28th Battalion History

St. Eloi and Hooge - Spring 1916

April 1, 1916

The Battalion is at Mettern for rest and training.

St. Eloi - The 31st and 27th Battalions man the newly taken line, still full of British dead and wounded, with the craters between their front line positions and the support line trenches where the 28th was positioned. The advice of the outgoing division's commander, with experience in crater fighting, was "to make good the new front line and wire it... dig a support line in front of the craters & wire it... provide communications trenches between old and new front lines... make tunnelled dugouts in the rear exterior slopes of the craters as soon as the earth had consolidated sufficiently... make and maintain dummy trenches round the lips of the craters to induce the enemy to waste ammunition by shelling them." Brigadier General Ketchen disagreed with this plan and wanted to occupy & fortify the craters themselves as the main defensive positions but there was no time to change the plan. All reinforcements & supplies therefore must come around the line of craters using very shallow communication trenches or over open ground.

April 4 & 5, 1916

The entire Canadian front line is under continuous bombardment, destroying trenches & sand bag parapets.

April 4, 1916

The Battalion is transferred to Dickiebusch and into Brigade Reserve. Men are sent out as carrying parties.

April 5, 1916

One Lewis gun team from each of the 22nd, 24th, 25th & 26th Battalions reinforces the 28th Battalion. In the evening, small parties from the 28th were sent out into the four large craters as snipers and observers until they could be trenched & manned.

April 6, 1916

A work party from the 28th assisted in digging and wiring a support trench between the front and the craters to close a gap in the line between the 31st & 27th Battalions early in the morning. At the same time, other parties are moving the wounded back. The artillery bombardment intensified and two German battalions, 400 men, attacked at 3:30AM. The Germans cross the trenches the 28th had dug & enter Craters 2 & 3, overwhelming the work parties there. The 28th ordered to attack to retake these craters. The 28th moved to the center support trench at Voormezeele & were very heavily shelled. While the 27th & 29th were to assault craters 2 & 3 from the right, the 28th & 31st were to reoccupy craters 4 & 5 from the northeast. It was almost impossible to get through the mud or know where they were going due to the severely broken ground & lack of familiarity. The 28th occupied craters 6 & 7, thinking that they were their objective.

April 7, 1916

An attack was made during the night of April 6-7 on craters 4 & 5 (thought to be 2 & 3) by bombing parties from 25th, 31st Battalions and 28th Battalion (Captain Styles) led by Lieutenant Murphy of 25th Battalion. The force from the 28th was 75 bombers and two companies. They reported that, despite Heavy rain and shellfire, they had gotten quite close to the craters before being repulsed. In fact, they lost their way in the dark and occupied a group of craters north of crater 4 and, though they captured several small German patrols had failed to even identify their objective correctly.

April 7-15, 1916

The following night, April 7-8, the 6th Brigade was relieved by the 4th brigade after suffering 617 casualties in the preceding four days of fighting. The 28th Battalion was relieved by the18th Battalion and moved back to support trenches where it worked to improve the fieldworks with sandbags and wire. The confusion about exact positions at the craters continued for another week.

April 9, 1916

The Battalion marches from Schaetken to Zevecoten via La Manche, Mont Noir, Westoutre, Heksken, Reninghelst.

April 12, 1916

General Turner, the general commanding 2nd Division, sends a memorandum to brigades and units containing fourteen "points which may be learnt from our recent operations at St. Eloi". Seven of the points were in regards to meathos of securing and transmitting reliable information, as this failure was "one of the greatest obstacles to the success of the enterprise".

April 18, 1916

The Battalion moves to Dickiebusch.

April 19, 1916

The Battalion relieves the 26th Battalion in the trenches.

April 22, 1916

The Battalion is relieved by the 19th Battalion and moves to camp 'H', (M.5.a.5.8.).

April 23, 1916

The Battalion moves to Zevecoten.

May 1, 1916

Moved to Divisional reserve at Reninghelst, relieves the 31st Battalion in 2nd Brigade Reserve at Dickebusch.

May 2, 1916

The Battalion Relieves the 31st Battalion, 'A&B' companies at Voormezeele, 'C&D' companies deployed in 'Scottish Wood'.

May 4, 1916

The Battalion relieves the 26th Battalion in the left sector.

May 9, 1916

The Battalion is relieved by the 19th Battalion and moves into billets at 'D' camp, Reninghelst.

May 15, 1916

The Battalion relieves the 24th Battalion in camp 'A', Dickebusch.

May 18, 1916

The Battalion holds an open air concert with the battalion band.

May 19, 1916

The Battalion relieves the 27th Battalion in Dickebusch.

May 23, 1916

The Battalion relieves the 26th Battalion in left centre of frontline.

May 28, 1916

General Alderson, hitherto in command of the Canadian Corps, is appointed Inspector General of Canadian Forces in England. His place is taken on the 29th by a future Governor-General of Canada, Lieutenant-General the Honorable Sir Julian H. G. Byng who had commanded the British 9th Corps in the Dardanelles campaign. Byng's successful evacuation of his troops from that precarious position was considered by both sides as showing great military skill.

May 31, 1916

The Battalion is relieved by the 26th Battalion in the left sector. Moves to 'E' camp in divisional reserve, Reninghelst.

June 4, 1916

The Battalion is relieved by the 8th (Imperial) Infantry Brigade and moves to Camp 'F' in the 3rd Divisional area.

Night of June 5-6, 1916

Overnight, 28th Battalion relieves Royal Canadian Regiment on the knoll at the shattered village of Hooge. The Battalion does so by marching up the Menin Road, skirting the Menin Gate, then across country and into the communication trenches. Disposition in the line was:

- 1&½ companies in the front line and bombing posts.

- 2 companies and machinegun sections (4 Colt machineguns, 2 Lewis guns & 1 Stokes mortar) in the support line, 500 meters behind the front.

- Remaining 2 companies in support trenches by the Menin Road. The relief was interrupted by heavy fire from enemy at 0100. Dispositions as of 0230 were as follows:

'A' Company was in Trenches 70-72,
'B' Company was in Trenches 73-75,
'C&D' companies were in Trenches 72R to 74R,
'Halfway House' was the Battalion HQ.

June 6, 1916

A very heavy artillery barrage on the front and support lines started at 7:00 AM, and continued until 2:00PM. At 3:05 PM, the Germans explode 4 enormous mines under 200 yards of the Battalion's frontline trenches (covering the eastern outskirts of Hooge) at Trenches 70, 71 & 72 which it is believed, with the serious bombardment, practically wiped out the garrison. Trenches 73-75 also suffered heavily. (See Map) The men in the frontline and bombing posts suffered heavy casualties, including the men from 'A' Company who were almost wiped out. 'A' Company's men came from the twin ports area at the head of the lakes in Ontario. As there were now no units in the battalion from Ontario, all future reinforcements for the Battalion were to come from Saskatchewan.

Private Fraser of the 31st Battalion recorded in his diary:

"It was raining continuously where my unit lay, contained only one dugout, which sheltered an officer. The trench by this time was filled up with water, there being over a foot, and behind was a swamp. Everything became saturated with wet, the bread in the ration bags became a pulp, all eatables, except canned goods, were completely destroyed. Clothes and equipment weighed as heavy as lead. Shells were exploding all aroundsending up showers of mud and water. The wounded lay where they fell on the poisonous ground of Flanders."

The attack came; the first rush was easily squashed by the'Imperials' (British) troops on the Canadian left; but the overran the 28th Battalion, "who in the front line were wallowing in death". The 31st Managed to fight them off, "notwithstanding the difficulties we were in, encumbered with the dead and wounded; the firing step smashed in places; in mud and wet; rifles half clogged; and though dazed and crazed we pull ourselves together, line the servicable part of the parapet and blaze into the advancing enemy, who recoils in confusion. All we accomplished was to penetrate down to our old communication trench into Zouave Wood".

(from Sanctuary Wood & Hooge by Nigel Cave)

The Germans quickly captured the front lines but were stopped by fire from the 28th's men in the support line and the 31st on the right flank in Zouave Wood. They held on to the support trenches along side the Menin Road and had repulsed the German assault with rifle & machinegun fire by 3:30 PM. This was accomplished, despite significant jamming problems with their Ross rifles. 'B' Company had few remaining men and 'C&D' Companies suffered many casualties. The effective strength of battalion was reduced to about 50%.

The German troops dug in where they were stopped and were in possession of Hooge. The holding of Hooge had been important to the British honour, having suffered many casualties in holding this hamlet. Its loss by the Canadians was viewed with disdain by British troops.

June 8, 1916

The 29th Battalion commences the relief of the remainder of the 28th Battalion in the line.

June 9, 1916

The Battalion marches to 'D' camp in 3rd Divisional area. Major-General R.E.W. Turner, Commander 2nd Division, reports to Lieutenant-General Julian Byng, Commander Canadian Corps, that the 28th and 31st Battalions found the Ross Rifle satisfactory and that the Regimental Sergeant-Major of 28th reports that he has heard no complaints whatever despite the fact that the firing was intense.

June 11, 1916

The Battalion receives a draft from England of 250 men.

June 12, 1916

The Battalion H.Q., along with 'C&D' Companies, moves to the Ramparts, Ypres. 'A&B' companies remained at 'D' camp for reorganization.

June 13, 1916

The Battalion H.Q. with 'C&D' Companies relieves the 29th Battalion on the left sector as follows:

Halfway House, HQ;
'C' Company in Trenches 71-74;
'D' Company in Culvert Post, China Wall, Birr Post & the Ramparts.

June 14, 1916

'A&B' companies proceed to 'B' camp, Dickebusch Huts.

June 15, 1916

The 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards relieves the Battalion H.Q. and 'C&D' Companies from the trenches. They proceed to join 'A&B' companies at 'B' camp, Dickebusch Huts.

June 20, 1916

The Battalion relieves the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots in the trenches. (Spoil Bank, Lock House, Old Kent Road, Clapham Junction, trenches 23-25, 26-28)

June 28, 1916

The Battalion is relieved by 26th Battalion and moves into Divisional reserve in Quebec Camp, Reninghelst.

Summer 1916

The Battalion, along with the rest of 2nd Division, moved west to the St. Omer area for three weeks of rest and training. After this break, the Battalion entrained for the Somme battlefield where the attacks had been going on since July 1 with little progress.

28th (North-west) Battalion Headquarters is © Copyright 2002 Robert Lindsay. All Rights Reserved