03 min 43 s
Topical Film Company
Royal Newfoundland Regiment in billets at Berneville, Western Front, 9 May 1917.
A posed group of the regiment’s officers, six lying down, at least eleven standing up. These include the commanding officer, lieutenant-Colonel A L Hadow, and the second in command, lieutenant-Colonel J Forbes-Robertson, who was in command on 14 April 1917 during the counter-attack at Monchy in the Battle of Arras. Also present is lieutenant K J Keegan, decorated for bravery during the Monchy counter-attack. Rations are served out to the regiment in its rest billets; A posed group of men decorated as a result of Monchy (ranks given as for April 1917, some had been promoted by May), left to right, lying down: Private F Curran, Corporal J H Hillier, Private J Hounsell. Standing, left to right: Corporal A S Rose, Sergeant W Pitcher, lieutenant-Colonel J Forbes-Robertson, lieutenant K J Keegan, Sergeant C Parsons, Sergeant J R Waterfield. There is a posed group of all the officers and men of the regiment who fought at Monchy and were still serving in May 1917. The regimental bootmaker at work. The regiment on the march with full kit, pack mules, wagons and mounted officers, probably through the streets of Berneville.
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.
General Currie's plan for the first phase of the offensive called for simultaneous attacks by the British division on the left, the 3rd Canadian Division between the Scarpe and the Cambrai road, and the 2nd on the right covering as far as the inter-army boundary, which ran eastward from Neuville-Vitasse. They were to secure a north-south line just west of Monchy-le-Preux, exploiting thence as far east as possible. For gun support General Currie could call on fourteen brigades of field and nine of heavy artillery. Nine tanks from the 3rd Tank Brigade were allotted to each of the Canadian divisions, but as a result of the losses to armour at Amiens these were not to be used ahead of the infantry unless definite resistance demanded their employment. Monday, August 26, was fixed as the day of assault, and zero hour, originally at dawn, was advanced to 3:00 a.m. in hope of confusing the enemy.
The attack started on time. The opening artillery and machine-gun barrage was reported as admirable. The 2nd Division attacking south of the road made fine progress. At first the Germans, surprised by the early hour of the assault, offered little resistance, so that the advancing infantry had no need to call on the tanks for help. While the 6th Brigade, under Brig.-Gen. A. H. Bell, pushed out a defensive flank on the Corps right and mopped up the Neuville-Vitasse area, the 4th Brigade (Brig.-Gen. R. Rennie) making the main assault, drove rapidly through the enemy's outpost zone, encountering very little resistance. Shortly after 6:00 a.m. the 20th Battalion captured Chapel Hill, 2500 yards west of Monchy. By this time day had broken, making it easier for the tanks to support the infantry closely. But it also allowed the enemy good observation from high ground about Monchy; and his field artillery put a number of the tanks out of action. By 7:30, the 21st Battalion was approaching the outskirts of Guémappe, where it ran into heavy fire coming from Monchy, a mile to the north.
A mid-morning shift in the forward boundary of the First and Third Armies (partly in order to aid the Fourth Army by exerting more pressure in a south-easterly direction) had repercussions on the Canadian front. The 2nd Division, hitherto attacking eastward, was ordered to shift its axis of advance to the south-east, and to capture the high ground across the Cojeul River south-east of Wancourt. General Burstall gave the task to the 6th Brigade, assigning as objective the ruins of Wancourt Tower, 1200 yards south of Guémappe. At 4:40 p.m. the 27th and 28th Battalions crossed the dry river bed and attacked the ridge, supported by an effective barrage fired by the 5th and 6th Brigades C.F.A., which had moved forward of Neuville-Vitasse. As the attackers topped the rise from the Cojeul valley they were heavily hit. The crest of the ridge was thick with uncut wire and swept by machine-gun fire from outposts of the Hindenburg Line over towards the right, which the British 52nd Division, making a parallel attack on the Third Army's left flank, had not yet reached. The two battalions were forced to dig in at dusk short of their final objective; but early next morning in a silent attack they secured Egret Trench on the German forward slope, thereby gaining a good jumping-off line for operations on the 27th.
Meanwhile on the Corps left, where the approach of the 3rd Division was dominated by Orange Hill, rising sixty feet above the surrounding countryside, General Lipsett's plan was to turn the position by an attack along the southern bank of the Scarpe. The 8th Brigade (Brig.-Gen. D. C. Draper), employing in the assault three battalions of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, found the German opposition lighter than expected. The 4th C.M.R. advanced along the river bank and outflanked Orange Hill. It was followed by the 2nd C.M.R., which, turning sharply to its right, took the hill from the north. The 1st and 5th C.M.R. then passed through to left and right respectively, to attack Monchy from the north and the west; by 7:40 the village was in Canadian hands. Shortly afterwards 4 the 7th Brigade (Brig.-Gen. H. M. Dyer) pushed through to attack with The Royal Canadian Regiment and the P.P.C.L.I. a number of enemy-held woods east of Monchy. The change in the 2nd Division's axis had led to the withdrawal of the 4th Brigade south of the Arras-Cambrai road. As a temporary measure two machine-gun batteries of General Brutinel's Canadian Independent Force were dispatched down the road to cover the gap. The 42nd Battalion was then put in on the 20th Battalion's former front, where it evicted the enemy from its heavily-wired trenches south of Monchy.
North of the Scarpe the 51st (Highland) Division had kept pace with little difficulty, pushing its line forward to secure the chemical works north of Roeux and establish patrols on the west side of Gavrelle. By dusk the Canadian line, well inside the old German front trench system, ran from west of Pelves, on the south bank of the river, passing 1000 yards east of Monchy-le-Preux to include Guémappe and Wancourt Tower. Powerful counterattacks developed from the direction of the Bois du Vert and Jigsaw Wood, which the enemy was holding as outposts to his Fresnes-Rouvroy line. These were launched by two regiments of the German 35th Division, moved forward from the Drocourt-Quéant Line with orders to retake Monchy. The German effort was smashed, but it had succeeded in preventing any further Canadian advance on the 26th.
Adapted and used with permission from Nicholson, G. W. L., Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1964, p.401-404.