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The Battle of Passchendaele


Big gun firing.


Muddy terrain and crater holes.

Hand drwing of maps

The third battle of Ypres. The ‘Race to the Sea’ left the Allies in possession of the city of Ypres; a provocative finger pointing into German conquered territory.

Roughs seas, waves rolling

They tried cutting off that finger,

Soldier on duty wearing gas mask

suffocating allied troops with chlorine gas…

Soldiers assembling equipment

but they failed. After fighting steadily on

Soldiers running across rough terrain

Blasts of enemy fire, explosions, soldiers getting hit by enemy fire

Two soliders laying down in muddy terrain

other fronts, the Allies were exhausted. So were the Germans.

Hand sketching of map

The fields in Flanders are low and swampy,

Soldiers preparing gear in low and swampy field

made habitable by drainage ditches. Not ideal for battle…

Swampy terrain with brush and mud puddles

Sir Douglas Haig wanted to take

Photo of Sir Douglas Haig; soldiers on horses in background

advantage of the enemy’s fatigue

Soldiers marching together with equipment on back

to push north, take the bases

Submarine surfacing in ocean

Men working on submarine equipment in engine room

Depth charges set off in water

Ships in ocean, sending huge clouds of black smoke

used by German submarines,

Ship hit in ocean, huge blasts of black smoke

and prevent further attacks on trans-Atlantic shipping lines.

Ship sinking in ocean

Soldiers digging trenches and tunnels

The Allied sappers dug tunnels under the German lines for eighteen months.

Two soldiers in trenches detonating explosives towards the enemy

In June, they detonated a million pounds of amatol right under their feet.

Explosion of amatol, huge blast of smoke

I was told that the concussion blew many men to the ground.

German soldiers on horses, women scurrying around in disarray

The Germans defences were in disarray. The Allies could have moved forward, but no.

Soldiers running through the street

The New-Zealanders took Messines, that’s all. With hindsight,

Soldiers marching through the streets, Red Cross jeeps travelling in other direction

it seems like a waste…

Blasts of fire, soldiers dug in trenches

Group of soldiers standing together

It took 6 weeks before pushing forward. And it started raining, endlessly.

Soldier shoveling and using their pics working through the muddy terrain, puddles of rain

Many soldiers working together to pull equipment through the mud

The battlegrounds became a quagmire,

Horses travelling through the mud

swallowing everything: vehicles, horses,

Soldier walking through rough terrain while other soldiers lay dead

and men. Everyone was cold.

SIght of mud and deep craters of water, soldiers amongst the cold and wet conditions

The Allied artillery barrage was incessant.

Soldiers preparing artillery behind a brick wall

Cannon firing, huge blasts of smoke, consistent artillery being fired from the cannon

When I arrived at the front,

Soldiers marching with equipment on back

I found a German soldier’s diary dating back a couple of weeks...…

Soldier lying dead on ground, helmet off, rifle by his side

Darkness alternates with light as bright as day.

Silhouette of body slumped over fence of barb wire

The earth shakes…men hear nothing but drum-fire…

Grassy landscape with smoke fire in the sky

Clouds of blast smoke blasts over the rough terrain

Blasts of artillery fire hitting the water

groaning of wounded comrades…

Tow soldiers carrying a comrade on stretcher through rough conditions, a murky landscape

screaming of fallen horses…

Fallen and dead horses

Soldiers crouched down while blasts of artillery go off

Soldier protected by trenches crouched down with gun in hand

the wild beating of their own hearts… They have no way of escape…

Sight of dead bodies laying in the trenches

Soldiers battling on, running together with weapons in hand

The battle started three months ago.

Soldiers standing in the swampy and muddy terrain; huge amounts of rain

They tell me the rain hasn’t stopped since.

Soldiers carrying sticks of wood over the muddy terrain

How many times have I stepped on

Two soldiers in trenches looking over the wounded and dead comrades

a dead comrade so as not to be

Soldiers marching past as their fellow comrade lays dead on the muddy ground

sucked in by the mud?

A wounded soldier is assisted through the trenches by a fellow soldier

The other morning, wounded who had been

Two soldiers helping the wounded walk through the rough terrain

crying for hours, some for days finally stopped…

Soldier carrying a wounded comrade on his back through the trenches, other soldiers look on and follow

Dead soldiers lay dead on their back in the mud

they drowned in their trenches.

Soldiers lays face down on the side of the trench, debris all around him

We Canadians were asked to take what

Group of soldiers huddled together, smoking and smiling

remained of Passchendaele; not a village but a pile of rubble.

Soldiers marching towards a village

We did it. But it ended there. Really. 250 thousand allied dead and wounded,

Soldiers marching with wooden casts on their shoulders

200 thousand Germans…

Blasts of grey smoke, soldiers amongst the rubble, destruction everywhere

For a pile of rubble! Today,some historians say that

Soldier stands over a dead soldier's body on the ground

Passchendaele symbolizes the futility

Dead bodies lay in the trenches

of trench warfare. I’d say it was even worse…

Dead soldier lays face down on the ground, equipment all around him

it made me believe in hell.

Narration on archival images that evoke the Battle of Passchendaele during the First World War.

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Veterans Affairs Canada
November 2, 2015

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