The Passchendaele Show
By Rolly Knight
It has been difficult to obtain any official record of the narrative covering the operations at Passchendaele. The battalion records which are at the Prince of Wales Armouries are either not complete or some vandal has stripped them. In consequence we have had to fall back on the memory of Rolly Knight who took part in the show and who at the time was an officer in "A" Company. Rolly Knight is now bursar of the Provincial Sanitarium at Bowness. Colonel Knight, since he returned from overseas, has carried on with the militia. He was in command of the 50th Regiment, Calgary, and is now the officer commanding the 24th Infantry Brigade, which includes the Calgary regiment (the old 50th), the Calgary Highlanders, South Alberta Regiment, the Edmonton Fusiliers and the Edmonton Regiment, the perpetuating unit of the 49th.
The period concerned in Rolly Knight's story covers practically the whole of the month of October, 1917. Here is the narrative:
The company was commanded by Capt, [sic.] James Mead, M.C. Second in command Capt. Arkless.
Platoon commanders, Lieut. Rusconi, Lieut. R. C. Ames, Lieut. T. Shannon, Lieut. H. G. Stone, Lieut. E. R. Knight.
H. G. Stone rejoined the battalion during the month. R. C. Ames was, I believe at 1st Army School at Hardelot and joined the battalion just before the attack on the 30th, but did not participate.
The battalion left Neuville St. Vaast about the 5th after a rather uneventful tour in front of Mericourt, and reached Chelers on the 5th after a particularly hard march. Contrary to the usual practice the men had to carry their packs. No lorries could be scrounged.
Chelers was noted on account of its particularly poor billets, and the miserable Fall weather, wind and rain. In spite of this we did an immense amount of hard training, including rifle practice on one of the worst ranges I have ever had the misfortune to shoot. I well remember one day having charge of the Butt party. It had been raining all day. The butts were revetted with old fascines and were dug into that white clay for which that part of France was noted. When we finished I don't think I ever saw a more bedraggled, mud bespattered party of men. However, the training must have done some good, because I often heard it said by senior officers in later days, that the battalion was never in better shape than when it went into the Passchendaele show.
We left Chelers about the 16th or 17th by train, and were next billetted at Borre in the Hazebrouck area. Here we had excellent billets, the hard training still continued. At this time Major G. W. McLeod, D.S.O. was acting as 2nd in command. I remember he gathered the officers together on more than one occasion and administered a severe strafe. The general improvement in training and discipline at this time, I have heard said, was due in no small measure to this officer's energy.
During our stay at Borre I remember we held a Church parade. The whole of the 7th Brigade were also inspected by H.R.H. The Duke of Connaught. The stay here was livened to some extent by the occasional visit to Hazebrouck. However, all good times come to an end and about the 23rd we entrained for Ypres. We detrained and marched out to Wieltze Farm, N.E. of Ypres. Arriving there the men bivouacked in old trenches and bivvys. The battalion H.Q's. was in a shallow dugout, and company officers in the odd tent. I remember "A" coy. officers at least had a tent, into which we all crowded. The mud was terrible. The conglomeration of troops was awful. Every arm of the service was represented, and it seemed that every yard of space was occupied.
The roar of traffic was incessant, heavy artillery and all the attendant noises of a vast concourse of troops. Add to this the perpetual bombing by the German aircraft. It was at this period the enemy air force, at least it so appeared, had the ascendancy.
As soon as we reached this area, parties of officers and N.C.O's. were detailed to reconnoitre routes into the front line. It was at this period the names such as No. 5 and No. 6 routes, Abraham Heights, Belle Vue Spur, Waterloo Farm, Pommern Castle, Somme Redoubt, and many others, were indelibly burned into the minds of all the troops. We were also called upon to supply working and carrying parties.
Personally, I remember being called upon to take a party from "A" Coy. to carry ammunition for a M.G. Coy. The dump was supposed to be in the vicinity of the field gun position in rear of Abraham Heights. It was not a healthy job.
On the 25th Capt. Mead was wounded by a splinter from a bomb, during the daylight bombing raid. It was a slight facial wound. I well remember it. I was standing in the entrance to the tent, and Jim Mead was in the act of shaving when the first bomb fell, and glancing round I saw blood on Jim's face. My first impression was that he had cut himself with the razor. As soon as I realized he was hit I pulled out my first aid dressing but Capt. Mead refused my attention, and said go out and see if any of the men are hit. We found 12 casualties, four of whom were killed. The bomb fell near a field kitchen. Jim for some time refused to go out but the Doctor insisted, so Capt. Arkless then assumed command of the Company.
On the morning of the 26th the 8th Bde. attacked on one battalion front and made a slight advance. Then on the night of the 27th a brigade reconnoitring party from the 7th Bde. was sent in under Major McLeod, consisting of one officer and four N.C.O's. from each company to reconnoitre the routes into the front line to the actual positions to be taken over. I had the job for my company.
It was intended as far as I can remember that "A" and "D" companies would form the first line of attack with "C" in support and "B" in reserve. I am not sure of this, however, I know "A" Coy. was on the left and "D" on the right, because on arrival at the left company H.Q's. I met Lloyd Bishopric of "D" and we had quite an argument as to which was in the right position. (Bishopric was killed in this battle). When I tell you that there were no trenches, just a series of posts in shell holes you will realize that it was not an easy place to locate. And the mud-I never saw anything like it, and hope I never will again. You sank to the knees at almost every step. I have been told that scores of men were lost by just becoming too exhausted to move farther in the terrible mud. They just laid down and died.
On this particular trip, I had the greatest difficulty in getting my party back. First one and then the other would become bogged in the mud and would have to be helped out. However we finally arrived back in company lines at Wieltze about 2 a.m. very wet and cold and much to our disgust there was not a drop of rum or liquor of any kind available.
The next day was spent in preparations. There was a meeting of all officers at Bn. H.Q's. at which we were told our tasks. I remember very well of being informed of the enormous amount of artillery that would be supporting us. I think it was said there would be one gun to every five yards of front. Whether this was so or not is a matter for conjecture.
We started out early in the evening. Right at the outset platoons marched at about fifty yards distance in order to minimize the effect of shell fire. We halted for some time in rear of Abraham Heights while the 9th Bde. made a small attack to straighten out the line. I know we got the benefit of some of the retaliation, suffering a few casualties including Sgt. (Taffy) Williams.
We started forward, I think about 10:00 p.m. (I am not sure of the time). Rear Bn. H.Q. was established at Waterloo Farm. The front line was located on a road about one or two hundred yards ahead of the Belle Vue Heights. I remember well that it was a bright moonlight night, and as we topped the ridge we received some rifle fire from snipers. Unfortunately we lost a particularly good L.G. Section commander here, called "Nickotichin" a Russian, (I cannot be sure of spelling). He was a very smart soldier. He was killed by a sniper.
We finally got into the line and completed the relief. I think we relieved the 116th although I am not sure. Coy. H.Q's. were in Pill boxes. The pill box occupied by "A" Coy. was later to become forward Bn. H. Q's. for the attack. "D" Company pill box was used as field dressing station. The line consisted of a succession of posts in shell holes. We could not move much during daylight as we were constantly under observation. We were ordered to send out patrols from 8:00 p.m. onwards to cover our entire front. I took the first patrol for "A" Coy. We had rather a bad time, the forward posts being very jumpy and we were constantly fired at by our own men.
A few years ago I met a man in a military hospital here, who reminded me, the last time he had seen me was at Passchendaele when I had called him down for shooting at my patrol. I had a distinct recollection of the occasion, and imagine my language perhaps was not as choice as it might have been.
When I came in from patrol, I found orders had been received to move the starting line back about 150 yards in order to conform with the flanks, and to facilitate the barrage. I remember at about this time a runner came in to say they had heard voices speaking German in a dugout about 100 yards behind the line. Upon investigation we found two badly wounded Germans. They had been there for two or three days.
I don't remember the time of zero but think it was about 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. The line up of company was:-
O. C. Capt. O. P. Arkless.
2nd in command Lieut. Rusconi.
Ptn. Cmdrs. Lieuts, T. Shannon, H. G. Stone, E. R. Knight.
One platoon was commanded by a Sergt. I cannot think of his name although I saw him quite recently. He was badly wounded.
Directly we kicked off our casualties were heavy. We immediately came under a terrific fire both from M.G's. and artillery and in crossing the road to which I have referred, we were stopped principally by machine gun fire from Furst Farm. I forget how many men I had left but we managed to gather a few together and occupied shell holes and hung on. We were bombarded all day. During the day I saw Arkless, Shannon and Campbell of "C" Coy.
After dark we attempted to organize a little better defence. Just about this time S.O.S. went up on our right, and the enemy gave us a sharp bombardment. I had gathered up a Lewis gunner of the 2nd C.M.R's. and during this bombardment he was quite seriously wounded. Arkless had now taken over the left half of battalion front, and Alf. Mackay of "D" Coy. the right half. The left half was divided into two sectors, I had charge on left and Shannon on right. A supporting line was organized with Lorne Campbell in command.
One incident I must refer to, when the Lewis gunner I have spoken of was wounded there was a yell for stretcher bearers, and Peterson, who was in the support line and wounded through the chest, came up and administered first aid, and finally got the chap out. R. H. Peach who was a runner on this occasion, later a sergeant, did splendid work for which he received the M.M.
During the night, Shannon who was out rounding up men scattered about in shell holes had the misfortune to run a bayonet in his leg. He was evacuated the next day and was in hospital for months.
Rations also came up during the night, in fact the carrying party crossed our line, and came almost on top of the enemy and in their hasty return they dropped and broke one jar of rum. Lieuts. Edwards and Auld came up at this time. The following day was fairly quiet, everybody, enemy included, were out gathering in the wounded. "A" Coy. went in 125 strong and had 91 casualties. We were relieved on night of 31st by the 42nd battalion.
Arkless and I walked out to Waterloo Farm. What a place. I cannot describe it. A pill box. Inside there was almost twelve inches of soupy mud over the floor. It had been terrifically shelled. Wounded and dead lay all round outside and in. We were given a hot drink here, and after a short rest we started to walk out. Col. Palmer, Capt. Nolan, Arkless and I and a few runners. We made our way through gas with masks on to Pommern Castle Redoubt. There we met up with some rations including a bottle of whisky. Arkless and I lay down in a little funk hole and slept until about 8:00 a.m. We were disturbed by Major Weaver and continued on down to Ypres.
I should have mentioned that when going forward on the morning of 30th during the attack I was Lt. Dow "C" Coy. coming back apparently wounded in the arm. He waved to me and pointed to his right arm, which was hanging down. As far as I know he was never seen again. Rusconi and Stone were killed. I saw both their bodies. They were original members of the battalion.
We spent the night of November 1st near Poperinghe in huts. I shall never forget the joy of a good cooked meal, clean clothes, roaring fire and warm bed. After that we moved out to Vinezeele area where we lived in tents. We got a few reinforcements here, and returned to Ypres about Nov. 12th. I was appointed Asst. Adjt. on 9th November so I occupied rear Hq's. which was at gold Fish Chateau on this occasion. We moved back about 17th or 18th arriving at St. Hilaire on 20th of November. There the unit stayed for nearly a month.
-E. R. Knight, Lieut.
Tentative Operation Order
Herewith is the tentative operation order issued on the morning of October 28th at 10:00 a.m.
49th Canadian Battalion, (Edmonton Rgt.)
Tentative Operation Order Number
SECRET Copy No.
PASSCHENDAELE Sheet 1/10,000
- INFORMATION-At a time and date to be notified the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade will take, consolidate, and garrison the BLUE LINE as shown on map "B".
- PLAN OF ATTACK-The Bde will attack with two Battns. in line, each Battn. on a two Coy. front.
- FRONTAGES-The 49th Battn. will attack between the following frontages.
- FORMATION-The Battalion will attack in three waves.
- DISTRIBUTION OF COMPANIES-"B" and "C" Coys will provide the First Wave in order named from Right of Battalion Boundary.
- ASSEMBLY-On "X/Y" Night "D" and "A" Coys. will garrison the Front (RED) Line and "B" and "C" Coys assemble in close support thereto.
- COMMUNICATION-Lieut. R. V. Patterson with 2 Hqr. Runners will act as Liason [sic.] officer and report to the Headquarters of the Battn. of the 8th Can. Inf. Bde. on the Left.
- DRESS EQUIPMENT AND TOOLS-
The 72nd Battalion of the 12th Can. Inf. Bde. will attack on the right and a Battn. of the 8th Can. Inf. Bde. on the Left of the 7th Can. Inf. Bde.
The P.P.C.L.I. will attack on the Right, the 49th Can. Battn. (E.R.) on the Left.
The R.C.R. will be in Bde. Support and will provide carrying parties for the attacking Battalions.
The 42nd Battn. (R.H.C.) will be in Bde. Reserve.
On the Right-the GRAVENSTAFEL, MOSSELMARKT, VINDICTIVE, Cross Rds., exclusive.
On the Left-From approximately D.5.a.2.7. running North East to the "V" in VINE COTTAGE to the junction of the light railway above the "D" in GOUDBERG thence to V.29.d.5.6.
The centre line of attack between Coys. will be approximately from D.5.a.4.1. North East to D.5.b.2.5. to D.5.b.5.8.
The first wave will take, consolidate, and garrison the BLUE LINE.
The Second and Third Waves will consolidate and garrison a Support Line approximately 100 yards in advance of VINE COTTAGE ROAD.
"D" and "A" Coys. will provide the Second Third Wave in lines of sections in single file at about 30 paces distance, in order named from Right of Battalion Boundary.
All "Moppers Up" including "Moppers Up" for the area between the BLUE Objective and Support Line will be supplied by the Second Wave.
On completion of the "Mopping Up" the second wave will fall back to the Support Line.
On "Y/Z" Night "B" and "C" Coys. will go through "D" and "A" Coys. and assemble on a line of stakes or wire in advance of RED line.
Lieut. J. H. Emley with 2 Hdqr. runners will act as Liason [sic.] Officers and report to the Headquarters of the P.P.C.L.I. on the Right.
2 Signallers with Lucas Lamp will report to "B" and "C" Coys. and 2 with flags to "A" and "D" Coys.
2 Linesmen will report to Bde. Signalling Officer and go forward with Bde. Party to Advanced Bde. Report Centre.
Battn. Signal Section will establish Advanced Stations at a Central Point with Lucas Lamp and advise Bde. of location to enable a laddered telephone line to be connected therewith.
A laddered line will also be laid from Advanced Battn. Station to Battn. Hdqrs.
Six pigeons will be supplied to each Battalion to be used under their own arrangements.
If Battn. Hdqrs. move forward an Officer will be left at previous Battn. Hdqrs. until communication is established forward.
No Battn. Hdqrs. will move without Bde. permission.
Aeroplane flares will be carried by troops.
Runners will only be used when other means of communication fail.
Luminous tape (for night work) will be laid from Bde. Hdqrs. to Advance Brigade Report Centre-from the latter to Advance Battn. Report centre-from the latter to Battn. Hdqrs.
Important messages should be sent in duplicate with runners at 100 yards interval.
Battn. Hdqrs. will be marked at night by three lights in
a vertical line thus:-
Bde. Hdqrs. and Bde. Report Centre will be marked by a single red lamp.
- Dress-Overcoats and rubber sheets will be taken into RED LINE and from there forward rubber sheets only will be taken; Overcoats being left at Dump and carried forward by carrying parties from R.C.R.
- Ammunition-At least 170 rounds per man except for Signallers, Scouts, Runners, Lewis Gunners, and Bombers who will carry 50 rounds.
- Grenades-Each Bomber will carry 8 Mills Grenades, each man excluding Lewis Gunners, 2 Rifle Grenades.
- Rations and Water-Two Iron Rations in Haversack, unexpended portion of days rations, and tin of solidified alcohol will be carried by each man.
- General-Each man will carry three sandbags and each Company will carry 100 shovels and 24 S.O.S. Rifle Grenades (No. 32).
Each Rifle Grenadier will carry 10 Rifle Grenades.
Water Bottles filled.
Muzzle protectors will be worn
on all rifles.
9. DUMPS-Ammunition, Stretcher, and Reserve water Dumps will be established in RED LINE.
- BARRAGE-Programme attached.
- 7th TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY-Two guns of the 7th Trench Mortar Battery will be allotted to the Battalion to be used as desired.
- MACHINE GUNS-As laid down by Divisional Hdqrs.
- MEDICAL ARRANGEMENTS-Regimental Aid Posts will be established at KRONPRINZ FARM D.3.c.5.4. WATERLOO FARM D.9.d.4.8.
- S.O.S.-The S.O.S. Line will be as shown in Artillery Programme.
- REPORTS-To Battn. Hdqrs. in RED LINE or as located on "X/Y" night.
Support R.A.P. at OTTO FARM D.15.a.1.1.
The S.O.S. Signal-a Rifle Grenade (No. 32) Signal-Parachute-3 Lights Red over Green over Yellow.
A.P. CHATTELL, Major and Adjutant
C.O. 49th Canadian Battalion.
1. 7th C.I.B.
2. 8th C.I.B.
3. 12th C.I.B.
4. C.M.R. Battn.
5. 72nd Can. Battn.
8. 7th T.M. Bty.
9. "A" Coy.
10. "B" Coy.
11. "C" Coy.
12. "D" Coy.
13. M. O.
Issued by runner 10 A.M.
October 26th, 1917.
The following is a supplementary operation order issued by Major A. P. Chattell, Adjutant, at 11:30 a.m., presumably on the morning of October 28th, 1917.
49th Canadian Battalion, (Edmonton Rgt.)
Operation Order No. 129.
SECRET Copy No.
Sheet 28 1/40000
- INFORMATION-The Brigade less [sic.] R.C.R. will relieve 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade in line on night 28/29 October.
- INTENTION-To relieve 116th Canadian Battalion in front and support lines on night 28/29 October.
- DISPOSITION-On completion of relief on night Oct. 28/29 disposition of Companies will be as follows:
- Co.-On right of outpost and front line from approx. D.5.c.10.55. to D.4.d.80.80.
- Co.-On left of outpost and front line from approx. D.4.d.80.80. to D.4.b.5.2.
- Co.-Support line running approximately through 4.4.d. central, from D.4.d.5.2. to D.4.d.3.8.
- Co.-In D.g.b. central.
- Co. P.P.C.L.I.-Will be tactically under orders of 49th Battalion from 4 p.m. Oct. 28th, 1917, at which hour this company will report to 49th Battalion at Wieltje Farm dugouts. On completion of relief this company will occupy front and support lines on right of Gravenstafel, Vindictive, Cross Roads.
- RELIEF-Battalion will move off at 4 p.m. in the following
During march to forward area intervals of at least 50 yards will be maintained between platoons.
- GUIDES-1 guide for Battalion Headquarters and 2 guides per platoon from 116th Battalion will rendezvous at Waterloo Farm by 6:30 p.m. to meet incoming platoons.
- REPORTS-Completion of relief will be reported to Battalion Headquarters Waterloo D.g.d.8.8. by code phrase "Your A.P.C. 120 received at".
1. 7th C.I.B.
3. 116th Battalion.
4. "A" Company.
5. "B" Company.
6. "C" Company.
7. "D" Company.
A. P. CHATTELL,
Major and Adjutant. Issued by runner at 11:30 a.m.