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Over the Top

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The phrase "over the top" describes the process whereby infantrymen climbed up the side of their trenches and ran into No Man's Land to attack the opposing enemy trenches. Since the soldiers were exposed to the enemy’s machine-gun fire, such action usually resulted in high casualties.

Mr. Butterworth describes a raid at the M and N Line at Ypres, and the loss of a sergeant.


Our first action took place at what was called the M and N trenches at Ypres. I don’t, I was never told what the M and N meant, but that was supposed at that time to be a quiet front. But to brighten things up and to let the Germans know we had some ammunition and how to use it we were all lined up and we made a brigade raid. A brigade is four battalions of which, I don’t just remember how it was organized, but I do know we went over the top. But before going over the top, as all raids as followed, we had our (inaudible) battery behind us that started us off, but it was tit-tittit-tit-tit-tit-tit. And then all hell broke lose. We suffered some casualties, one in particular, a sergeant we all loved very much. And when we saw him lying there on the stretcher, some of us, we knelt by this old sergeant of ours whom we all loved. We touched his face and his hands, simply to say goodbye to him but we’re sure awful sorry.


Caption: Canadian troops going over the top

(Credit: VACBH2001.345)

Caption: Canadian troops advancing towards Cambrai

(Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-003247)

Caption: Canadian troops 'going over the top' during training course at a trench-mortar school. St Pol, France. October 1916.

(Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-000677)

Caption: 29th Infantry Battalion advancing over No Man's Land through the German barbed wire and heavy fire during the battle of Vimy Ridge

(Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001086)

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