The Story of the 28th Battalion - 1914 - 1917

by G. E. Hewitt

Introduction to the Trenches

IN THE TRENCHES AT KEMMEL.

The battle of Loos, which began on September 26, 1915, marked the advent of the 2nd Canadian Division on the Western Front. To be precise, the 6th Brigade first went into the trenches on the night of September 25, the 28th and 29th Battalions relieving units of the Canadian Highland Brigade at Kemmel, south of Ypres.

The Kemmel trenches, scene of all the 28th's early activities in Flanders, had witnessed sanguinary fighting in the opening months of the war, and the little cemetery of wooden crosses near a picturesque and historic chateau behind the lines, bore silent testimony to the sacrifices of English and Scottish regiments in defence of a key position.

Nevertheless, no serious engagement had taken place in this sector for many months. The trenches-when the weather was dry-were passably good, and within a few weeks of Canadian occupation were equal to the best on the Flanders battle-line. In the work of improvement, the men of Colonel Embury's command played no small part.

Two events stand out in bold relief in the story of the 28th's activities at Kemmel-the explosion of two enemy mines beneath a company of Saskatoon men on the night of October 8, and a trench raid carried out by picked men of the battalion on the last night of January, 1916.

The former was extremely unfortunate in view of the fact that it occurred during the battalion's second tour of trench duty. The casualties played havoc with the strength of "D" Company, commanded by Major C. R. Hill, and included some of the most popular non-commissioned officers of the regiment. It was a rare experience for an absolutely new battalion. Palpably aware of the fact that they were opposed by " green "troops, the German bombers left their trenches, expecting to find the 28th wiped out and incapable of any resistance. Thus deluding themselves, they made determined efforts to occupy the mine craters-but without avail. The new Canadians stood their ground and drove the enemy back with disconcerting and sustained rapid fire and a shower of hand grenades.

General coolness and distinctive heroism were evident throughout the battalion's trying experience, and Lieut. A. W. Northover, bombing officer, and Private Compton, of " B " Company, won the first decorations in the Division. Compton, since killed in action, showed gallantry of the highest order in rescuing some wounded comrades under a murderous fire, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, while Lieut. Northover later received the Military Cross for fine leadership.

In the important raid carried out against the German trenches in the Spranbroekmolen salient in January, the 28th co-operated with the 29th Battalion of Vancouver in earning an enviable reputation for the 6th Brigade.

The objects of the raid were to obtain prisoners for purposes of identification, to destroy enemy works, to injure his morale and to kill-all in a minimum space of time. The operation was as cleanly executed as it was brilliantly conceived. The raiders of the 28th, led by their scout officer, Captain (now Lieut.-Col.) D. E. McIntyre, went over the parapet according to a care-fully rehearsed plan and accomplished their work in record time. They entered the German trenches while the garrison was actually engaged in the process of relief, inflicting heavy casualties and securing several prisoners. . To the disappointment of the raiding party, however, the latter were killed on the return journey across " No Man's Land." The Vancouver raiders were also very successful, and altogether the affair was considered a fine coup for the two battalions, which were bombarded with congratulations from Army, Corps and Divisional chiefs, while their dash and enterprise were lauded by the war correspondents from the north to the south of the Allied front.

TRENCH WARFARE-FLANDERS MUD.

Throughout the early weeks of 1916 the battalion was engaged in regular tours of trench duty in the Kemmel sector, during which severe weather conditions made physical discomfort an ever-present bug-bear. But the men faced all their difficulties with characteristic dogged-ness and cheerfully ploughed their way through the slime and mud of the roads leading from their billets at Locre to the trenches. In those days casualties were not high, and the round dozen or so which occurred each tour were due principally to the alertness of the German snipers, who had our overland routes well covered. Canadian marksmen, too, proved their worth on many occasions, and the snipers of the 28th established a record, which remained with the battalion throughout its history.


28th (North-west) Battalion Headquarters is © Copyright 2001 Robert Lindsay. All Rights Reserved