The Story of the 28th Battalion - 1914 - 1917

by G. E. Hewitt

Passchendaele

A SUDDEN CHANGE.

The Canadian divisions had hardly returned to normal conditions of trench warfare after the August fighting before Lens than they were called upon hurriedly to move north again-this time to Flanders and their old haunts.

Since the lull in the great spring offensive on the Arras front British armies had been hammering at the Germans on the Flanders front, striking quick, vigorous blows at positions which the enemy had begun to regard as impregnable. The Messines ridge, scene of Canadian activities in 1915 and 1916, was the first to fall, stormed and won by English and Australian infantry. Then the ridges further north beyond Ypres, until by the end of October one alone remained to be conquered, the last and most formidable-the ridge of Passchendaele, possession of which would give the Allies the whip handle in that part of the country, with observation of almost the entire German-occupied plains of Western Flanders.

Already attempts had been made to capture this second "Vimy Ridge," but all had been doomed to failure, and even the straggling, rugged spurs which branched out westwards towards the British lines had defied the efforts of British and Colonial regiments. It seemed meet and right that the Canadian Corps should be called from Lens at last to pit its strength against the enemy in an area sacred to the memory of so many valorous Canadian sons.

About the middle of October the younger Divisions, the 3rd and 4th, left the slag heaps south of Loos, post haste for Ypres. On the 26th day of the month they fought a magnificent action, side by side, in which they carried the redoubtable Bellevue Spur, the key to Passchendaele and the Ridge, and sustained the reputation of Canadian infantrymen as storm troops. Besides paving the way for the culminating and successful attack by the two senior Canadian divisions ten days later.

PASSCHENDAELE-A GERMAN PRIZE.

The village of Passchendaele-included in the conquest of the 2nd Canadian Division in early November-could boast little but charred ruins. An eye-witness correspondent, describing its appearance during the morning of the battle, wrote as follows "As I saw it this morning through the smoke of gun fire and a wet mist, it was less than I had seen before, a week or two ago, with just one ruin there-the ruin of its church-a black mass of slaughtered masonry and nothing else; not a house left, not a huddle of brick on that shell-swept height."

Passchendaele Ridge had to be held at all costs against Canadians or anybody else. Hindenburg himself had decreed that it was to be defended to the last drop of blood, and if taken, was to be recaptured at whatever price in lives. To cheek our progress, the enemy had devised new systems of defence and built concrete block-houses or " pill-boxes " in echelon formation, and at every cross-roads and in every bit of village or farmstead.

Against such a bulwark the men of the 28th advanced to the attack in the early morning of November 6. As at the battle of Courcelette, they operated on the extreme left of the 6th Brigade front, the 31st Alberta Battalion on their right, the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Canadian Division on their left. The ground which lay between the assembly trenches and their objective was wet and swampy. In places the storming parties, moving forward in group formation, ploughed through the morass knee-deep. Farther on, they floundered to the waist while hostile airmen swooped down and poured machine gun bullets into their midst.

Undismayed, however, the men pushed on, cleaning up German trenches as they advanced towards the crest of the Ridge, and attacking the treacherous " pill-box fortresses from the flanks.

By 7:40 a.m. the battalion had reached the goal of their operations and added another glorious page to Saskatchewan history. The 27th of Winnipeg had also won and commenced to consolidate a new front line beyond the crest of Passchendaele, and the attacking waves of the 31st were well on their way to complete the triumph.

In the early afternoon success was assured for the Brigade's third vital engagement in six months. Over two hundred prisoners were taken, while the captured trophies included one minenwerfer and sixteen machine guns, which were used with deadly effect upon the retiring enemy.

Passchendaele was won-at the first attempt-and to the 6th Brigade fell the chief honours. `Twas their crowning triumph of a most successful year of campaigning, and one can feel with Brigadier-General Ketchen, who had commanded the westerners throughout their history, and who, in a glowing tribute to his men, confessing that his words could ill describe the magnitude of their efforts, said "It is impossible for me to do justice to the determination, initiative and gallantry displayed by all ranks, who were well aware of the difficulties of the situation, but met their many hardships with the utmost cheerfulness, outstanding spirit and high courage, which carried them through a memorable day and once again proved their fighting superiority over the enemy."

Once again the 28th-with their comrades of the " Iron Sixth "-had set a notable example of gallantry and endurance. And the story of the Battalion's deeds does not stop at Passehendaele-though no more may be written here of their doings. Soon they returned to their old positions south of Lens, where they spent another winter campaign and assisted in holding the coveted Vimy Ridge against the great onslaughts of the enemy in March of the present year. During all these months, the high traditions of the regiment were maintained and signal honours were gained from time to time by heroes from the great North-West.

The End


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