Holding The Salient, 1916 - The Fighting At St. Eloi
( Originally Published 1919 )
TYpres, in those gruelling April days of 1915, Canada's soldiers gained their golden spurs and won fame throughout the Allied armies. After Ypres came Festubert and Givenchy, with hard fighting, but no major operations, in which the men from the Dominion found out the value of machine guns and considerably increased this part of their organization, although the scheme was frowned upon by the Imperial command. The partly successful British attack at Loos was followed by the gradual shifting northward of the straining point on the west-ern line. At Christmas, 1915, authority was received for the formation of the 3rd Canadian Division. The first two divisions were then fully up to strength and there were good reserves at Shorncliffe.
The new division was, as we have seen,' put under the command of Major-General Mercer and was composed of the 7th, 8th, and 9th Infantry Brigades. The 7th Brigade, under Brigadier-General A. C. MacDonell, who commanded Strathcona's Horse, included the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry,' the Royal Canadian Regiment, the 42nd Battalion of Montreal (Royal Highlanders of Canada), and the 49th Battalion of Alberta.
The Royal Canadian Regiment was first raised in 1883 as a battalion of the permanent force. A detachment took part in the expedition in North-West Canada in 1884-85. In 1889 the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, was raised for service in the South African War.' An Imperial crown on the badge was granted by Queen Victoria in 1894. At the outbreak of the Great World War the regiment was brought to full strength at Halifax, and in September, 1914, sailed for Bermuda, where it relieved the Imperial garrison, the Lincolnshires. After about eleven months' service it was relieved by the 38th Battalion from Eastern Ontario and reached France in November, 1915. For a considerable time the regiment was in training with the 2nd Brigade; but when the division was formed it was the first regiment to be attached.
The 42nd Battalion had seen three months' instructional duty in the trenches before the 3rd Division was formed; and the 49th, which was composed of miners, farmers, and railwaymen from the North-West, had had the same experience.
The 8th Brigade consisted of Canadian Mounted Rifles from various parts of the Dominion, which had been under the command of Brigadier-General Seely, Secretary-of-State for War in the pre-war Asquith Cabinet, the decision having been finally arrived at that cavalry would be of little use in the European end of the war. The 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles were raised in Saskatchewan, and the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles and 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles in Central Ontario. The 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles came from Quebec and included the sons of many French-Canadian farmers. All these battalions had been trained in cavalry style up to the time of their arrival in France.
The 9th Brigade was made up of regiments from the Middle West and Central Ontario and had had training with the 1st Division previous to joining the 3rd Division. The battalions were the 43rd from Manitoba, the 52nd from Manitoba and Northern Ontario, and the 58th and another composite battalion-from Central Ontario.
There were various Imperial artillery and engineer units attached to the division until after the Somme, when it was brought to full strength with Canadian reinforcements.
In the early part of February the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions, refitted and reinforced, were sent back into the " bloody salient " at Ypres, in support of the Fifth British Corps, this time to guard the southern end of the circle that barred the way to Calais and the English Channel.
The Germans, at this date, again had considerable numbers of troops massed in this sector, and it was thought that they might make one more desperate drive for the northern British bases. By making the attempt and gaining partial success they at least would draw Allied troops away from the Somme front, where there were all the signs of concentration for a combined Anglo-French offensive.
Up to the time of the return of the Canadians to the Ypres salient, British divisions in as great strength as could be spared had struggled bravely to better their positions at St. Eloi and Hooge, two shattered villages on rising ground that had a considerable ad-vantage over the flat plains of Flanders. Hooge was a hamlet of about twenty houses grouped at cross-roads on the main highway from Ypres to Menin. North of the main road, situated in a wood, was a strongly built château with large breeding stables, the property of a wealthy French follower of the turf. South of Hooge was Sanctuary Wood, where the great fighting of June was to take place; and further south still were Zouave Wood and Maple Copse — all names made famous by Canadian soldiers. The trees of these woods were blasted by shell-fire into shapeless, splintered spikes ; but the undergrowth of brush grew amazingly and was quite heavy during May and June, affording much shelter for infantry. The knoll on which was St. Eloi, on the Ypres-Wytschaete road, sloped gently down towards the German trenches, and every movement in the enemy's second line could be seen. But St. Eloi in turn was dominated by several German observation posts, of which Eikhof Farm, about one thousand yards behind the enemy's line, was one ; and another was the northern end of Messines Ridge. These mounds had changed hands a dozen times ; but the swaying lines were swung back by counter-attacks; and for the best part of six months preceding the advent of the Canadians they had been in British possession.
The trenches in this sector had, for the most part, been obliterated by the deluge of shells which the German heavy guns poured into the British defence works. The little rivers, — mere creeks, — turned from their natural courses, had taken the line of least resistance, and with few exceptions flowed through what were supposed to be the Canadian trenches, undoing the re-pairs the British had made against the ravages of German shells. Some of the British divisions which had held grimly on during the winter of 1915-16 suffered appalling losses. British engineers for several months had been tunnelling under the higher parts of the German position in the hope that some day our turn would come for an offensive and the mines would be used.
Throughout February the two Canadian divisions acted in close co-operation with the Imperials. On February 13th the Canadian artillery helped materially to check the enemy from breaking through at what was known as the Bluff, a spoil bank on the Ypres-Comines canal. Later the Canadian 6th Brigade took over part of the northern end of the line to relieve the Northumberland Fusiliers and other Imperial units. The 28th (Regina) and the 29th (Vancouver) had a short, sharp encounter in the dark with the enemy, whom they found filing into the front-line trench from No Man's Land.
The bad luck of the Canadians commenced right at the start; for it was in the fighting of February that both Brigadier-General A. C. MacDonell and Brigadier-General R. G. E. Leckie were wounded by stray bullets while they were making an inspection of the forward posts.
On March 2nd the Imperials decided to make an at-tempt to regain the ground lost at the Bluff, and the Canadian artillery was again called in to help. It was the heaviest bombardment the Canadians had ever put over, and the lesson was not lost on them. The Imperial troops, following the barrage, regained and consolidated the lost ground with fairly light casualties. During this attack the Dominion troops to the north put up an effective fake assault that drew away the German reserves. Hundreds of smoke bombs were thrown from the Canadian trenches; bayonets were flashed over the parapets in the glare made by thou-sands of flares ; and machine guns blazed away at the trenches opposite. The guns the Canadians had retained in position concentrated on the German support lines and prisoners taken later told of tremendous slaughter. The Germans did not attempt to retaliate, and the Imperials regarded themselves as " top-dog."
Later in the week the Canadian divisions relieved the 3rd (Imperial) Division, which had put up one of the most determined fights against odds recorded to that time. The Germans were furious at the delay the taking of this sector was causing them. They were more furious when they got identification from one of our patrols and discovered that what they termed " Colonial troops " were then opposed to them. According to a document that subsequently found its way to the British Intelligence Department, special orders were issued that the Canadians were to be taught a lesson and their spirit was to be broken. The German High Command had smarted under the failure of the attack on Ypres in April, 1915, which one German correspondent attributed to the " foolishness of the farmer and citizen soldiers from Canada who did not know when they were defeated." Fresh German troops were continually being brought to the relief of those which kept up the pressure on the Hooge-St. Eloi line, and the German regiments were relieved on the aver-age every ten days. British and Canadians were generally in the trenches for a " tour " of a month. In all, fourteen German divisions were identified at various times against the three which held the southern end of the salient.
By March 7th the Canadian Corps — the 3rd (Imperial) Division had then been withdrawn — began taking over the whole sector. Major-General Alder-son was still in command. The 1st Division was under Major-General A. W. Currie, later to become corps commander; and the 2nd was commanded by Major-General R. E. W. Turner, V. C., later chief of the Canadian Staff in England. The 3rd was commanded by Major-General M. S. Mercer, who was subsequently killed. The line stretched from Hooge, with sharp, uncomfortable angles, down south as far as St. Eloi. It had been a terrific battle-ground since the autumn of 1914, when the British Guards held off the enemy at the First Battle of Ypres. April, June, and July, 1915, had seen sanguinary divisional combats with resulting fluctuations of the line. To change corps under such conditions and always in the dark, with trenches partly wiped out, was a delicate operation; and it was not until April 8th that the Canadian corps was actually responsible for the line. The 3rd Division had useful experience by brigades acting with the Imperials.
Before the St. Eloi section was taken over the Imperial troops decided to make one more attempt to better the line. The Canadian 2nd Division was placed in reserve in case things went wrong. Six huge mines under the German front line, on which the Imperial engineers prided themselves, were blown. The shock was so terrific that it shook towns several miles behind the lines. When the British infantry rushed the position they found huge yawning holes where once had been enemy strong points, and they were packed with German dead. A fairly strong line was established on the far side of the craters — the shell-battered craters of St. Eloi.
For a proper understanding of the story of the fighting about St. Eloi a description of the location of these giant craters is necessary. They were numbered later by the Canadians. Looking south from the original line No. 1 was a small hole about twenty yards across, to the right of the Wytschaete road. No. 2 was the largest of all, about forty yards in diameter, almost on the road. No. 3 was only slightly smaller and fringed the rubble that had been the Ypres-Warneton road. Nos. 4 and 5 were smaller again, and still further to the left; while Nos. 6 and 7 were only ten yards in diameter and just in front of the original British line at Shelley Farm, near where the Princess Patricia's had fought in March, 1915.
Into this shell-shattered region, a welter of mud and slime, the ground strewn with the debris of war, the 2nd Canadian Division was sent to hold the gains made by the 3rd (Imperial) Division. The 6th Brigade, under Brigadier-General H. D. B. Ketchen, took over the front lines, while the 5th and 4th Brigades remained in support. On the right was the 27th Battalion, with the 29th in support; on the left the 31st, with the 28th in support. The two leading companies were on either side of the Ypres-Comines canal. Their advance was made in the dark, through slime knee-deep, and among shell holes that threatened death by drowning or suffocation to the unwary. In the confusion they went further than intended, adding a strong German point to the line and making an enemy patrol prisoners.
The task of the 6th Brigade was to relieve the 76th (Imperial) Brigade, which claimed to have consolidated the line on the far side of the craters on April 2nd. The position was not clear, as the aeroplane scouts were helpless, owing to the bad weather which persisted. The concentration of shell-fire and the mine explosions had made the ground worse than a quagmire, and a trench with not more than two feet of water in it was considered good. There was no proper wire protection, although here and there a strand showed through the glue of the earth. Only the continual shriek of shells and the hiss of machine-gun bullets told the Canadians of the proximity of the ever-watchful enemy. The shell holes and the drier spots of the trench lines were still full of British wounded, and the early dawn of April 4th was devoted to getting these suffering men out no easy task with all communication trenches obliterated and a nerve-racking trip overland through continuous shell-fire. All day during April 5th the enemy concentrated a terrific bombardment on the little Western garrison of the craters and bits of trenches, practically annihilating them. But the remnant held on, crouching in shell holes half filled with water and with British and German dead as grim companions. It became imperative to take drastic and immediate measures to improve the defences. Major-General Turner made a personal inspection of the isolated posts and encouraged the men, promising help if possible before the dawn.
The Canadians energetically went at the task of bettering their trenches and, with the aid of two Canadian pioneer battalions, recent arrivals in France, much work was done on the night of the 5th. It was difficult to keep the defensive works, once they were repaired, from silting into the awful morass. It was a Titan's task to bring up material. In many places that night, and the following nights, huge working parties, sometimes numbering as many as three thou-sand, were deepening the mockery of communication trenches and revetting them with brush mats, brought from miles behind the lines. Thousands of filled sand-bags were brought from gravel pits in back areas in a desperate attempt to build parapets that would not ooze away. Engineering parties managed to turn many of the wandering streams which had played havoc in our lines so that they ran into the German trenches. Dug-outs were provided with pumps which cleared out at least some of the water. The rain — it was in a way a blessing, for it concealed this work from the prying eyes of the enemy — continued. Quite a length of wire was quietly placed in No Man's Land. It looked as if we had won against time and weather.
In bald official language Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig tells of the swaying battle of the craters as follows :
" On March 27th our troops made an attack with the object of straightening out the line at St. Eloi, and cutting away the small German salient which encroached on the semicircle of our line in the Ypres salient to a depth of about one hundred yards. The operation was begun by the firing of six very large mines ; . . . and large numbers of the enemy were killed. Half a minute after the explosion our infantry attack was launched, aiming at the German second line. The right attack met with little opposition, and captured its assigned objective; but the left at-tack was not so successful, and a gap was left in possession of the Germans, through which they entered one of the craters. The following days were spent by both sides in heavy bombardment and in unsuccessful at-tacks, intended on our part to capture the remaining trenches, and on the part of the Germans to drive us from the positions we had occupied. In the very early morning of April 3rd we succeeded in recapturing the crater and the trenches still held by the enemy, thereby securing the whole of our original objective. . . . The work of consolidating our new position, however, proved extremely difficult, owing to the wet soil, heavy shelling, and mine explosions ; though pumps were brought up and efforts at draining were instituted, the result achieved was comparatively small. By dint of much heavy work the brigade holding these trenches succeeded in reducing the water in the trenches by two feet by the morning of the 5th. This state of affairs could not, even so, be regarded as satisfactory; and during the 5th the enemy's bombardment increased in intensity, and the new trenches practically ceased to exist. On the morning of the 6th the enemy attacked with one battalion supported by another; he penetrated our new line, and gained the two westernmost craters. It is difficult to follow in detail the fighting of the next three weeks, which consisted in repeated attacks by both sides on more or less isolated mine craters, the trench lines having been destroyed by shell-fire. Great efforts were made to maintain communication with the garrisons of these advanced posts, and with considerable success. But there were periods of uncertainty, and some misconception as to the state of affairs arose. On the 11th it was reported to me that we had recaptured all that remained of the position won by us on March 27th and April 3rd. This report, probably due to old craters having been mistaken for new ones, was subsequently found to be incorrect. The new craters, being exposed to the enemy's view and to the full weight of his artillery fire, have proved untenable, and at the present time our troops are occupying trenches roughly in the general line which was held by them before the 27th."
Of the German attack on June 2nd (to be dealt with later), the Commander-in-Chief says in his official report :
" The second enemy attack was delivered on June 2nd on a front of one and a half miles from Mount Sorrel to Hooge and succeeded in penetrating to a depth of seven hundred yards. As the southern end of the lost position commanded our trenches, I judged it necessary to recover it, and by an attack launched on June 13th, carefully prepared and well executed, this was successfully accomplished by troops on the spot. Neither of the enemy attacks succeeded in delaying the preparations for the major operations which I had in view further south."
It will be noted that no mention is made of Canadian troops taking part in these encounters. It was the policy of the British authorities not to mention even Overseas units at this time.
It is best to divide the adventures of the Canadians during this " tour " of the Ypres sector into three parts: the partial success of the German attack; the failure of our counter-attacks owing to weather and mud; and the consolidation of our ground behind the famous craters with a line that finally held against frenzied German onslaughts.
On the morning of April 6th the real crash came. At first in the dim light the enemy were mistaken for one of our working parties. There had been so many of these out in No Man's Land that orders were never to fire on unknown patrols, but always to rely on close grips and the bayonet. It was the 6th Brigade, under Brigadier-General Ketchen, that got the full force of the attack. The 27th and 31st Battalions were in the front line. An intense bombardment launched by the Germans on the left of our position was followed by a massed assault, the enemy coming in droves along the Ypres-Wytschaete road, resulting in the loss of the original German front-line trench, recently captured by the Imperials, now partially obliterated by shell-fire, and in places choked with dead piled high on the top of each other. " Our front line was no line at all," said an officer of the brigade, describing events afterwards. Rapidly following up this turn of events, the German infantry carried on through and made a desperate attempt to wrest two of the most important craters from the Canadian garrisons, an attempt which was doomed to failure, the men of the 31st putting up a stout resistance with bombs and machine-gun fire and beating the enemy back. Nothing daunted, the Boches came over again and attacked another of the craters, held by a garrison of ten with a Lewis machine gun. Obviously under-rating the rugged determination of these surviving Canadians, the Germans advanced to within two hundred yards of the lips of the crater. The effort was completely smashed and over forty of the enemy dead were afterwards counted.
Before noon the foe swarmed over the " porridgy " surface time and time again and by sheer weight of numbers overpowered the garrisons of the craters and wiped out our posts in inundated shell holes. Two of the craters, Nos. 2 and 3, were strongly occupied and later fortified by the assailing Boches; but counter-attacks by parties of the Canadian battalions were organized and advanced towards their objectives from two directions. An attack from the right was engineered by men from the 28th and 31st and from the left by the 27th and 29th. Both were doomed to dismal but not inglorious failure. The raid of the right party broke down completely. Its participants were faced by a withering fire from machine guns and concentrated shelling by the enemy's heavy guns. and the shocking state of the intervening bog was not the least of the obstacles that could not he overcome. They did all human beings could do. Many of the Canadian bombers died in the miry sloughs of despond which linked up the quagmires of pulp from which the strongest men laboured in vain to extricate themselves. The bombers of the left attacking party fought their way through a pitiless shell-fire to what were generally sup-posed to be craters Nos. 4 and 5, but which were in reality 6 and 7. Such confusion could be reasonably expected in the face of such dire circumstances. One crater was held until late in the afternoon by a party of the 31st; then it, too, was overwhelmed.
Throughout the days that followed the position was beyond description, so fraught with uncertainty and indecision had been the fighting up to this point. The enemy made repeated attacks, chiefly upon isolated detachments of the various battalions. The periodical assaults upon the surviving Canadians, who held on grimly to the crumbling ruins of two of the craters, were usually made only when the brave defenders had been demoralized by most intense shell-fire.
All through April 6th and 7th the guns of the enemy kept up a terrific bombardment of our back areas. The 18th (London) and the 21st (Kingston) Battalions, which were brought up to Dickebusch, also got unwelcome attention, losing many men on the march through back areas. The 28th Battalion, in reserve during the morning at Voormezeele, was so badly shelled that it moved forward " for safety." Attempts were made by officers of this battalion to reconnoitre the area of the craters ; and bombing parties were sent forward in the vain hope of reaching parties of the 31st Battalion who were fighting a game holding battle against vastly superior forces.
On the morning of the 7th it was found that the Germans had effected their relief and we had fresh troops facing us. From information given later by prisoners it was evident that the attacking forces had suffered heavier casualties than they had expected. On the same day the Canadian 4th Brigade, under Brigadier-General R. Rennie, won their way through to take over from the exhausted 6th. This brigade's losses had been over a thousand, but they had by sheer pluck minimized what the Germans declared in their communiqué was a great victory.
The fighting to the right of the 6th Brigade had been severe also, and in this the 4th had been helping. General Rennie had put out strong machine-gun posts and many were the grim encounters in the dark, drizzly night. Fredericton Fort, a strong cement and sand-bag redoubt which the Germans had built just to the right of the Wytschaete road, was the last place holding, even after craters Nos. 2 and 3 had fallen. The final message that came over the wire from the fort was: " We are retiring." — Then the line broke. A gun crew of the 24th (Montreal) fought through straggling Germans and found there two captains and two men. The rest of the garrison were killed or seriously wounded. They held out for about an hour longer and then managed to win their way back to the original Canadian trenches while there was a lucky diversion caused by the concentration of shelling on crater No. 2. In other places, some of them mere in-undated shell holes, small parties of the 25th (Nova Scotia) Battalion were hanging on and stayed until late on the night of April 7th, when all that could be reached were ordered to withdraw. The German raid, which had developed into an onslaught, had succeeded ; but it was not the success the enemy had anticipated; nor was it worth the price they paid, thanks to the tenacity of the men of the 2nd Division.
The Canadian counter-attacks to regain some of the lost ground really began on the night of April 8th-9th. Parties of the 21st Battalion made a desperate attempt to bomb out the German garrisons in crater No. 2, but found the enemy in greater strength than reported. They came back and got fifty more men despite the heavy fire. But the Germans had given the alarm, and the tornado of shells and machine-gun bullets which swept the new No Man's Land drove the Canadians back, three-quarters of their number being casualties. At the same time a party of the 18th attempted to reach crater No. 3, but were also driven back, having to content themselves with establishing a post about two hundred feet from the German position. The 19th (London), on the right of the edges of craters Nos. 6 and 7, could give little assistance, owing to the terrific fire which the Huns kept centred on the craters. The men of these battalions put forth superhuman efforts and scores of deeds that were recorded at this time won signal honours. One forward garrison had to be sent rations in broad daylight, so bad was the ground, and the operation was carried out success-fully in spite of the unwelcome attention of the German machine guns.
One of the things the German High Command could never understand was the initiative shown by the isolated posts which held on so grimly. The German soldiers and junior officers when surrounded and out of touch with their commanders at headquarters generally surrendered, regarding their work in the battle as useless after they had been cut off from the directing hands of the military machine. The opposite was the case with the Canadians. Groups which were surrounded would fight miniature battles of their own until they were wiped out or happier conditions brought them again into touch with their comrades. It was a question of both courage and philosophy.
Urgent messages from Canadian headquarters at this time read, " You must get on at all costs." The little bands renewed their attacks again and again. One machine-gun party of the 20th (Toronto) held crater No. 6 for a whole week against repeated attacks by German bombers. Partial success attended the efforts of the 21st, and Fredericton Fort was regained and held. This force almost drove the German garrison from crater No. 2, killing many of the enemy in a surprise rush. Then came more efforts towards consolidating the uncertain line we held. Desperate give-and-take fighting, in which the Germans were as uncomfortable as the Canadians, took place day and night until the 12th, when the 5th Brigade, under Brigadier-General D. Watson, relieved. The reconstruction of the position was begun in earnest. Craters Nos. 6 and 7 belonged to us, but the enemy could observe al-most every movement in them from his higher ground. Sackville Centre, an old German strong point to the right, and craters Nos. 1 and 2 were wired and made into posts although the situation of the garrisons in them was precarious and the supply of ammunition, food, and water haphazard. For some reason the violence of the German attacks waned and immediate advantage was taken of this by General Watson, who every night had out large working parties, sometimes numbering two or nearly three thousand men, linking up these various posts through the spongy soil.
On April 15th two desperate attempts were made by the Germans to bomb out the garrisons in craters Nos. 6 and 7, but they failed miserably, with heavy losses to the attackers. Fortunately at this time some semblance of communication trenches had been constructed and the plucky men in these craters were frequently relieved. Men could never have existed, let alone beat off sanguinary attacks, under the conditions that prevailed, and a day and a night in these craters was more than the strongest man could stand.
Gradually on the night of April 18th the 6th Brigade filtered back into the line for another " tour." They had had a short rest and refit at Voormezeele. Life in reserve had not been dolce far niente; for the German heavies made existence above ground impossible, and the losses of reinforcements coming up to the line were not light.
April 19th witnessed another strong German attack in the evening, following a brief but intense bombardment. The craters that had been won back into Canadian possession were again carried by the enemy, and the garrisons suffered bitter casualties. On the morning of the 20th an organized attempt was made by two parties to recapture the lost positions, and a valiant fight against tremendous odds resulted. The battle fluctuated and was desperately waged throughout the day, but the pounding of the German guns and the undoubtedly great strength of the opposing machine guns proved too much for the attackers. When night came only one thing was certain beyond argument — the Canadian front line was still valorously held, though the main craters were in the hands of the Germans.
Two parties on the 29th, under Lieutenants C. R. Myers and H. St. J. Biggs, held on to their positions in craters Nos. 6 and 7, — those nearest the Canadian line, — but after enduring an intense bombardment for over three hours they were practically out of the fight. Few had escaped death or wounding and the rifles of those who were still able to put up a show of resistance were for the most part clogged with mud. At length came the final counter-attack of the Germans, delivered mercilessly on those who had survived the short, fiendish bombardment. But the gallant remnant of this heroic little band stood firm against overwhelming odds, clinging to the mire of the craters, struggling to work the few rifles still fit for use and the machine guns that had not been smashed or buried by the terrific shell-fire. Lieutenant Myers, though severely wounded, rallied his little band time and again, holding the enemy in open range of the machine guns, which inflicted terrible punishment. Biggs' party, with smashed rifles as clubs, fought tooth and nail with Germans twice their number. The enemy at length succeeded in bringing two machine guns to the edge of the crater. The officer in charge of the attacking party called out in English that brave men should not recklessly throw away their lives. It would have been suicidal to resist longer and with Biggs' consent his battered, exhausted men threw down their arms.
Their surrender signalized the end of one of the bravest fights against odds that took place on the Western front. Meanwhile Lieutenant Myers and five of his heroic band had made a dash for safety to the Canadian lines, having to endure a terrific barrage on their journey, but all six, though wounded, winning their way through. These were the only survivors of the defenders of craters 6 and 7.
Another chapter in the fighting for the craters was over and had ended disastrously for the Canadians. But the officers and men, from the Divisional Commander downwards, had done all that was humanly possible. The conditions had been of the vilest description, and for three weeks the situation had been precarious.
So mauled and misshapen now was the ground around the craters which the Germans had won from us, the enemy himself found it useless; and for several weeks, up to the time the remaining Canadians left that section for Sanctuary Wood and Hooge, he contented himself with sending out strong patrols, and even some of these met short shrift from our men, still full of fight. In these actions the losses of the 2nd Division alone were well over four thousand.
St. Eloi was an infantryman's struggle; nevertheless the artillery played their part, although completely outgunned by the Germans. The enemy, for practically the first time, used gas shells in their counter-battery fire. For our guns it was delicate shooting, especially when opposite lips of the crater would be held by op-posing forces; but the gunners shifted their weapons unceasingly, and their fire was wonderfully accurate considering that for the most part of the time they were, owing to the bad weather, without aeroplane observation. The Canadian howitzers played havoc with the German support lines, and prisoners gave unwilling tribute to the appalling effect of our large shells in the villages which sheltered their reserve troops. They told of one 15-inch shell that had landed in a crowd attending a cinema show at Gheluvelt, killing and wounding over one hundred of the Würtembergers.
The men of the field ambulances and clearing stations were magnificent. The writer had the privilege of visiting one station in the brewery at Voormezeele when it was at its busiest, fighting to rescue from imminent death men that were brought in on continuous lines of stretchers. The top part of the building was a rubble of broken bricks, the best kind of shelter from the frequent shelling of the Red Cross flag. Down below, reached by sloping passages wide enough to take the stretchers, were clean, cool chambers where the surgeons worked night and day. During the heavy fighting over a thousand cases received attention in twenty-four hours. Another miracle, too, was the way the ambulance men managed to get their charges through the wide hinterland, always under observation, and always shelled.
In the little wood near-by, at this time with a carpet of flaming poppies, the cemetery grew apace. At one corner was the grave of Lieut.-Colonel Farquhar, the gallant commander of the Princess Patricia's, one of the first Canadians to fall in this section.'