aardvarkcola

Passchendaele

Posted on: September 4, 2008

Tonight the Paul Gross movie, Passchendaele, will be screened at the Toronto Film Festival.

Already a review of the movie is out, written by Hollywood Reporter writer Kirk Honeycutt, who describes the story includes “strained melodrama” and “cardboard characters.”

The film will find a ready audience in Canada but that it will be more difficult to find an audience elsewhere, Honeycutt writes.

“He (Gross) tries to imagine what it must have been like for his grandfather to experience chaos and carnage on every side with no sense of purpose or reason. He does this very well, in fact. But his insistence that this battle is nonetheless a shining moment for Canadians is at odds with the utter degradation and cruelty of those deaths.”

Passchendaele was a Belgian town with a deemed important to take before moving further toward the Belgian coast to capture German submarine bases.

Before the town could be taken Canadians needed to advance through eight miles (12.8 kilometres) of French bog land, churned to liquid mud by constant bombardment. Many soldiers falling in it drowned, unable to free themselves. No trenches could be dug into the muck. The defending Germans built a series of concrete pillboxes to fire from. German forces tried the first use of chemical warfare, mustard gas, on the battlefield against the advancing Canadians.

By the time Canadian soldiers finally wrested the town from the German forces, 16,000 Canadians had died, and over 300,000 allied troops before them. German dead numbered about 250,000.

The Canadians captured Passchendaele on November 7, 1917 after three months of fighting.

But it all seemed to be for naught.

British command voluntarily surrendered the town four months later to deal with a lack of troops at another battle site, the Battle of Lys in which Portugese troops were suprised by a sudden German spring offensive and lost 7,000 soldiers as 50,000 German troops attacked in what was to be the last year of the war.

Eleven Victoria Crosses, the highest award for valour in the British Empire, were won in the battles for Passchendaele, Of those, nine Victoria Crosses were won by Canadian soldiers.

The recipients included:

Cpl. Colin Fraser Barron, 24. The Wikipedia description of his actions: “…when his unit was held up by three machine-guns, Corporal Barron opened fire on them at point-blank range, rushed the guns, killed four of the crew and captured the remainder. He then turned one of the captured guns on the retiring enemy, causing severe casualties.”

Pt. Thomas William Holmes, 19 (he admitted to King George V that he had lied about his age to enlist at 17), won the Victoria Cross for performing this action: “…when the right flank of our attack was held up by heavy machine-gun fire from a pill-box strong point and heavy casualties were producing a critical situation, Private Holmes, on his own initiative and single-handed, ran forward and threw two bombs, killing and wounding the crews of two machine-guns. He then fetched another bomb and threw this into the entrance of the pill-box, causing the 19 occupants to surrender.”

Pt. Cecil John Kinross of the 49 Edmonton Battalion. His citation reads, “Shortly after the attack (on Passchendaele Ridge) was launched, the company to which he belonged came under intense artillery fire, and further advance was held up by a very severe fire from an enemy machine gun. Private Kinross, making a careful survey of the situation, deliberately divested himself of all his equipment save his rifle and bandolier and, regardless of his personal safety, advanced alone over the open ground in broad daylight, charged the enemy machine gun, killing the crew of six, and seized and destroyed the gun. His superb example and courage instilled the greatest confidence in his company, and enabled a further advance of 300 yards to be made and a highly important position to be established.”

Sgt. George Harry Mullin, 25, of the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry. The description of his action: “Sergeant Mullin single-handed captured a pill-box which had withstood heavy bombardment and was causing heavy casualties and holding up the attack. He rushed the snipers’ post in front, destroyed the garrison with bombs, shot two gunners and then compelled the remaining 10 men to surrender. All the time rapid fire was directed on him and his clothes were riddled with bullets, but he never faltered in his purpose and he not only helped to save the situation but indirectly saved many lives.”

Cpt. Chrisopher Patrick John O’Kelly, 21. The description of his action: Captain O’Kelly led his company with extraordinary skill and determination. They captured six pill-boxes, with 100 prisoners and 10 machine-guns. Later his company repelled a strong counterattack, taking more prisoners, and subsequently during the night they captured a hostile raiding party consisting of one officer, 10 men and a machine-gun.

George Randolph Pearkes.The actions that won him the Victoria Cross:

“For most conspicuous bravery and skilful handling of the troops under his command during the capture and consolidation of considerably more than the objectives allotted to him, in an attack. Just prior to the advance Major Pearkes was wounded in the thigh. Regardless of his wound, he continued to lead his men with the utmost gallantry, despite many obstacles.
At a particular stage of the attack his further advance was threatened by a strong point which was an objective of the battalion on his left, but which they had not succeeded in capturing. Quickly appreciating the situation, he captured and held this point, thus enabling his further advance to be successfully pushed forward.
It was entirely due to his determination and fearless personality that he was able to maintain his objective with the small number of men at his command against repeated enemy counter attacks, both his flanks being unprotected for a considerable depth meanwhile.
His appreciation of the situation throughout and the reports rendered by him were invaluable to his Commanding Officer in making dispositions of troops to hold the position captured.
He showed throughout a supreme contempt of danger and wonderful powers of control and leading.”

Pt. James Peter Robertson, 34, of 27 Battalion (awarded posthumously). His action: “…when his platoon was held up by a machine-gun, Private Robertson rushed the gun, killed four of the crew and then turned the gun on the remainder. After inflicting more casualties and carrying the captured gun, he led his platoon to the final position and got the gun into action, firing on the retreating enemy. During the consolidation his use of the machine-gun kept down the enemy sniper fire. Later when two of the snipers on his own side were wounded, he went out and carried one of them in under heavy fire but he was killed just as he returned with the second man.”

Lt. Robert Shankland, 29. The description of his actions: “Having gained a position at Passchendaele on 26th October 1917, Lieutenant Shankland organised the remnants of his own platoon and other men from various companies to command the foreground where they inflicted heavy casualties on the retreating Germans. He later dissipated a counter-attack, allowing for the arrival of support troops. He then communicated to his HQ a detailed evaluation of the brigade frontage. On its completion he rejoined his command, carrying on until relieved. His courage and his example undoubtedly saved a critical situation.”

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  • wordbeeps: No, he doesn't deserve an apology. Who tweets during a funeral? If you do, expect feedback. I didn't say the mourners were faking it. I think they we
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