Interview with W.E. Curtis: 10th Battalion
Listen to W.E. Curtis' Story (9 minutes, 40 seconds)
Transcript of W.E. Curtis Interview:
Q. Well, when you went up to Passchendaele, Sir, I gather that the 10th was the very last unit involved in the Passchendaele campaign. The 7th and the 8th battalions went forward that morning. There's the Macilly crossroad which is out in that area.
A. There was a point where we went.
Q. Here, Vindictive Road, is that it?
A. No. St. Pol, no, not St. Pol. There was a point on the right of where we were at where we were congregated, the whole brigade congregated in there and we had a review by the corps commander, General Currie. Could it be St. Pol?
Q. Yes, I think so, yes.
A. There we had a review by General Currie. He told us what a fine body of men we were and all that stuff. He volunteered to take Passchendaele for his superiors. He had volunteered to do that. If the truth was only known, he was told to do it. From there we went up into Wilshire camp which was just nothing but tents. That was on the way up. We stayed there a couple or three days and then moved out overnight right through the city of Ypres up into a place which I believe was St. Julien. However there was nothing there but shell holes. We lay there overnight. I was buried there that night, as a matter of fact, up to my neck in mud and sand and chalk. We had nothing to do but do the best we could to get out of sight and keep ourselves as well-protected as we could so we cleaned out what was in the crater or shell hole and dug a little bit of a ledge around it so that we could sit down and found some old galvanized iron laying around, sheets of galvanized metal, and made a roof out of it and we established ourselves for the night and stayed there the whole day and moved up to Passchendaele the second night. I was fortunate coming out of there, as a matter of fact, because a shell from the enemy came over and dropped into the crater behind us or which would be forward of us and, in dropping in, it did not explode but it did disturb the earth between the two craters and we got all the water that was in the other. The whole thing caved in and there were two or three of us buried to our neck. We had one whale of a time getting out of that but we got out. We went forward up there over the old duck walks. We could see a plank road that had been built of nothing else but planks which I would think would be about three by twelves or four by twelves and the guns and that like were moving up there and particularly ammunition but we had nothing else to do but just walk the little duck walk which was just like a lumber sidewalk about two feet wide and probably eight feet long, in sections. Every once in a while we'd come to one and I came to one of them that wasn't there and stepped off of it. I had a Lewis gun on my back. We had been told to keep two paces apart in our walking. If it was convenient, of course, we'd be able to do it, on account of the shelling you know. I happened to fall off with my gun. A young officer was behind me and he started to try to drag me out. There was another little incident there that I could never forget. The officer was trying to pull me out. I created an obstruction and the men were bunching up. Some kind friend at the back, I won't use his expression but he did say, "Leave the son of a gun there". That's what he should have said if he was going to be polite. It was better to lose one man than a dozen. They got me out anyway and we carried on up into Passchendaele. Another little unfortunate thing about that was, we got out from there quite late in the evening and we were told to dig in. It was a case of every man for himself because the gunfire was so heavy. I think our battalion headquarters was in a big German pill box, one of these concrete creations, and if my memory serves me correctly, I may be wrong here, we lost our regimental sergeant major that night due to the fact that a shell exploded just about in front of the door of headquarters. I think his name was Thatcher. They hammered the daylights out of us all night long. We were trying to dig and, as fast as we dug one shovelful of mud out, two rolled in but we did eventually establish ourselves and then at daybreak we got the word, "You're in the wrong place. Advance two hundred yards". We advanced the two hundred yards losing quite a few men. We went in to take a nice trench in gravel and got out of the mud for a while. It was a little higher, I guess.
Q. I guess you were on the peak of the ridge.
A. Yes, it was a little higher there. There we had a full view, in early morning we had a full view of everything. We could see our own planes, just these little moths, I suppose you'd call them in those days, going backward and forward. The enemy, of course he was doing the same thing and machine gunning us to the best of his ability. I can remember another little incident there. Looking through, there was a stretcher party that went across in front of us in the German lines, carrying the sign of distress, the Red Cross flag, you know, showing a stretcher party. In common decency, if you want to call it that, or common custom, whichever you want to use, it was to respect them and let them carry on and take their wounded away. Our men naturally popped their heads up to see what was going on and some of them came down in a great big hurry. There was a machine gun on the stretcher, not a body, so you know what happened.
Q. Yes, that happened every once in a while.
A. Of course our men quite promptly responded and the stretcher dropped to the ground. I was only for a tour of twenty-four hours only in that trench. We were told that we had relieved the Australians but we never saw an Australian, we never saw anybody else. It was an empty trench when we got to it and it was empty when we came out. We stopped out the back of the trench and walked straight back.
Q. You went forward that morning, did you not, on the 10th?
A. We did not, not our section.
Q. But parts of the battalion?
A. They may have, yes. They may have put another company in, they may have done anything.
Q. The general story from most people is that you went through the 7th and 8th Battalions at some point on the 10th and took over.
A. It's quite possible that some of them did.
Q. You were very heavily shelled in the process.
A. Yes, we were very heavily shelled before we established in that one trench. We tried to dig in all we could. We were told, "Every man for himself". The officers alike were all digging and that was the first night we went in, the night that I went in with them. We could see them dropping like flies all around us. However, we were in there for twenty-four hours and they pulled our company out. That's all I know.
Interview with W.H. Joliffe: 4th Battalion
Listen to W.H. Joliffe's Story, (5 min, 44 seconds)
Transcript of W.H" Joliffe Interview
Q. Well now, eventually we got up to Passchendaele.
A. After the summer of 1917 we were told that we were going back up in the Passchendaele area. We trained for that for several weeks and, when we got in the area, we learned via the underground that the efforts on behalf of the army as a whole had not been too successful. However, our job at Passchendaele was, and it took us a very considerable length of time to get up into our jumping-off positions as the area was full of shell holes and the shell holes were filled with water. In some cases the shell holes were ten and fifteen feet deep so that we had to be very careful as to how we moved forward and the method of going forward was in single file over the duck boards.
Q. In this Passchendaele business, what did you get to when you got forward into jumping-off position? Did you have just another hole in the mud?
A. We just skirted the holes and then when the barrage started, we moved forward as best we could, skirting around these shell holes.
Q. What was your objective now at Passchendaele?
A. The objective of the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion was a section of Passchendaele Village. Passchendaele Village was infested with concrete pill boxes which created tremendous casualties at Passchendaele. As I recall it, the battalion went in full strength and our losses were extremely heavy. In my own company the four platoon officers, one was killed and three were wounded so that I was the only officer who came out of the company alive. However, we reached our objective and shortly after that, with the winter season coming on, the campaign came to a close. My recollection of Passchendaele is that it was a hell hole. Many men who were wounded, walking wounded going back to the field dressing stations or hospitals, would become weak and they would miss their footing on the duck boards and fall into a large shell hole full of water and be drowned.
Q. The village of Passchendaele itself which I suppose had been pretty badly shelled was on a little rise, was it?
A. It was at the top of the Passchendaele Ridge, it commanded the whole country.
Q. After you got through the mud you would have to climb up this smallish hill into the pill boxes.
A. We had to surround these pill boxes and knock them out, those that were not knocked out by artillery.
Q. When you attack a pill box, a pill box is a pretty solid piece of cement with a hole in it out of which comes a machines gun. That's the usual sort of pattern. There may be rifles as well but generally there's a machine gun. If you've gone to all that expense, you put a fairly biggish gun into a pill box. How would you attack such a pill box? You're an officer commanding coming up with troops and say there are three pill boxes across the road, what would you do in the way of a plan?
A. Well, in the case of one of the pill boxes on my company's frontage which was giving us considerable difficulty, it was decided to skirt around to the right and get behind the pill box which was eventually done and then several bombs were tossed down into these pill boxes from the rear and killed all the Germans inside.
Q. Passchendaele was a terrible time for everyone.
A. It was the most ghastly attack in which I ever participated because of the conditions and the fact that men who were wounded didn't have much of a chance to get out and if they tried to get out, in many cases they just were drowned.
Interview with Wallace Carroll: 15th Battalion
Listen to Wallace Carroll's Story (6 minutes, 6 seconds)
Transcript of Wallace Carroll Interview
Q. Had you heard about Passchendaele at this point? Did you know what it was going to be like?
A. No, no we didn't know what it was going to be like but from the fellows that had been into Ypres in 1915 and 16, we didn't like going. But we marched up, poked most of the way. We were met with buses and we were taken up - I suppose the last 40 or 50 kilometres - we were taken up by bus, and we got up to a place call Flamentenes and we were billeted, then eventually we moved on up into Passchendaele on the we, our company never got into the line at Passchendaele that is as a company. At Passchendaele we did a lot of working parties up there, building the plank road up towards as far as they could and eventually they built this plank road on to the Menin Road. Oh we did a lot of working parties and gatiuge around there and when the First and Second Divisions went over at Passchendaele our company was detailed as stretcher bearers for the Third Battalion.
Q. For the Third Battalion eh?
A. For the Third Battalion, yes. See they sent them in as a full Battalion but they had to have stretcher bearers cause casualties were very heavy up there. So I don't now how that worked out but our company got detailed as stretcher bearers, and we had one stretcher to four men. And we went on up they kicked off early in the morning and oh about eight o'clock we were sent in to pick up the wounded. Well the Commanding Officer of the Third Battalion he wouldn't allow us to go on any further. It's no use he said, you'd never get them, and he said, you'll never be able to get them out. The mud and the water up there was terrific but by the time we got as far as we did we were all soakin' wet. The shell holes were so close together and everyone was full of water see, that was low land country up there and the canals and the dikes you know up there had all been cut you see. And the water overflowed into the low country and consequently every shell-hole up there were some shell holes up there you could get out and paddle around in a canoe in them, and they were quite big. You could drown up there quite easy if you happen to fall in them at night time. And this Commanding Officer of the Third Battalion wouldn't allow us to go on up not till after dark. So we went up after dark and when we went up we got up to the front line and we got - they had quite a few wounded up around in there. But the four of us brought out one wounded man and we had an awful job getting him out. You see everything was pitch black and there was still lots of Jerries around in those shell holes and that, you see, that had been missed and they were taking potshots at you from the shell holes.
Q. Well how long would it take you to bring a man out from this front line? This was a terrible terrible long hard difficult trip: four men on a stretcher, how long would it take you to bring a man out?
A. You could only go about twenty feet and you had to put the stretcher down and take a rest. You see the mud was knee deep up at Ypres: first one guy would slip into a shell-hole and somebody else would go, it's a wonder the man ever stayed on the stretcher. Of course he hung on on both sides of the stretcher, he was wounded in the leg, but that man really stuck it. I don't know who he was or what his name was; I might have known at the time. He had a hard job hanging on to the stretcher because there was one or the other of us slipping into a shell hole, and it took us - I don't know now what time it was - but we got him out by daylight. By the time we got down to the dressing station on the plank road there it was daylight and we started up about eight o'clock at night. It took so, so long to get up in there and the tapes, the Third Battalion tapes you see.
Q. To show where they were?
A. Yes, but the tapes had been blown away, when you come to the end of the tape well you had to go and find the other end. Somebody had to get out and scout around and find out where the other end of it was. It took us a long time to get up there but we got there. As I say we got this one man and we brought him out. But there was lots of other men brought out too you know.
Q. Oh yes.
A. Buts that's just what the four of us did, and we were all night getting that one man out, and I'm telling you we were all in. Well the fellow had about, he had seven francs and he wanted us to have it between the four of us. He says you can buy something or other, he says if its only chocolate bars, so we told him to keep the seven francs you see, you can buy chocolate bars when you get in the hospital. You'll need a little money when you're in the hospital, because I told him I just come back from the hospital a little while ago. I says if you're in the hospital and got no money I says it's not so nice either, and they won't pay you, you know, while you're in the hospital.