Copyright Canadian War Museum (CN 87063).

The Capture of the Sugar Refinery at Courcelette by the Canadians on September 15, 1916, by Fortunio Matania.


The Battle of the Somme, which began 1 July 1916, typified the unimaginative tactics of military commanders in the First World War. British and French forces planned to smash through German defences near Albert, France. The coordinated assault, however, was badly planned. British and French commanders chose to attack German lines that lay opposite the meeting point of the two Allied armies. Unfortunately, the Germans lines were heavily fortified and deep at this point. The Allied command was convinced that heavy and repeated artillery barrages, delivered in the first few days of the battle, would considerably weaken German defences. Instead, the Germans simply took shelter in their deep underground bunkers until the barrages ended. Armed with machine guns, the defenders clambered from their bunkers and tore apart advancing French and British troops, who discovered too late that the artillery bombardments had had little effect.

National Archives of Canada (PA-000832, photo by William Ivor Castle).

Soldiers Returning to the Trenches during the Battle of the Somme, France, November 1916.

The Canadians saw their first action in the Battle of the Somme at Flers-Courcelette on September 15th. Two Canadian battalions captured the town and held it through a German counterattack. The campaign later included battles at the Sugar Factory, Pozieres Ridge, Fabeck Graben, and Regina Trench. Although the combat was fierce, the Canadians ultimately gained most of their objectives.

The carnage was appalling. Caught in the crossfire at Beaumont Hamel, the Newfoundland regiment (not then part of the Canadian military) suffered 233 killed and some 477 wounded or missing in thirty minutes; the British lost 19,240 men while an additional 37,000 were wounded. All these losses occurred on the first day. Canadian troops entered the battle in September. They managed to capture the village of Courcellette, but at the great cost of 7,230 casualties during the week-long battle. The Canadian divisions withdrew from the Somme in October and counted 8,000 dead and some 16,000 wounded, all for a territorial gain of under three kilometres. In total, British and French troops suffered 600,000 casualties for a gain of 13 kilometres. The Battle of the Somme epitomized the futility of trench war.

Victor W. Wheeler, The 50th Battalion in No Man's Land (Calgary: Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, 1980), pp. 45-46.

Unremitting Thunder.

The horror of the Battle of the Somme is captured in this brief passage by Victor W. Wheeler of the 50th Battalion.
The Fortyniner, No. 10, January 1930, pp. 14-17, 32.

"The 49th at Courcelette, September 15th, 1916," by Lieutenant-Colonel W.A. Griesbach.


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