) constructed largely by the British with some Canadian work parties. While the tunnels could hardly be called sophisticated, some had electric light, running water and ventilation systems. Most important, they would conceal and protect the attacking troops till the last moment.
But the real key to victory on Vimy Ridge would rest with the artillery. As some liked to say, “the artillery conquers and the infantry occupies.” And the artillery had several surprises in store for the Germans.
The preliminary bombardment, under Brigadier-General E.W.B. Morrison, had already begun (March 20-April 2). It was relentless, pulverizing German targets day and night. Using information from aerial observers, trench raids and prisoner interrogation, the artillery fired not only on trenches, machine gun emplacements and strong points, but ammunition dumps, roads and communication systems. And that was just for preliminaries.
The artillery had still more in store for the Germans. Lieutenant Colonel A.G.L. McNaughton, Counter-Battery Staff Officer, had studied the deleterious effect of gun barrel wear on bombing precision, and ensured that key guns were carefully calibrated for accurate firepower. Brigadier General Raymond Brutinel perfected “indirect” machine gun fire to disrupt German road traffic, incoming troops and supplies. By Easter Sunday, 1917, all was in readiness. Troops waited, taut with anticipation.
Overhead, fierce aerial battles had already begun. In the days prior to the Arras offensive, 28 British aircraft were shot down (to Germany’s 15). Among those who still plied the skies were Canada’s Billy Bishop (who won the Military Cross on April 7), and Germany’s Baron Manfred von Richthofen.
At 5:30 on Easter Monday morning, April 9, the heavens reverberated with the sound of nearly a thousand guns and mortars. In driving sleet the first waves of more than 30,000 men of Canada’s four divisions, all fighting side-by-side for the first time, stretched out over four miles in the clinging mud3. Immediately in front of them, in practised precision and split-second timing, the artillery spread a carpet of fire — a “creeping” (or “rolling”) barrage4.
The rest is history.
Twelve hours later, most of the ridge — expect for Hill 145 and “The Pimple — had been taken. By dawn of April 12, Canada had captured all of Vimy Ridge. The Canadian Corps had accomplished in a few days what neither the British nor French could do in two years.
They had advanced some 4,000 metres, seized 54 guns, 104 trench mortars and 124 machine guns. They had taken more than 4,000 German prisoners5. Four valiant men had won the VC, but nearly 3,600 troops would never see Canadian shores again. More than 7,000 were wounded.
It cannot be said that the capture of Vimy Ridge changed the course of the war. It was, in fact, part of a larger campaign that failed. But it can be said that Canada won the first major offensive of the First World War. Some say the Vimy Ridge “was one of the notable feats of arms of the entire war.”6 Some say that the real significance of Vimy Ridge came in 1918, when the German assault on Arras “would certainly have been successful had they still held Vimy Ridge.”7 Some say the feat helped earn Canada its own place at the League of Nations.
And still many others say that it was on that blustery day in April 1917 that Canada truly “came of age” when its noble sons did the impossible on the sodden crest of Vimy Ridge.
1Nicholson, Official History, page 244
2The French had suffered heavy losses trying twice to capture Vimy Ridge in 1915, and the British lost ground there in 1916.
3Nicholson notes (Official History, page 252) that the Canadian Corps had a strength of approximately 170,000 men, all ranks, including British Units.
4The barrage had been introduced, with limited success, the year before on the Somme.
5Source; Nicholson, Official History, page 265
6Tucker, page 128
7Cruttwell, page 408
Wartime Letter from Captain Bellenden S. Hutcheson
This letter is transcribed from a rough draft found in an old trunk in 1989. Probable restorations of illegible characters are enclosed in brackets.
Dear Captain Gwynn;
Replying to your first series of questions, concerning the 76th Brigade of Royal Field Artillery:
The 76th Brigade was supporting the Canadian Infantry which was holding the line in front of Vimy. The brigade consisted of four batteries of 18 pounders (field guns) and one battery of 4.5 inch Howitzers. The cover of the guns, while poor was, I suppose, as good as that usually occupied by field guns in position only a few days, and the quarters of the gun that crews were in cellars near the guns, but the shells thrown at us were eight inch, and armour piercing. At least the artillerymen said that they were armour piercing, and after viewing the effects of their explosions I was in no position to argue with them. After several dugouts had been blown in, some of the uninjured personnel set to work digging out the injured while the bombardment was in progress and it was this rescue work which was carried out under scanty or no cover.
The bombardment lasted from 1 p.m. until 10 p.m., with a few periods of lull, and was apparently counter battery work on the part of the enemy. Our guns were not in action.
As you surmise, the gun crews had taken refuge in cellars, not anticipating a bombardment of such intensity with heavy stuff. Gas shells and high explosions were intermingled. My work consisted in dressing the wounded, checking hemorrhage, giving a hypo of morphine when necessary and seeing that the injured were evacuated to the rear. The gas used that day was the deadly sweetish smelling phosgene. It was my first experience with gas in warfare and I wore a mask part of the time and instructed the men to do so whenever there was a dangerous concentration. You ask about my own reaction. It was of course very disconcerting to endeavor to dress wounded while shells were showering debris about, and the possibility of being in the next few seconds in the same plight as the terribly wounded men I was dressing, occurred to me every now and then. The whole thing seemed rather unreal, particularly when it occurred to me, busy as I was, that the killing was being done deliberately and systematically. I felt particularly sorry for the young artillery men, (and many of them were about 19) who were being subjected to the ordeal. I remember one man who had a ghastly wound which would obviously prove fatal in a short time, pleading with me, amidst the turmoil of explosions, to shoot him. Every soldier who has seen action since knows that it requires the highest type of stamina and bravery for troops to lie in a trench and take a heavy shelling without being demoralized and panic stricken, therefore I shall always remember the orderly rescue work carried on by the officers and men of the artillery in the face of the concentrated shelling that occurred that afternoon.
You ask about the work of the artillery officers. They very bravely and ably directed the men in the work of rescue and tried to keep gun crews intact as nearly as possible, in order to fire at any time, should orders to do so, be received.
During the trench tours in front of Lens, I usually had a deserted gun pit or cellar communicating with the support trench as a dressing station. The actions about the G[um] Crossin and La Coulotte, though attended by heavy casualties, were more in the nature of raids or diverting attacks, than holding attacks, therefore, I did not accompany the attacking parties. During a trench tour I stuck close to the dressing station if the enemy was active, in order to look after the injured, if things were quiet I visited the different headquarters of the platoons and companies holding the line. Going into the line was sometimes the most disagreeable part of the tour, because of the darkness, danger of getting lost, the mud, and the shelling of the roads just behind the line. The Passchendaele Campaign was carried on in a sea of mud. I have never seen a drearier sight than the salient in front of Ypres -- churned up mud with mucky shell holes and never a tree as far as the eye could reach. It was necessary to march single file on duck walk because of the mud for a distance of five or six miles when going in for a tour. We were machine-gunned and bombed from the air and subjected to a terrific shelling on the way in and nothing like a real trench system was possible, the line being held by a series of posts in shell holes. My dressing station was located beside a concrete "pill box", an old German strong point. Captain Dunlap, medical officer of the 102nd Battalion, who was later killed, shared the dressing station with me. I had never met Dunlap before and when he appeared at our rendezvous, with four days growth of black beard on his face, a torn tunic and string like remnants of puttees, he looked so much like a stage hobo that I burst out laughing in his face. He was a fine chap and we became good friends.
The stretcher bearers had a very difficult time. The whole area was subjected to continuous shelling by the enemy. The pill box afforded shelter on one side for the dressing station and sheets of camouflage and canvas formed the roof. When no wounded were coming in Dunlap and I would crawl into the pill box for greater security. We kept no enlisted personnel with us as there was literally no place where they could stand without sinking to their knees in mud and the number of wounded men was not so great but that the two medical officers could do all that could be done. When we were relieved by the medical officer of the English unit that took over; Dunlap and I, with Captain A.A. Gray, adjutant of the 75th, started back towards Ypres, over the duckwalk. The different platoons of our battalion had trickled back as they were relieved. The two way duckwalk was, as usual, shelled heavily. We were passing the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders coming when a shell got a direct hit among them about 200 feet ahead of us. Their dead and wounded, lying in grotesque attitudes, were being cleared away by their comrades with feverish haste as we dog trotted past the smoking shell hole. We did not stop because their own medical unit was on the job, they had plenty of help and each unit was supposed to take care of its own casualties.
Regarding the citation for the Military Cross: "The open ground" mentioned consisted of the wheat fields and other flat unwooded ground through which we passed between Beaucourt and Le Quesnel on the immediate left of the Amiens-Roye road. As we advanced we were frequently under direct observation by enemy balloons directing artillery fire. When one shell landed half a dozen others were pretty sure to land in a very short time within a radius of 50 yards or so of where the first one did, consequently when the first few caused casualties they had to be attended in a shower of debris caused by the explosion of succeeding shells.
It was necessary to pass through the streets of Le Quesnel several times during the barrage in order to find the wounded who were scattered throughout the town. I supervised their collection, during lulls in the shelling in a cellar I used as a dressing station. The platoons furnished stretcher bearers. My medical section, consisting of a sergeant, corporal and two privates were with me part of the time, or were in the dressing station when I was out, or they themselves were engaged in looking for wounded.
Excerpted and reproduced with permission from Veterans Affairs Canada website http://www.vac-acc.gc.ca/general/
World War I Warfare, Part A
Grade Level: Secondary 9-12
Time Allowance: 45 minutes
Films: Battle of Arras 1, 2, 3 & 4 and Canadians Advanced East of Arras 1
Summary: Students study film clips to answer questions to gain an understanding of what the war was like for the soldiers who fought it. This is the first of three related lessons.
Watch Battle of Arras 1, 2, 3 & 4 and Canadians Advanced East of Arras 1 and answer the questions below based upon the evidence that you see in this film excerpt. Some evidence may contradict other evidence. The captions appearing on screen are underlined in the section below. The questions are in chronological order.
Battle of Arras 1
How the Germans in their retreat blew up…
1- What did the Germans blow up to harass the Canadian advance?
a) Woods b) Canadian trenches c) Main roads
2- What two methods of transport did we use in the advance?
a) Cars and bicycles b) Trains c) Helicopters, ships
3- Canadians blew up French houses to build:
a) Trenches b) Canal banks c) Roads
An advance cyclist patrol
4- This “welcoming” was most likely shown to Canadian audiences. Why?
a) To prove we were winning b) To show our soldiers victorious c) Both a & b
A British Tommy reading the news…
5- What is ‘Tommy’ slang for?
a) An airplane b) A soldier c) A citizen
6- Who is listening to the news?
a) Men b) Women c) Young children
7- Where were the men of this village?
a) Working b) In prison c) In the army
A merry group
8- What message is this scene conveying to Canadian viewers about the French?
a) They don’t care if they are liberated b) They dislike Canadians c) Our soldiers are welcome
Building a bridge over the Somme
9- Much of the building in World War I was done by:
a) Machines b) Factories c) Human muscle power
Another bridge over the Somme
10- Besides soldiers, what else provided much of the power to build things?
a) Electric power b) Women c) Horses
A battalion of the North Hampshire regiment
11- On this evidence, was World War I mechanized at the front lines?
a) Yes b) No
Our engineers blowing obstructions
12- What was the Somme?
a) Town b) Bridge c) River
Fruit trees ruthlessly cut down
13- What did the Germans do to French agriculture?
a) Encouraged it b) Left it c) Destroyed much of it
14- How did actions such as this influence the peace talks?
a) No effect b) Helped them c) Made the French want compensation
German observation post
15- What does this clip tell us about German soldiers? They were:
a) Brave b) Cunning c) Cowardly
Incidents in the recaptured village / French president visits / Well constructed dugouts
16- If these are evidence of “comfort,” what does that tell you about World War I?
a) It was easy b) It was safe c) It was difficult and harsh
A huge crater at the crossroads
17- Why would armies blow up crossroads?
a) Minimize disruption b) Maximize disruption c) It was an accident
18- On this evidence, was it easy to pursue the Germans?
a) Yes b) Don’t know c) No
Battle of Arras 2
A major commanding a gun battery
20- Transport in World War I consisted of:
a) Horses b) Trucks c) Automobiles d) All of these
21- Roads at the front were:
a) Paved b) Muddy c) Blocked with barbed wire
Various ways of supplying
22- The mud in World War I was crossed at the front by:
a) Trains b) Men and horses c) Canals
One of the difficulties
23- Why was it difficult to supply the guns?
a) Distance b) Enemy fire c) Mud
24- An important disability in World War I was:
a) Obesity b) Blindness c) Trench foot
25- Soldiers went to the front line by:
a) Truck b) Horse and cart c) Both a & b
The Pack Train
26- Feeding and watering the horses was a major problem in World War I because:
a) There were many horses to feed b) The climate was poor for wheat c) The rail system was poor
A two-seater albatross
27- What did Germany use as its symbol during World War I?
a) A cross b) Swastika c) Star
The bombardment of Vimy Ridge
28- The bombardment caused the French landscape to become:
a) Desolate b) Fertile
Battle of Arras 3
Rifles are tested / The infantry moving up / More guns used in
29- Is it easy to see the German lines?
a) Yes b) No
Gunners who have been at the front
30- What did the soldiers do to relax at the front?
a) Smoked b) Swam c) Jogged
31- “No man’s land” between the Germans and Canadians contained:
a) Shell holes b) Barbed wire c) Both a & b
The enemy shell a recently captured village
32- This shows that the destruction in France was:
a) Slight b) Moderate c) Considerable
And still more 9.2 howitzwers
33- The location of Canadian guns near French villages brought about:
a) Damage to those villages by German guns b) Nothing
South Africans make a raid / and bring back 3 prisoners
34-Trench warfare was:
a) Mechanized b) Based on individual soldiers
35- The effect of World War I on French communications was:
a) Slight b) Considerable
36- Rebuilding French cities would be:
a) Easy and cheap b) Difficult and expensive
Battle of Arras 4
37- The shellfire in World War I battles was:
a) Enormous b) Moderate c) Slight
The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) go over the top and raid enemy trenches
38- This evidence indicates that most soldiers in World War I died from:
a) Rifle fire b) Machine guns c) Shell fire
39- Approximately 25% of the Canadian dead were never found because:
a) They were blown up b) Nobody looked for them
Fixing scaling ladders / The Hussars
40- How did soldiers climb out of trenches with their heavy packs?
a) Stone steps b) Brick steps c) Wooden ladders
41- Could cavalry have survived in the trenches?
a) Yes b) No
An observation balloon / Emergency parachute / Our airmen
42- How does the observer relay information to the ground?
a) By radio b) Flag signals c) Telephone
50- How did Canadian soldiers use the information from the observer?
a) Located targets on a map b) Shelled German positions c) Both a & b
51- How, on this evidence, were shells moved?
a) Horses b) Light railway c) Boat
52- Were men careful with heavy explosive shells?
a) Yes b) No
53- Why were light railways used near the front?
a) Insufficient horses b) Trucks were not invented yet c) Railways were more efficient.
54- What evidence is there that World War I was not hi-tech?
a) Men moved heavy shells by hand b) Horses were used extensively c) Both a & b
Canadians Advanced East of Arras 1
Christmas Greetings from Canada
55- What evidence suggests World War I was hi-tech?
a) Field guns were complex b) Men built railways to the front c) Jet engines were used
d) Both a & b
World War I Warfare, Part B
Grade Level: Secondary 9-12
Time Allowance: 45 minutes
Film Excerpt: Battle of Arras 1, 2, 3, 4 and Canadians Advance East of Arras 1
Summary: Students draw on their answers to the questions in the lesson World War I Warfare, Part A to respond to statements about the war.
After watching the films and answering the questions in Part A, use your answers to qualify the statements below.
|Statement||The film evidence suggests (see questions)|
|1. All the destruction in France was caused by the Germans.||Q 3 suggests|
|2. French peasants did not care who won the war.||Q 4 and 8 suggest|
|3. The French “faked” much of the damage in World War I to get compensation from Germany.||Q 9, 13, 17, 36 suggest|
|4. The Canadian army often fought in kilts; Canada’s equipment was outdated for this war.||Q 20 and 55 suggest|
|5. World War I was a modern war fought using up-to-date methods.||Q 43 suggests|
|6. There were very few “unknown soldiers” in WWI because most were killed near their trenches by machine-gun fire.||Q 4 and 39 suggest|
|7. Men were well trained and there were few accidents in this war.||Q 4 and 52 suggest|
|8. After the end of the war, the Canadians and British did not want to impose heavy penalties on Germany, but the French did. This was unfair.||Q 13, 32, 35 show that France, unlike Canada or Britain,…|
|9. Soldiers who survived the war were not affected by it.||Q 38 and 39 suggest|
|10. The costs of the war were not as great as earlier wars.||Q 9, 32, 35, 43 suggest|
World War I Warfare, Part C
Grade Level: Secondary 9-12
Time Allowance: 45 minutes
Films: Battle of Arras 1, 2, 3 & 4 and Canadians Advance East of Arras 1
Summary: After doing Parts A and B, students draw conclusions about the nature of the war.
After answering the questions in World War I Warfare, Part A, and qualifying the statements in World War I Warfare, Part B, answer the questions below.
1 . What evidence suggests that this was a traditional war similar in nature to wars in the 18th century? What other evidence suggests that it was a “hi-tech” war that used advanced methods of mass killing?
2. Explain why France, much more than Canada or Britain, wanted to exact high compensation from Germany at the Treaty of Paris, 1919.
3. List the methods of transportation used in this war. What major changes would you suggest if you were advising the generals on how to prepare for World War II? Remember that the generals do not want to waste money.
4. Did marching in straight lines, on parade, help to prepare soldiers for World War I? What training would you suggest if you had to train Canadian soldiers in 1916 to fight this war?
5. Explain why the tank and the airplane made World War II very different from the trench warfare of World War I.
6. Canadian soldiers were disciplined during the war, but were restless when they found themselves stuck in Europe after the war. Why were Canadian soldiers far more restless than British and French soldiers after the war was over?
7. Canada did not declare war on Germany but entered World War I as a colony of Britain within the British Empire. Imagine that you are advising the Canadian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Do you think Canada should remain subordinate to Britain in the Empire? What changes would you suggest to the Canada-Britain relationship?
8. In World War I, Canadians acquired a formidable reputation as soldiers. How did that influence the way other countries regarded Canada after 1918?