12th October 1917 - 1st battle of Passchendaele

As promised, a sort of explanation of the heavy casualties suffered between the 11th and14th October.

On those days, the battalion was in the front line for the first Battle of Passchendaele. A very significant feature of the battle was the rain. Torrential rain fell on a battlefield where all the field drainage system had been destroyed in the fighting.

In the two days up to the 9th October an inch of rain had fallen, over half the normal rainfall for the month. The whole battlefield was a sea of mud. October 1917 was the wettest October that century.

While Harry’s battalion was in the front line, the main attack on the 12th October was carried out by the Australian and New Zealand troops. Their losses were enormous. They had little success. The casualties experienced by the 9th battalion York & Lancaster Regiment must have been incidental to the main attack, drawing significant casualties from the fighting resulting from it.

Some quotes from accounts of the battle may help set the scene.

http://www.flanders1917.info/ The New Zealanders account of the battle

"Recovering the New Zealand wounded from the battlefield took two and a half days days even with 3,000 extra men from the Fourth Brigade, artillery and other units plus a battalion from the British 49th Division. The conditions were horrendous and six men were needed to carry each stretcher because of the mud and water. The Germans suffered the same problems and an informal truce for stretcher-bearers came into force, although anyone without a stretcher was fired on. By the evening of October 14 there simply was no one left alive on the battlefield."

Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig’s account of the battle paints a sorry picture of brave men engaged in a totally futile task.

“They advanced every time with absolute confidence in their power to overcome the enemy, even though they had sometimes to struggle through mud up to their waists to reach him. So long as they could reach him they did overcome him, but physical exhaustion placed narrow limits on the depth to which each advance could be pushed, and compelled long pauses between the advances.”

Throughout the duration of the war Haig never once visited the front line to see, first-hand, what his troops endured. (My tame History teacher informs me)

67 comments:

Amber said...

Wow! This is interesting stuff! Thanks for blogging this!!

evirtualpie said...

good wrrite up. keep it up.

Zang said...

Great story. Now ure more than hundred years old right? ;p

kenni said...

It seems to me that Haig's statements were for a press release. more toward encouraging others to join the fray than give moral support to his men. :)

congratulations on having recognized as a blog of note. :)

Rahul said...

Good story! highly uplifting.

Kevin said...

Just to put this all in a context, the action at Passchendale was the last stage of a larger offensive aimed at capturing U-boat bases on the Belgian coast. The summer offensive near Ypres was kicked off brilliantly at Messines Ridge in June, but was drowned in unseasonable rains. It was perhaps the most senseless of all the British offensives during the Great War.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I wish I had been aware of your blog b4 my November 1 post, in which I advocate for the US to return to calling November 11 "Armistice Day," as a way to honor those who fought in WWI. I would have linked to your blog.

Jamie said...

"By the evening of October 14 there simply was no one left alive on the battlefield."

That must have been a horrible sight to see! I like the way you write, with such detail and description. Thanks for sharing!

the other cold one said...

Have happened across your blog through the blogs of note section. A most interesting account, and very moving. Amazing how you can see a very brave man in the letters. A bit of a do (39 killed, more wounded!) etc. My great-grandfather was a sniper in WW1, and the only thing we have as a reminder of that time are the Bruce Bairnsfather cartoon magazines, which in all probability he carried with him during the war, judging by the state of them. He lived to be 95, and died just after I was born, but apparently never ever spoke of his experiences. As Siegfried Sassoon said, there is no bravery on a battlefield, just necessity, and stark choices. Probably hard to explain to anyone without firsthand knowledge. I shall keep following your blog with interest. Thank you.

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Spaceman Spiff said...

Thanks, WWI is just so much ancient history, sadly. Thank you to the stoic canadians and english who suffered through the slaughter that was Passchendaele.

ADB said...

Thank you for bringing WW1 back to life, 90 years on. I've posted a blog with Faces from the War Memorial from the Isle of Lewis, which lost 1,150 of the about 6,000 that went to war between 1914 and 1919. 200 of those drowned within sight of Stornoway harbour on 1 January 1919, as they were coming home on HMY Iolaire. You still can't talk about that here in Lewis.

http://facesmemorial.blogspot.com/

Marco said...

Congratulations for you blog.
My grandfather served as a military doctor in the Portuguese Army during WWI. He went to South Angola and in France.

I managed to preserve some of his memories through my father.

Thats is how I developed my blog Antigamente (In the old days). It has a collection of postcards from my grandfather. It includes postcards from France in the years of WWI.

Just a note: It is all written in Portuguese. Sorry about that!

Chamberlain said...

Great write up. This story just exemplifies the conditions and horrific battles of WW1. These such stories must be preserved and told in order to continue to learn. Keep up the great work.

Bryan said...

This is a great blog. We can't forget those who gave us the freedom's we enjoy today. I'm linking this to my blog.

Nicole said...

Your blog is really intriguing. I think it's incredible to read someone's thoughts from many years ago!

Charity said...

oh my goodness! what a mysterious, interestign blog! :-)

girl in the know said...

Right now in History, we're studying the Somme Offensive and Passendaele and puts it into a much more interesting and personal perspective than any textbook ever could. Thank you so much for blogging his accounts.

It's true, Haig never visited the front line but since he was supported by the King, he was kept in charge. Even though the prime minister at the time disagreed with his methods.

kansasrose said...

What an excellent blog and thank you for sharing this with others. I have always wanted to learn more of WW1. My grandfather and his brothers served but he never spoke of it. My father is a WWII veteran. He and others should write blogs such as these. It is very important that these first hand accounts of war is told and preserved. Hats off to you and congratulations for a blogging job well done!

azzief said...

this is all very interesting.. i'll be following this, for sure!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing this blog; it really gives life to an era probably no one reading this lived through.

I wish I had as much from my own great-grandfather, who may very well have faced Harry across some no-man's-land between the opposing trenches: my great-grandfather was a sergeant with the 8th Infantry Detachment, Lorch Germany. He left his wife and three small children (one of whom would eventually become my grandfather) to serve in the Kaiser's army; I have his medals, but none of the family now living knows anything about his years in the service. If my grandfather knew anything about his father's war experiences, he refused to say. (There are apparently no existing WWI army personnel records to be gotten from Germany: they were, it seems, bombed out of existance during WWII.)

You are fortunate indeed to have Harry's letters, and we are fortunate you are sharing them with us.

-Gustav's great-granddaughter

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vid's said...

your blog is really original, and the story is interesting, ;)

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Anne Whitfield - author said...

Congratulations on a wonderful blog.
I shall return often.

Kid Marine said...

I'm fascinated with WWI trench warfare. War strategy has a lot of good comparisons to living through life. Battle of attrition seems to me like a war strategy as well as a popularity strategy for us today, we want everybody to like us even if it means paying little attention to all rather than a lot of attention to some. But, in the end, don't we want exposure? Candidates do, they want their name out there to everybody, not just to some. I dunno, just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Esta e uma mensagem para todo o mundo:
Fujam enquanto podem...
Corram plas vossas vidas..
salvem as vossas familias..
Lutem pla vossa subrevivencia..
A terceira Grande guerra vai comexar..
ELES FINALMENTE CHEGARAM!!

L-girl said...

What a great idea for a fascinating blog. I read a lot about WWI and happen to be reading a soldier's memoirs right now.

What a shame that you deface the blog with all the advertising.

DeportNow said...

I enjoyed...Thank You!

enfieldian said...

Hi there

Lovely idea for a blog. This 90th anniversary of Passchendaele has become poignant for me in that researching my family I found a Great Uncle was one of those who fell.

Ninquelosse said...

Nice going. Last month, me and my history class went on a WW1 trip around France - it's a bit odd seeing you mention Passchendaele, and Menin and stuff seeing I've only just come back from there.

actually, if you're interested, we all blogged the trip as we went: www.radiowaves.co.uk/tpyf
there's photos and stuff of all the memorials we visited. in case you're itnerested

Robert Lightfoot said...

Like some others have noted, the idea for this blog is wonderful. I'm in the middle of a book now called A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry.
His is one of the best fictional accounts of WWI I have read so far, filled with details and images that breath again from long ago and haunt me when I lay the book down.

Chelle B. said...

This is a wonderful blog, thank you for taking the time to put it together. I will definitely be following along.

Chelle B.

A Listener said...

Thank you for this interesting blog.

Suzanne said...

With all the attention that is generally given to WWII, how wonderful that you are honoring and bringing attention to the very horrific and compelling events of WWI. Thank you.

Coach Pete said...

My grandfather fought in WWI. I never had the chance to ask him about his wartime experiences. Your blog helpd me to understand what it was like for my grandfather and all those brave men who fought to keep us free. Heros all! Thanks!

Kawidawn said...

What an interesting and original way to tell an amazing story. I will be following your posts with interest.

Tonya said...

Congratulations on earning the Blogs of Note distinction. That's how yours caught my eye, and I've spent the last little while reading from beginning to end. In the next week we celebrate Veteran's Day here in the US, most people don't remember the original significance of November 11, 1918 which I find very sad. On a more personal note, your blog has inspired me to find out more about my great uncle's WWI service. Keep up the wonderful blog. I'm looking forward to finding out how
Harry's war experience ends.

Cantalupo said...

Is not possible to found words for all that sorrow.
May a hug be sent 90 years after a pain? I hope the answer is "yes".
Un abbraccio fortissimo,

Johan Olsson said...

Really good subject for a blog!

Newdy said...

Yes! I like your blog. It reminds me of the book "The Patriot's Progress" (by Henry Williamson) which is very much worth reading, even though the author fell to the british fascist movement later. regards from germany, -herbi-

jkru7777 said...

Very moving. I could see and feel what you were writing. well done!

R2K said...

: )

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~Denise~ said...

This is fascinating! Found this through Blogs of Note, and will be bookmarking. Thank you.

Shelley Munro said...

We remembered the battle of Passchendaele and all our NZ countrymen who died last month during the anniversary. Our Prime Minister attended services at Passchendaele. I think it's really important for us to remember all those who were lost.

Sidthegnomenator said...

Such a great site ... I'll be back.

Pete B said...

I have been an Anglophile ever since watching Up Stairs Down Stairs. on public TV.
I am an amateur military historian and read all I can about the Victorian and WWI period including the Boer war.
It is criminal that the lessons learned by Jr. officers in the Boer war did not translate when those same officers were Sr. commanders in WWI
As I Vietnam Vet I have a trunk of photos, home movies and letters as well as an audio tape or two.
I think it would be fantastic to release my letters and pictures as you are doing.
Its been 35 years since I looked at my letters and I can't bring my self to look at them.
Perhaps in 55 more years a grand son or daughter will find the time and inclination to blog them.
Best wishes. I can't wait to read more.

Allie, Dearest said...

What a cool idea! Thank you.

G-Man said...

This is terrific!

Nicole said...

Wonderful site! Look forward to your future posts--keep it up!
Nicole

Robin Bowman said...

A fabulous blog! What history should be - alive, vivid and moving.

Many thanks

Gypsy at heart said...

Great idea! Great blog!
I have added you to my links.
Thanks for your time and effort.

http://wanderingwonderinggypsy.blogspot.com/

Family said...

This is interesting stuff!

CHVNX said...

What an interesting blog!

I've bookmarked it!

Regards from Canada,
CHVNX.COM

Trish said...

Amazing stories told through letters. It puts flesh on bone and makes history come alive.

Fazlul 'Rahuman' Fazal said...

Seriously Wish that I could experience the same that you went through.

Tea N. Crumpet said...

Great blog-- I am so glad you are doing this in his honour and to show us what your grandfather was going through.

Jaclyn said...

I am in my Senior year at college (studying English, French, and Education) and I am in the process of creating a unit for a secondary English class. The book at the heart of the unit is Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. I was THRILLED to discover this blog. I think it is an innovative idea to publish your grandfather's letters in this form and it is very generous of you to share your family's experiences with all of us. I look forward to reading more about Harry!

Ernesto said...

My great uncle Alex Latta died on passchendale ridge. He was a Cree indian and an olympic long distance runner. The first of his race to become an Edmonton city policeman and by all accounts a very fine man. I have always wondered what he went through during his last days. keep the blog going please.EBL

dana_hun said...

Wow, I'm looking forward to become a military historian and this is amazing.I absolutaly love it, keep it up.
dana

Satellite TV said...

Great topic.It feels great to find this stuff being blogged about.Keep it up mate

todd vodka said...

Simply brilliant. The idea of recalibrating time to fit a blog is a true stroke. I can't wait to see where you go with it.
Todd Vodka
www.blithelywego.blogspot.com

Ardent said...

'While Harry’s battalion was in the front line, the main attack on the 12th October was carried out by the Australian and New Zealand troops. Their losses were enormous. They had little success.'

Notice how the British used the Australians and New Zealanders on the front line. Likewise the Americans put the Negros of the front line at Vietnam.

Australians are aware of being used by the British but the Australians have forgiven them.

AMC said...

That might be putting it a little strongly, ardent. The Poms weren't short of front-line casualties.

My grandmother has one memory of my Australian army captain great-grandfather, of him lifting her, aged three, to look into the top of a cupboard. He was home in Australia only a fortnight before he died of the gassing he'd received in France.

Anonymous said...

my great uncle died with the canadians,now i realise what that poor man went through and thousands of others.(ypes)the writing is very moving and i was quite tearful.

Anonymous said...

my great uncle was killed with the canadians,his name is on the memorial at ypres,it makes me quite tearful to realise what he and thousands like him must have suffered,his brother,my grandad was on the somme,and was in the cavalry,he had his horse shot out from under him and he was wounded, we need more people like you to come forward with these accounts of war and the terrible price these people had to pay,

Anonymous said...

It was extremely interesting for me to read that post. Thanx for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.