Newfoundland and Labrador: a Contribution Remembered (part 11)


The third Batte of Ypres 1917, and Masnieres





^^^ Langemarck, 1920. The mound in the distance is all that remains of the church. (From Michelin Guide, 1920) Learn more here


 



The Allied failures at Arras in mid-1917, and the French failure at the Aisne, demanded a new strategy for the Western Front. This developed into an offensive through Flanders with the objective of securing the Belgian Coast. Today, we call it the Third Battle of Ypres.



The Newfoundland Regiment, which by now had been brought back up to full strength, became a part of this strategy. They arrived at their well-remembered Poperinge (by train) on June 27th, 1917, and settled into trenches next to the Yser Canal, just East of Ypres.



From there, they became active participants in “The Hell known as Passchendaele.”



Specifically, they were involved in two major assaults against the enemy – the first was the battle of Langemarck – where today a large German War Cemetery is located. After dark on August 14th, they trudged through the mud to get to the jumping-off points. Interspersed between shell holes and trenches, the plank tracks were in many places knee-deep in mud and many men had to be physically dragged out of the gumbo. By the next night, they were ready, and they attacked at dawn on the 16th.



Now they began to notice something new. Many of the enemies seemed to be demoralized and showed little will to fight. They either surrendered or beat a hasty retreat. In one action Private John Peddle, with five others, received the Military Medal for distinguished

action in destroying a series of pillboxes and taking several dozen prisoners.



Interestingly, a message was relayed back to HQ, by pigeon mail, indicating that the first objectives had been successfully taken.



In the Langemarck attack, the Newfoundlanders lost 103 men, of which 27 were fatal. While there is no estimate of the number of German casualties, 113 of them became prisoners of war.



On August 17th, The Newfoundlanders were moved back to the Yser Canal in Ypres for a couple of months rest and refitting, and training of newly-arrived troops from home.



On September 29th, the German artillery found their location and shelled them with mustard gas. Most were badly gassed.



On October 4th they celebrated the third anniversary of the departure of the first NFLD contingent from St. John’s.



On October 9th, The Battalion was found fighting In the Battle of Poelcappelle, which was part of the offensive to capture Passchendaele. (The Regiment called this the Battle of Marcoing and Masnieres for which they received Battle Honours.)



Just before dawn, they were roused from their exhausted sleep with an issue of hot tea laced heavily with dark rum. They immediately scrambled over the top and headed towards their objective on the Broembeek stream.



In one part of the action, Sergeant Purcell led his platoon towards a German pillbox and crawled through the mud to toss a Mills bomb into the structure. The five dazed survivors immediately surrendered. Sergeant Purcell received the Distinguished Service Medal (DCM) while thirty-two other decorations were won by Newfoundlanders that day.



The 29th Divisional War Diary states that “… the Newfoundlanders displayed an endurance and a spirit of self-sacrifice that was unsurpassed by the assaulting troops in the forefront of the battle.” Once again, the statistics for the day’s fighting were staggering. Sixty-seven Newfoundlanders had been killed and one hundred and twenty-seven were wounded. But they took some solace in the fact that they had not only met all their assigned objectives they had also taken a large number of prisoners. As well, they either killed or wounded an even larger number of the enemy.



The next day on the 10th of October, the Battalion commenced a month of well-deserved rest. This time they were taken by train back to France to familiar territory at Berles-au-Bois – a quiet little village ten miles South-West of Arras.



Again, unforgettable emotions and memories would be revived here as it was just 10 miles from Beaumont Hamel. By now, this land around the Somme, particularly in the Beaumont Hamel area, was becoming very personal to these Newfoundlanders.



Padre Nangle would later memorialize this by having the NFLD Government purchase the land and thus create the Beaumont Hamel Park.