102nd Bn Tac Sign102 Bn Gif102nd Bn Tac SignBC COAT OF ARMS 1906102nd Bn Tac Sign102 Bn Gif102nd Bn Tac Sign
The Story of the 102nd Canadian Infantry Battalion
From BC to Baisieux by Sgt Leonard McLeod Gould HQ 102nd Canadians WW1


  

CHAPTER VII.

First Visit to Divion - Two Tours in Passchendaele - Divion Again - Pre-Christmas Celebrations

On Oct. 4th the whole Battalion, including the Transport and all Base personnel, pulled out of the Gouy area and marched five miles to Gauchin Egal, a hamlet nestling in the valley between two precipitous hills; here a halt was made for one night and early next morning we set out for Divion, marching past the First Army Commander, Sir H. S. Horne, K.C.B., "en route." Divion is a coal-mining village about a mile and a half from Bruay, well peopled with prosperous miners who did not regard the billeted soldiery as their sole means of support and therefore lawful prey, but on the other hand took them to their hearts and homes and treated them all with the utmost hospitality.    Tournehem, Divion and, later, Boitsfort will always be remembered by the men of the 102nd with feelings of genuine affection and gratitude.  Billets at Divion were good; the place is lighted by electricity, a fact well worthy of note in French and Belgian country districts; it is divided into two distinct sections, the upper portion being known amongst the troops as "Transvaal," where for a long time the Canadian Light Horse were billeted, and the lower town being reserved for transient troops, for whom there was ample accommodation. There was a sufficient number of fair-sized houses to make it an easy matter to arrange both officers' and sergeants' messes for each Company and Headquarters; an open space in the middle of the village afforded plenty of room for a Battalion parade, whilst on the outskirts was a field suitable for Battalion drill. On the occasion of our first visit Headquarters were established in a large brewery. Shortly after our arrival we were rejoined by Major Lister, who returned from his Course in England to take up the duties of Second-in-Command. On the 8th, Major A. Graham, formerly of the 29th Battalion and more recently O.C. 2nd Divisional School, reported for duty and took over the duties of Adjutant. Throughout the week rain was prevalent and an inspection by the Army Commander at Houdain had to be cancelled, to the great joy of the troops.  If anybody ever believes that the troops who look so nice and smiling on parade during the course of a big
review or inspection are really as happy as they look, he is greatly mistaken; they may not be dressed in sheep's clothing, but their inner feelings closely approximate to those of ravening wolves.

A move was made on the 11th, when we entrained at Houdain for Thiennes, which was reached at 3.00 p.m. From the station we marched by a most circuitous route to Boeseghem, a distance of five miles, only to find that we had proceeded three parts round a circle and that the station we had left was about a mile and a half from us. Great difficulty was experienced in billeting the men here; Imperials had not moved out, as expected, and the members of the billeting party had a long tramp up and down the roadways of a widely scattered village before they could find accommodation for all. Some of us will long remember a tiny house which looked as though it had walked out of a child's picture-book, which not only housed a dozen burly sergeants in a hay-loft, but managed to feed them on fried potatoes and beer and whose occupants were afterwards polite enough to pretend that they enjoyed the singing. A march of ten miles next day brought us to Ste. Marie Cappel, a village nestling under the shadow of the hill on which Cassel, the home of the 2nd Army Headquarters, was perched. Here we found a tented camp, which afforded good accommodation in spite of heavy rain. A move was expected daily, but did not take place until the 22nd, and during the interim the usual drills and parades took place, special attention being paid to the training of all Specialist branches. The villagers round this neighhourhood have a very fair knowledge of English which was not to be wondered at, seeing that British troops had been quartered in their neighbourhood since the beginning of the war. The Sisters Susie ("Susie" seeming to be the generic name for the bar-ladies of this district) were really wonderfully proficient, seeing that all their education had come from business relations over the counter with the soldiers. Still, to use a colloquialism, that's "some" relationship.

    Our real work in Passchendaele started on Oct. 22nd, when at 6.45 a.m. we entered 'buses and drove to the outskirts of , marching thence through the historic city to a dismal swamp a mile and a half to the north known as Potijze. The 4th Division was relieving the Australians in this area and the 102nd was now in Support. Headquarters were established in Hussar Farm, and the Companies were dispersed in tents or bivouacs which maintained a precarious anchorage in a sea of mud. In Potijze we remained, furnishing working parties in large numbers by day and night: these were used for cable burying or supply carrying, and in view of the natural conditions prevailing the labour entailed was exhausting in the extreme, to say nothing of the fact that all work had to be carried on under a desultory artillery fire which caused occasional casualties. On the 27th we moved back into Reserve, rejoining our Transport Lines at Toronto Camp, Brandhoek, seven miles behind the Support position. The main road recalled memories of the Albert-Bapaume road of the previous year, being crowded with transport of every kind. Close to Brandhoek was an enormous lorry park, which gave the visitor some faint idea of the vast numbers of lorries which were in use on even a single front. Toronto Camp was a good camp, and a large Y.M.C.A. catered well to the needs of the men, but the baths at Brandhoek were too small for the work, and for some reason there was a "hold-up" in clothing. Though it was now the end of October and the weather was both wet and cold, no sufficient supply of winter clothing could be obtained until November had well set in. It was whilst we were in this area that we first became accustomed to night bombing. Previously we had had experience of the odd bomb or so; from now onwards they became part of our normal life.

A sudden call to support the 12th Brigade took the Battalion up the line again on the 30th. Orders were received at 11.50 am., and within 40 minutes the Companies had entrained at Brandhoek Siding and were ready to proceed, a promptness of action which met with its due reward when the Battalion was kept waiting in the cold at Potijze for exact instructions as to its ultimate destination. Eventually orders came in that we were to dig-in on Abraham Heights, a position reached by duck-walks laid over the mud; the latter was deep enough to engulf a man up to his arm-pits. This advance was made under heavy fire which caused 13 casualties, and on arrival the only shelter the men could get was what they could dig for themselves. At 6.00 p.m. on the last night of the month the Battalion moved up to the front line, relieving the 85th Bn. This move was conducted throughout under heavy fire, including many gas shells, from the effects of which barrage we lost the services of Major W. Bapty, our Medical Officer, whose place was taken by Capt. H. Dunlop, C.A.M.C. The Companies only remained in the front line one night and one day, being relieved on the night of November 1st by the 9th Australian Bn., but a heavy barrage prevailed all the time and the front line trenches afforded little if any shelter; consequently casualties were frequent, showing a total of 28 Other Ranks killed for the whole: of the first tour in Passchendaele, with Major W. Bapty, Lieuts. D. E. Webster, J. J. Rowland and 74 Other Ranks wounded or gassed. This last tour over the front line was responsible for the only casualties which ever occurred during the war amongst the Other Ranks personnel of the Battalion Orderly Room, Sgt. H. N. Monk being wounded (at duty) by a shell splinter in the arm, and Pte. F. C. Morgan being badly gassed. On relief the men spent the night at Potijze, returning by train to Brandhoek in the morning.

On the afternoon of Nov. 3rd we entrained again at Brandhoek Siding for Caestre, whence we marched a couple of miles to KoortenLoop. Here we found that the Transport had already arrived, together with a lorry-load of Base personnel and stores, and that billets had already been secured. Headquarters was established in a commodious and spotlessly clean estaminet, not the least charming feature of which was another "Susie" in the person of the daughter of the house, who would have graced the stage of any music-hall in the world. Lying between Caestre and Haazebruck, two important railway centres, KoortenLoop is surrounded by the farming country typical of that portion of Flanders; the landscape is rolling rather than hilly and traversed in every direction, with the cobbled roads known as "paves," which, though well calculated to withstand the march of time, are uncomfortably adapted for the march of troops. The time was chiefly spent in general reorganization. On the 5th, the Corps Commander held a review of the 11th Brigade at Hondeghem, in our immediate neighbourhood, and on the 8th Col. Warden proceeded to England on duty, followed by leave, handing over the command to Major Lister, with Major E. J. Ryan acting as Second. On the next day we once more set our faces towards Passchendaele, and proceeding by train from Caestre detrained at , leaving the Base details at Brandhoek, where they arrived twenty-four hours before they were expected and had the utmost difficulty in obtaining accommodation. In fact, the whole unit seemed to have taken time by the forelock, as on arrival at Potijze in driving rain and gathering darkness we found a muddy field and a pile of tents which had been begged, borrowed or stolen by our B.Q.M.S., Frank Hallas, when he discovered that no arrangements had been made for our disposal. Owing to some element of misunderstanding conditions were unnecessarily as full of discomfort as possible. A corrugated iron hut, isolated in the darkness of a remote corner of the area, was found for a Headquarters, and even from this meager shelter we were ejected on the following day, as it was claimed to be the property of another unit. Headquarters was accordingly moved to the scullery of a ruined house, which served well enough until a heavy fall of rain left an inch of water on the floor, which could have been tolerated. but effectually made work impossible by dripping on all the papers, necessitating twenty-four hours building and repair work by the Pioneers. Four working-parties were sent out on the 10th, of which only two were able to complete the tasks set, one of the others having been wrongly directed and the second finding the area assigned congested with men and being heavily shelled. The explanation was that the Engineers had contracted the habit of asking for more men than they needed, as it was so often impossible to fulfill their demands; consequently when a full complement was sent, as in this case, so many men appeared on the scene as both to hamper themselves and to draw the enemy`s fire.

Nov. 12th saw us on our way to Support area on Abraham Heights. The intention was that the Battalion would only stay in the Forward area a couple of nights, pending relief by the Imperials, and orders were issued that no shaving kits of any description were to be taken up; this order was gleefully obeyed by nearly everybody. As it turned out, we remained in the line seven full days, and the results were rather comical. On arrival at Boathoek, where Headquarters "was to be established, we found that the 87th Bn., whom we were relieving, were not yet ready to proceed up to the front line, as their rations had not come up. We were accordingly kept, waiting for two hours standing round in pitch darkness; in the meantime the Hun shelled the ration dump, inflicting serious casualties on the 87th, with the result that after all we had later on to supply carrying parties to take up their rations. In addition, during the next three nights we were kept busy sending up stretcher-bearing parties to bring out their casualties, as they seemed to be utterly unable to cope with these themselves. Finally at about 10.00 p.m. the 87th, to our great relief, moved up and allowed us to settle down. During this tour Lieut.-Col. J. T. O'Donohue, D.S.O., commanding the 87th, was acting as Brigadier in the absence of Brigadier-General Odlum, who was
acting as Divisional Commander. For three days we furnished working parties of all sorts, Support area being subjected all the time to heavy artillery fire, which caused many casualties. Headquarters had its full share of this bombardment, but the pill-box which served as an office was built by the Hun for just such contingencies, and though several direct hits were registered the only damage done was to the officers' breakfast on the morning of the 15th. On the afternoon of the 16th the Battalion moved up by platoons to relieve the 87th in the front line. It is impossible to give any adequate idea of the scenery on the way to the summit of Passchendaele Ridge. There is just a brown landscape, an interminable acreage of mud and shell-holes billowing up in a gradual ascent, with depressions rather than valleys, between each billow, until a flat and desolate top is reached, on which no semblance of any human habitation remains; like a map, it represents merely a number of topographical expressions. The ascent is made by means of an elaborate system of bath-mats which spread like threads in every direction, whilst here and there on the hillside is seen a battery, ostrich-like, unable to see the enemy but hoping that a scant shelter of brushwood is shielding it from the eyes of the prying aeroplanes. Enemy planes were very active over Passchendaele and seemed to be having it all their own way.

The move to the front line was carried out without casualties, the Hun being kept busy attending to a minor offensive which was taking place on his right flank, but immediately after relief a fierce barrage came down, and for the next 48 hours a very heavy artillery fire was maintained on the whole of our area, "D" Coy., whose turn it was to have the usually preferable position of local Support, by the irony of fate suffering particularly heavy casualties. On the night of the 17th, a reconnoitering party from the Suffolks reached Headquarters and requested to be sent up the line; hardly had they gone 200 yards from the pill-box when they were caught by the splinters of a shell which burst well away to their left, but claimed seven casualties, two being fatal. The following night our relief by the Suffolks began at 5.00 p.m., and the Battalion proceeded by small parties to Potijze, where a hot meal was in readiness and a halt, was made for the night.

It is worthy of mention that the lO2nd Bn. was the last Canadian unit to leave the Heights of Passchendaele, but we had gained no particular honour or glory there. Our tours in the line had been short and had involved no offensives; they had entailed much hard work in burying cable, digging trenches and putting the line in better shape, and they had called for the staying quality which enables men to lie down for long hours in ill-protected positions under incessant bombardments. We had just done the little that we had been set to do, but had suffered casualties out of all proportion to our task, and that it is which makes the memory of Passchendaele a nightmare in the minds of all those who had a share in a particularly odious experience. The second tour cost in casualties: Killed, 20 Other Ranks. Wounded, Lieuts. A. R. Turner, W. W. Dunlop (at duty), G. T. Lyall (at duty), and 47 Other Ranks.
                                             
In the early afternoon of the 19th the Battalion fell in, marched to and entrained for Poperinghe, whence we marched to a camping-ground about two miles outside the town. A sorry-looking crew we were as we marched proudly through the streets of Poperinghe, thronged with civilians and spruce-looking soldiers. Our razors had all gone with the Transport when we first left Potijze seven days before, and we were hairy men. The C.O. was a dream, but the Adjutant and R.S.M., with one or two Company officers, had basely betrayed us and smuggled razors up the line, and thought they made a hit as they marched through the streets with baby-smooth chins. The camp where we spent the next two nights was close to the first camp we had struck on arrival in Belgium, and here we met with one of those churls who so often disgraced his country in the eyes of the troops who were fighting as her Allies. After seven days without a wash or a shave it may be imagined that water was the first requirement, but the owner of the neighbouring farm was not going to have his water supply tampered with for a lot of dirty soldiers, not he; so he removed the pump handle. And it was not as though this happened in the middle of a hot summer and his well was likely to run dry; God knows, there was enough rain in the country at that time of year! Would that we had been Huns, to throw him down his well after we had used it, there to perish miserably and to poison the water for the balance of his family. And to add to our grievance, the baths provided in Poperinghe proved to be the worst we had yet encountered. On the 21st we went by 'bus to a point, just outside Merville, quite a fine town, where steaks and eggs in large quantities could be purchased in real restaurants, thence on foot to a point between Busnes and Lillers, and so through Lillers and Rambert, until on the 23rd we found ourselves again in Divion. And did Divion look good? It did.

For over three weeks we were to stay in Divion, and throughout our sojourn the weather was good, cold and frosty, but without rain. On the 27th Col. Warden returned from leave and resumed command, and during this period Major R. J. Burde also reported back from England. There is not much to relate about this three weeks; on the 3rd the vote for the Dominion election was taken, Lieut. C. A. Schell acting as Returning Officer; there were sundry parades and inspection's, but the most important events were the series of Christmas Dinners which were held in the Hotel Moderne, Bruay, as it was known that for a second time we should be in the trenches on the day itself. It was decided to use a portion of the Canteen funds for this purpose and surely never were funds devoted to a more popular object. On the 12th the C.O. and Officers of the Battalion gave a dinner to the Sergeants, and as we are now nearing the time when Col. Warden was to leave us it may be in order to relate an incident which took place at the dinner, illustrative of his all-time optimism and boundless confidence in the Battalion, and in its power of belief. "I was walking down Piccadilly when on leave," he stated, in his after-dinner speech, "when I was overtaken by a naval officer, an admiral in the British Navy. He had noticed my 102nd badges and rank as, I had passed 'him and had hurried after me to ask whether I was really Col. Warden of the 102nd. I told him that I was, and he said that he wanted to shake me by the hand; that he had never met me, but that he like everybody else in England, had heard of 'Warden's Warriors,' and that he wanted to congratulate me on commanding the finest Battalion on the Allied front." And then above the roar of applause was heard the reedy voice of the privileged member of the Battalion. piping: "Just ten cents more, boys; divvy up ten cents apiece, please; it's time to buy some more hay for that old bull of the Colonel's." And so with turkey and chicken and beer and other things during the week-end of the second week in December our stay in Divion came to an end, and with it we close the chapter on Passchendaele.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 

Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Images The Author The VC Uncle Bob 29th Battalion Links

BATTLE HONOURS

"SOMME, 1916", "Ancre Heights", "Ancre, 1916", "ARRAS, 1917, 18", "VIMY, 1917", "Hill 70", ", 1917", "PASSCHENDAELE", "AMIENS", "Scarpe, 1918", "Drocourt-Queant", "HINDENBURG LINE", "CANAL du NORD", "VALENCIENNES", "France and Flanders, 1916-18".

Be sure and visit the 102nd Battalion`s Sister Unit - the 54th Kootenay Battalion

Visit the 21st Battalion from Eastern Ontario

In Memory of LEONARD MUNROE, Lance Corporal, 634116, 21st Bn., Canadian Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regt.), who died on, Saturday, 3rd November 1917. Age 22. Son of Peter Munroe and his wife Ellen McDermid, of Maxville, Ontario, resting at PASSCHENDAELE NEW BRITISH CEMETERY, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, Grave Reference, IX. E. 11., all Canada in Khaki  pictures courtesy of Leonard Munroe' s descendant Maj Don MacLean, Canadian Armed Forces.