The Story of the 28th Battalion - 1914 - 1917

by G. E. Hewitt

Vimy

WEATHER CONDITIONS-THE 28TH'S SHARE.

April 9th - one of the greatest days in Canadian history - brought a conglomeration of weather conditions. A cloudy, threatening dawn with early rain about zero hour, followed by sleet and snow. Later came spasmodic sunshine, then more rain and a cold wind from the north-west.

The 28th had moved into their battle positions on the night of April 8 by way of Mont St. Eloi and the village of Aux Rietz to the southern vicinity of Neuville St. Vaast, a march of 4 1/2 miles. Having acquitted them-selves so wall in all previous engagements the Saskatchewan men, now commanded by Lieut.-Col. Alex. Ross of Regina, were assigned a memorable task, including the capture of the village of Thelus on the western slopes of the Ridge-only blackened ruins, but the converging point of several important trench lines and believed to be alive with machine guns. Thelus trench, running into the village on the northern side, was allotted to the 29th Battalion.

It was about the ruins of Thelus that the principal fighting by the 28th took place. The advance across "No-Man's Land," though the going was rendered difficult by sleet and rain, was, in the words of a western officer, a picnic. There were casualties, of course, due to machine gun fire from the German front line and supports, but there was no stopping the Canadians who advanced to their objectives with even greater confidence than at Courcelette. By 9 a.m. the assaulting waves had reached the enemy trenches near the Lens-Arras road, which had been carried by the 4th Canadian Brigade earlier in the attack, and were deploying about a hundred yards in front, awaiting the moving forward of the barrage for the main assault on Thelus. By this time also, the 1st Royal West Kents and 1st King's Own Scottish Borderers of the 13th British Brigade had formed up on the left of the northern flank. At 9:35 the barrage lifted and the Infantry went forward as close to it as possible. Twenty minutes later, " B " Company of the 28th, in the lead, had carried the western end of Thelus village in face of a poor resistance, and three white " Very " lights, soaring skywards, told the eager watchers at head-quarters that Thelus trench had fallen before the men of Vancouver-the 29th.

Such marked success at a minimum cost was the best possible incentive to young troops, and the remaining objectives were reached and conquered with elan. The centre of Thelus was taken by "D" Company, working with "B" Company of the 31st Battalion, and by 10:40 it was known that "C" Companies of the same two battalions had won the eastern end of the village, while the 29th had established them-selves on the lower end of Hill 135, on the south-eastern spur of the Ridge, and in Thelus Wood. A grand triumph for the Brigade.

Half-an-hour later every intermediate objective had been gained, and "A " Company of the 28th were actually engaged in consolidating a main line of resistance.

OBSTINATE HUN GUNNERS.

Feeble as were the main efforts of the Germans to stem the dashing Canadian infantry, some sections of the latter encountered parties of obstinate Hun machine gunners and bombers at Thelus, and lively hand-to-hand exchanges took place, usually ending in the complete annihilation of the Boches or abject surrender to our men.

COMPLETE VICTORY-THE SPOILS.

Shortly after midday on the 9th the Brigade's task was completed-the "Iron Sixth" had enhanced their reputation gloriously. The 27th Winnipeg Battalion and the 29th, following up the successes of their comrades, swept over the crest of the Ridge and captured the Bois de la Ville and the village and wood of Farbus, and pushed out patrols even beyond their allotted limits. On the left and right flanks, too, complete victory rested with Canadian and British arms, and the possession of Germany's greatest bulwark on the Western front passed to Canada's citizen army. Over four thousand prisoners were captured in the battle, including those who fell to the 4th Canadian Division in a succeeding operation at " The Pimple," at the northern end of the Ridge, which alone had resisted successfully on the 9th, and many guns of every calibre, large stores of ammunition and bombs, and the paraphernalia of war. The trophies of the 6th Brigade alone included a thousand prisoners, fourteen guns and howitzers, a large trench mortar on wheels, and 25,000 rounds of gun ammunition. Many of these have now crossed the Atlantic, priceless additions to Canada's ever-growing collection.

The real fruits of the great conquest of Vimy Ridge were reaped, however, after the Canadians had gone. The change of ownership had far-reaching effects, and for the first time British troops were able to scan the great rolling plain of Douai, to observe the enemy in his haunts and to strike sledge-hammer blows at his strength, resulting at length in his retirement to pre-pared positions along the famous Hindenburg line. So productive was Canada's triumph on that cheerless April day.


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