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.
Visitors should note that when visiting this sacred ground, you are treading on Newfoundland soil which has been dearly purchased by the money, blood and flesh of those valiant warriors from a little island far across the Sea.
But, their respite was not to last for long for The Battle of Cambrai was looming.
OMM. CD. BA. LTh. BD. DD.
Archdeacon Gerald Peddle was ordained a Priest of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1969. Now retired from active ministry, he has served parishes in Newfoundland and Labrador, Québec, Ontario and the Arctic. He has also served as a Chaplain to the Canadian Armed Forces. His final appointment, in the rank of Brigadier General, was as the Chaplain General at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. For the next six years, he provided specialist ministry to both National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. In total, he has served more than 51 years in active ministry.
Gerry currently serves as the Chairman of the Board for Beechwood, Canada's National Military Cemetery in Ottawa. He has also served as an International Guide, specializing in Battlefield Tours for several years.
The Caribou Tour to Gallipoli
In June 2022, we look forward to having Gerry back on the battlefields with us, escorting us on a special pilgrimage to Gallipoli Turkey, to see for the first time, the last of the six Caribou along the Newfoundland Caribou Trail in Europe. Check out the tour June 2022 >