George Burdon McKean, VC

By John Morden

Today in Library and Archives Canada’s blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we remember George Burdon McKean, who earned his Victoria Cross one hundred years ago today for his heroic actions on the battlefield.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling military officer.

Lieutenant George Burdon McKean, VC, June 1918 (MIKAN 3218939)

Born on July 4, 1888, in Willington, England, McKean immigrated to Canada in 1909 and settled in Edmonton, Alberta. Before enlisting on January 23, 1915, McKean was a schoolteacher. McKean joined the 51st Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and arrived in England in April 1916. On June 8, 1916, McKean transferred to the 14th Battalion.

Sometime in the night of April 27–28, 1918, while the 14th Battalion was stationed near Gavrelle, France, McKean earned the Victoria Cross, Britain’s most prestigious military decoration. During a scouting mission, the party of men led by McKean ran head-on into a strongly defended German position. While the rest of the unit was pinned down by machine gun fire, McKean charged into the German trench with “conspicuous bravery and devotion.” Upon reaching the position, McKean killed two German soldiers, held his ground and called for more bombs. After resupplying, McKean took another position and single-handedly killed another two German soldiers and captured four more. McKean’s example rallied his men and the mission was successful. As reported in the London Gazette two months later:

“This officer’s splendid bravery and dash undoubtedly saved many lives, for had not this position been captured, the whole of the raiding party would have been exposed to dangerous enfilading fire during the withdrawal. His leadership at all times has been beyond praise.”

London Gazette, no. 30770, June 28, 1918

Later, McKean was awarded the Military Medal and Military Cross on March 28, 1917 and February 1, 1919, respectively. He would survive the war, though he would be wounded in the right leg on September 2, 1918 during the Hundred Days Offensive. He remained in England for the rest of the conflict. Following his release from hospital, McKean served as acting captain at the Khaki University of Canada in London, England, until his retirement on July 19, 1919.

He chose to remain in England after leaving the army and was killed in an industrial accident on November 28, 1926. McKean’s final resting place is Brighton Extra Mural Cemetery in Sussex, England.

Today his Victoria Cross is kept at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. McKean is honoured with a mountain named after him in the Victoria Cross Ranges in the Canadian Rockies.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in an officer’s uniform with gloves and a cane standing in front of stairs and a window.

Lieutenant George Burdon McKean, VC, undated (MIKAN 3218943)

A black-and-white photograph of a group of soldiers standing and sitting in front of trees in the winter.

Officers of the 14th Battalion, France, February 1918 (MIKAN, 3406029)

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant George Burdon McKean.

John Morden is an honours history student from Carleton University doing a practicum in the Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Today our First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients, remembers Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, who received the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest award for gallantry, for his actions at the Battle of Moreuil Wood on this day 100 years ago.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier taken slightly in profile.

Lieutenant Gordon M. Flowerdew, Victoria Cross recipient (MIKAN 3521609)

Flowerdew was born in Billingford, England, on January 2, 1885. He immigrated to Saskatchewan in 1903 and later settled in British Columbia as a rancher. He enlisted in September 1914 in Lord Strathcona’s Horse, a cavalry brigade, and became a commissioned officer in 1916. By 1918, Flowerdew was Lieutenant (Acting Captain) in command of “C” Squadron of Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Though the cavalry brigades had not engaged in much direct fighting because of the static nature of trench warfare, this changed in the spring of 1918 with the return to rapid, open warfare. On March 30, 1918, the Strathconas were engaged in heavy fighting at Moreuil Wood, France, having been tasked with preventing the Germans from crossing the Avre River and advancing on Amiens.

As German soldiers entered Moreuil Wood, Acting Captain Flowerdew spotted two lines of German infantry positions supported by machine guns. He ordered a cavalry charge. His squadron passed over both German lines, attacking with their swords, and then turned and passed over the lines again, driving the defending German soldiers into retreat. According to Flowerdew’s Victoria Cross citation, by then the squadron had suffered 70 percent casualties, killed and wounded, and Acting Captain Flowerdew was badly wounded in both thighs. Nonetheless, Flowerdew continued to encourage his men, ordering them to dismount.

Through hand-to-hand fighting, the survivors managed to hold the previously occupied German positions until a unit led by Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey joined them. Harvey had received the VC in 1917 for his role in the attack on German positions at the Guyencourt, France. Flowerdew and his men prevented the capture of Moreuil Wood and denied the advancing German army a strategically important position.

A handwritten description of the day’s actions in combat.

Lord Strathcona’s Horse war diary page with a description of Flowerdew’s actions of the day, Page 422 (MIKAN 2004721)

Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew died of his wounds on March 31, 1918. He is buried at Namps-au-Val British Cemetery in France. Library and Archives Canada holds Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew’s digitized service file.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

In today’s profile for Library and Archives Canada’s blog series, First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross Recipients, we remember Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod who was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry.

Born in Stonewall, Manitoba, in 1899, McLeod attempted to enroll in the 34th Fort Garry Horse in 1913, at the age of 14 despite being underage. After war was declared, he tried several times to enlist in the army in Winnipeg and again in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in Toronto, but was repeatedly rejected. Upon turning 18, he enrolled in the RFC and trained as a pilot in Long Branch, Ontario. He graduated with 50 hours of flying experience and left for service in France on August 20, 1917.

A black-and-white photograph of a seated officer posing for an official portrait. He holds his gloves in one hand and a baton in the other.

Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, VC, of No. 51 and 2 Squadrons RAF. (© Imperial War Museums, Q-67601)

Originally posted to No. 82 Squadron, McLeod was assigned to home defence duties flying nighttime runs in a B.E.12 after his commander found out he was only 18 years old. His first operational flight took place in December 1917 with No. 2 Squadron over Hesdigneul, France. By January 1918, McLeod and his gunner had claimed one Fokker Dr.I and an observation balloon destroyed, an act for which McLeod was mentioned in despatches.

On March 27, 1918, Second-Lieutenant McLeod and his observer Lieutenant Arthur Hammond were in an Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8 over Albert, France. They destroyed a German triplane and were immediately attacked by a formation of eight more. McLeod and Hammond shot down three German aircraft before the petrol tank of their aircraft was hit and burst into flames. McLeod tried to keep the flames away from his observer by side slipping steeply as the plane went down, all the while continuing to fire on the enemy planes. When the plane crashed in “no man’s land,” an injured McLeod dragged Hammond from the burning plane and carried him to safety under heavy fire. Both men were gravely injured but survived. Lieutenant Hammond, wounded six times, ultimately lost his leg and was awarded a bar for his Military Cross.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling young man lying in bed.

Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, VC, 1918 (MIKAN 3219066)

Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod received the Victoria Cross for his actions that day. After a period in hospital, he was sent back to Canada for further recovery. He died on November 6, 1918, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, from Spanish Influenza. McLeod Street in Stonewall, Manitoba, is named in his honour.

Library and Archives Canada does not hold the service record for Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, VC. Men wishing to enlist in the air service joined the Royal Flying Corps, the Royal Air Force (RAF) or the Royal Naval Air Service. Personnel files for those British units are in the custody of the National Archives in England.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Lieutenant-Colonel Harcus Strachan, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson
This week, Library and Archives Canada’s Discover Blog honours Lieutenant-Colonel Harcus Strachan, Canadian Victoria Cross recipient for his actions during the First World War Battle of Cambrai, which took place one hundred years ago today.

A black-and-white photograph of a seated officer wearing a cap and all the accoutrements of an officer.

Lieutenant Harcus Strachan, VC, undated (MIKAN 3221434)

Born in Borrowstounness, Scotland, in 1887, Strachan immigrated to Canada in 1908. He enlisted in The Fort Garry Horse regiment, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1915. He was a commissioned lieutenant and, on November 20, 1917, took command of a mounted squadron of The Fort Garry Horse at Masnières, France. When the squadron leader was killed, Lieutenant Strachan led the squad through the German line of machine gun posts and charged the German battery, killing seven of the gunners in hand-to-hand fighting. He then cut telephone communications three kilometers behind the German lines, rallied his surviving men, and fought his way back through to his own lines with all unwounded men and fifteen German prisoners. His citation in the London Gazette asserts that this operation “was only rendered possible by the outstanding gallantry and fearless leading of this officer” (London Gazette, no. 30433, December 18, 1917).

A black-and-white photograph of a line of mounted soldiers riding through a village.

Lieutenant Strachan, VC, and a squadron of The Fort Garry Horse passing through a village on the Cambrai front, December 1917 (MIKAN 3405685)

A typewritten report of the events of the day.

The Fort Garry Horse war diary, dated November 20, 1917, Page 2 of Lieutenant Strachan’s report (MIKAN 2004724)

Lieutenant-Colonel Strachan was promoted to captain and received his Victoria Cross from King George V on January 6, 1918. It became a tradition for the “Garrys” to hold a parade every year on the anniversary of Strachan’s Victoria Cross. Strachan survived the war and later commanded the 1st Battalion of the Edmonton Fusiliers during the Second World War. He died in Vancouver on May 1, 1982. Strachan was recently honoured with an historical plaque on the shores of Harcus Strachan Lake, 250 kilometers east of Thompson, Manitoba.

Library and Archives Canada has the fully digitized service file for Lieutenant-Colonel Harcus Strachan in the Personnel Records of the First World War database.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Victoria Cross Recipients: First World War now on Flickr

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest military decoration in the Commonwealth and takes precedence over all other medals, decorations and orders. A recognition of valour in the face of the enemy, the VC can be awarded to a person of any rank of military service and to civilians under military command. So far, 98 Canadians have been awarded the Victoria Cross, beginning with Alexander Roberts Dunn who in 1854 fought in the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. The Victoria Crosses were awarded to 71 Canadian soldiers during the First World War, and 16 were awarded during the Second World War. The remaining VCs were awarded to Canadians for the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (in which William Hall of Nova Scotia became the first-ever black recipient of the VC) and the South African War (1899–1902).

In 1993, the Canadian Victoria Cross was adopted in place of the British VC. The medal is identical to the British VC but the inscription is in Latin—Pro Valore—a linguistic ancestor to both English and French. The Canadian Victoria Cross has yet to be awarded.

A black-and-white image of Lance-Corporal F. Fisher.

Lance-Corporal F. Fisher, April 23, 1915 (MIKAN 3215642)

A black-and-white photograph of Lieutenant George Burdon McKean.

Lieutenant George Burdon McKean, April 27-28, 1918 (MIKAN 3218939)

A black-and-white photograph of Sergeant Alexander Picton Brereton.

Sergeant Alexander Picton Brereton, August 9, 1918 (MIKAN 3213059)

A black-and-white photograph of Sergeant Hugh Cairns.

Sergeant Hugh Cairns, November 1, 1918 (MIKAN 3191892)

Visit the Flickr album now!

Corporal Colin Fraser Barron and Private James Peter Robertson, Victoria Cross recipients

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Today the Discover Blog remembers Corporal Colin Fraser Barron and Private James Peter Robertson, awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for gallantry one hundred years ago today during the Battle of Passchendaele, one of the First World War’s deadliest and most decisive battles.

A black-and-white photograph of two soldiers standing in front of an elaborate wrought iron gate.

Sergeant Colin Barron, VC (right) and Private Cecil John Kinross, VC, undated (MIKAN 3405057)

Corporal Barron was born in Boyndie, Banffshire, Scotland, in 1893. He immigrated to Canada in 1910 and enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Toronto in 1914. Barron was serving with the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion on November 6, 1917, at the Battle of Passchendaele. His unit’s objective was to capture a German pillbox at Goudberg Spur that was blocking the Canadian line of advance. Barron, with a Lewis machine gun, moved around the flank of the German position before opening fire and rushing the machine gun emplacements, killing four of the crew and capturing the remainder before turning the guns on the enemy to the rear. “The remarkable dash and determination displayed by this N.C.O. in rushing the guns produced far-reaching results, and enabled the advance to be continued” (London Gazette, no. 30471, January 11, 1918).

Colin Barron achieved the rank of sergeant-major. He survived the war and served during the Second World War with the Royal Regiment of Canada. He died in 1958 and is buried in the veterans’ section of Prospect Cemetery in Toronto.

A typewritten description of the events of the day.

Appendix C – Observations from the November War Diary of the 3rd Battalion (MIKAN 1883209)

On that same day, Private James Peter Robertson was taking part in the final assault on Passchendaele Ridge with the 27th Infantry Battalion, CEF. Robertson, who was born in Albion Mines (now Stellarton), Pictou County, Nova Scotia, enlisted with the 27th (Winnipeg) Battalion in 1915. When his platoon was held up by barbed wire and machine gun fire, Robertson rushed the German gun. After a hand-to-hand struggle with the crew, he killed four gunners and sent the rest into retreat. Robertson’s citation in the London Gazette tells that, “carrying the captured machine gun, he led his platoon to the final objective. He then selected an excellent position and got the gun into action, firing on the retreating enemy.” Robertson used the machine gun to suppress sniper fire on his unit and, when two Canadian snipers were themselves badly wounded, he ventured out and managed to carry one man back under heavy fire. Tragically, he was killed by a shell as he returned with the second man. Private Robertson is buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium.

A black-and-white photograph of a young man in uniform.

Private James Peter Robertson, VC (MIKAN 3645665)

Library and Archives Canada holds the complete service files for Corporal Colin Fraser Barron and Private James Peter Robertson.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Major-General George Randolph Pearkes, Victoria Cross recipient

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Major-General George Randolph Pearkes was born in Watford, England, in 1888, and immigrated to Alberta in 1906. In 1915, he enlisted with the 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, and from September 1916 onward commanded the 5th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles. He was awarded the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Passchendaele.

A black-and-white photograph of a seated officer wearing a cap, a Sam Browne belt (a wide leather strap around the waist with another narrower strap passing diagonally over the right shoulder) and arm stripes.

Major George Randolph Pearkes, VC, wearing the Military Cross service ribbon (he had not yet received the ribbon for the Victoria Cross). Note the four wound stripes on his sleeve. Photograph taken in December 1917 by William Rider-Rider (MIKAN 3219828)

Pearkes, then a major, was awarded the Victoria Cross in recognition of his skillful command during the capture and consolidation of his unit’s objectives and further ground in Passchendaele, Belgium, from October 30 to 31, 1917. Major Pearkes, who had been wounded in the thigh prior to his troops’ advance, led his unit throughout their attack. His citation in the London Gazette states that, when his unit’s advance was halted by a strongpoint, which a unit to his left had failed to capture, Pearkes himself captured and held the point, thus allowing the continued advance of Canadian troops.

It was entirely due to his determination and fearless personality that he was able to maintain his objective with the small number of men at his command against repeated enemy counter-attacks, both his flanks being unprotected for a considerable depth meanwhile.

London Gazette, no. 30471, 11 January 1918.

Before the end of the war, Pearkes would be wounded five times, promoted to lieutenant-colonel, and awarded the Victoria Cross, the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order. Following the armistice, he became a career officer, was appointed to Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and served as a staff officer at the Royal Military College of Canada. During the Second World War, Brigadier Pearkes commanded the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, later becoming the general officer commanding in Chief, Pacific Command, where he oversaw defences on Canada’s west coast. He entered federal politics upon retiring from the army and was elected as the MP, Progressive Conservative Party, for Nanaimo, British Columbia in 1945. He was Minister of National Defence from 1957 to 1960, and became Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia in October 1960.

Major-General George Pearkes died in Victoria, British Columbia on May 30, 1984. The George R. Pearkes Building housing the Department of National Defence in Ottawa is named in his honour, as is Mount Pearkes on British Columbia’s mainland south coast. The complete digitized service file for Major-General George Pearkes is now available in Library and Archives Canada’s Personnel Records of the First World War.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Private Kinross, Lieutenant McKenzie and Sergeant Mullin, VCs

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Private Cecil John Kinross was born in the village of Harefield, England, in 1896. He moved with his family to Lougheed, Alberta, in 1912. Kinross served with the 49th (Edmonton) Battalion during the Battle of Passchendaele.

A black-and-white photograph of a man wearing a cap with a grey wool cardigan, white shirt and dark tie.

Private Cecil John Kinross, VC, undated (MIKAN 3217741)

On October 30, 1917, Kinross and his company came under heavy German artillery and machine-gun fire. As casualties in his unit increased, Kinross advanced alone over open ground with only his rifle and a bandolier of ammunition, and destroyed a German machine-gun nest. His citation in the London Gazette states that his “superb example and courage instilled the greatest confidence in his company, and enabled a further advance of 300 yards to be made and a highly important position to be established.”

For his actions, Kinross was awarded the Victoria Cross. Seriously wounded in the arm and head, he was sent to Orpington Hospital, England, and later returned to Alberta. Kinross died in 1957. Mount Kinross in Jasper National Park is named in his honour.

Lieutenant Hugh McKenzie was born in 1885 in Inverness, Scotland. He immigrated to Canada in 1911. McKenzie enlisted with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry as a private in August 1914. By January 1917, he had been commissioned as a second lieutenant. On October 30, 1917, McKenzie was in command of a machine-gun section accompanying infantry in an attack against German positions. When all officers and most non-commissioned officers of the company were killed or wounded, McKenzie took command of the remaining infantry. Using flanking and frontal attacking parties, McKenzie captured a machine-gun pill box that had inflicted heavy casualties. His actions saved the lives of many men, but he himself was killed leading the frontal attack.

A black-and-white photograph of a uniformed soldier with a small moustache.

Lieutenant Hugh McKenzie, VC, undated (MIKAN 3218971)

A typed detailed account of the events of October 30, 1917.

War diary of the 7th Canadian Machine Gun Company, October 30, 1917, page 16 (MIKAN 2004833)

Lieutenant McKenzie received the Victoria Cross and the French Croix de guerre for his actions. His body was never recovered. McKenzie’s name appears, along with the names of 56,000 other soldiers from Britain, Australia, Canada, and India with no known graves, on the Menin Gate memorial. In his citation in the London Gazette , his name is misspelled as “Mackenzie.”

Major George Harry Mullin was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1892. He immigrated with his family to Moosomin, Saskatchewan, at the age of two. Mullin enlisted in December 1915 and served in the scout and sniper section of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. As a sergeant at the Battle of Passchendaele, Mullin single-handedly captured a German pill box that had caused heavy casualties among the Canadian troops. His citation in the London Gazette recounts how Mullin:

… rushed a sniper’s post in front, destroyed the garrison with bombs, and, crawling on to the top of the “Pill-box,” he shot the two machine-gunners with his revolver. Mullin then rushed to another entrance and compelled the garrison of ten to surrender. … [Mullin] not only helped to save the situation, but also indirectly saved many lives.

London Gazette, no. 30471, 11 January 1918

Sergeant Mullin was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions, finishing the war as a lieutenant. He was appointed as Sergeant-at-Arms of the Saskatchewan legislature in 1934. He served in the Veterans Guard during the Second World War. Major Mullin died in Regina, Saskatchewan, in 1963.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling soldier wearing a helmet and a leather jerkin.

Sergeant Mullin, VC, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, January 1918 (MIKAN 3219321)

Library and Archives Canada holds the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) service files for Private Cecil John Kinross, Lieutenant Hugh McKenzie and Major George Harry Mullin. Complete digital copies are available in the Personnel Records of the First World War database.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Sergeant Holmes, Major O’Kelly and Lieutenant-Colonel Shankland, Victoria Cross recipients

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Sergeant Thomas William Holmes is Canada’s youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC). Born in Montreal on October 14, 1898, Holmes gave his date of birth as August 17, 1897, when he enlisted with the 147th Grey Overseas Battalion, making himself out to be older than he was. He served with the Canadian Mounted Rifles and was part of the first assault against the German defences at Passchendaele 100 years ago. When the right flank of the Canadian force was halted and heavy casualties inflicted by machine-gun and rifle fire from a German pillbox, Holmes repeatedly ran forward alone and bombed the machine gun crew, eventually taking the pillbox’s 19 occupants prisoner. Sergeant Holmes survived the war and returned to Canada. He died on January 4, 1950, and is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Owen Sound, Ontario.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling young man in uniform with his cap slightly askew.

Private Thomas William Holmes, VC, dated January 1918 (MIKAN 3216873)

Major Christopher Patrick John O’Kelly, born on November 18, 1895, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). At the age of 21 he was an acting captain in the 52nd Battalion (96th Lake Superior Regiment), leading his men against the German defences at Bellevue Spur near the Passchendaele Ridge. Captain O’Kelly led his unit almost a kilometer into German-held territory without artillery support and successfully captured the German positions. He then organized and led attacks against German pillboxes, capturing 100 prisoners and 10 machine guns. For his leadership, Captain Christopher O’Kelly was awarded the Victoria Cross. He later achieved the rank of major. O’Kelly survived the war, but died a few years after in a boating accident near Red Lake, Ontario, on November 15, 1922.

A black-and-white photograph of a muddied soldier leaning on the wall of a trench, smoking a cigarette and looking directly at the photographer.

Captain Christopher Patrick John O’Kelly, VC, MC, dated December 1917 (MIKAN 3219566)

A densely typed page carefully describing the events of the day and mentioning both Captain O’Kelly and Lieutenant Shanklin [sic].

War diary of the 52nd Canadian Infantry Battalion, dated October 26, 1917, Page 19 of the war diary (MIKAN 1883263)

Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Shankland, born in Ayr, Scotland in 1887, immigrated to Canada in 1910 and settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He enlisted as a private with the 43rd Battalion and earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal at Sanctuary Wood in June 1916, after which he received a battlefield commission. On October 26, 1917, Shankland and a platoon of 40 men captured and held the crest of Bellevue Spur in the face of heavy fire and the collapse of the Allied line. With both flanks exposed, Shankland turned over command to another officer and set out alone to reach battalion headquarters, where he gave a plan for counter-attack. He then returned with reinforcements to carry out the attack. His citation in the London Gazette from December 14, 1917, reads:

Having gained a position he rallied the remnants of his own platoon and men of other companies, disposed them to the command the ground in front, and inflicted heavy casualties upon the retreating enemy. Later, he dispersed a counter-attack, thus enabling supporting troops to come up unmolested.

A typed list of the events of October 26, 1917; specifically, what was happening to the 43rd Canadian Infantry Battalion between 10 and 10:30 a.m.

War diary of 43rd Canadian Infantry Battalion from October 1917, Page 14 of the War diary (MIKAN 1883254)

LieutenantColonel Shankland survived the war and served overseas during the Second World War as camp commandant of the Canadian Army Headquarters in England. He lived on Pine Street in Winnipeg, Manitoba, along with two other Victoria Cross recipients: Leo Clarke and Frederick William Hall. Pine Street was renamed Valour Road in 1925 to honour the three men.

Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Sergeant Holmes, Major O’Kelly and Lieutenant-Colonel Shankland.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Canada and the 3rd Battle of Ypres: Passchendaele

“I died in hell. They called it Passchendaele.”

Siegfried Sassoon

A black-and-white photograph of a bombed landscape. The ground is muddy with water-filled craters and a burned out forest.

Passchendaele, now a field of mud. Photo taken by William Rider-Rider in November 1917 (MIKAN 3194937)

The town of Ypres, Belgium and its surrounding countryside has special significance to the history of the Canadian Corps. In 1917, this area was the last portion of Belgium that remained outside German control. Little had changed in the region since Second Ypres in April 1915; the British held the city of Ypres while the Germans held the high ground of the Messines-Wytschaete Ridge to the south, the lower ridges to the east, and the flat terrain to the north.

On July 31, 1917, British, Australian, and New Zealand forces launched an offensive that would be known as the Third Battle of Ypres. As heavy rains poured down on the thick clay soil, shell holes created by a massive artillery barrage filled with water. Attacking soldiers struggling in deep mud offered easy targets for German gunners, and by some accounts as many soldiers drowned in the heavy mud as died from their wounds. Casualty estimates for the battle, which lasted from July 31 to November 20, 1917, range from 300,000 to 400,000 for the Allies and a roughly equal number for the Germans.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier walking in a field of mud and puddles.

Mud and barbed wire through which the Canadians advanced during the Battle of Passchendaele. Photo taken by William Rider-Rider in November 1917 (MIKAN 3194807)

In early October, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps were transferred to the Ypres salient and tasked with the near impossible: capturing Passchendaele and the ridge. The offensive, to be executed in three stages, began on October 26, 1917. In the first stage, the 3rd Canadian Division captured Wolf Copse before reconnecting with the British 5th Army line. In the second stage, beginning on October 30, Canadian units secured a number of objectives and sent patrols into Passchendaele itself. In the final stage, from November 3 to 5, troops of the 1st and 2nd Divisions captured the village of Passchendaele in less than three hours. A final push on November 10 ended the campaign as the Canadians captured the remaining high ground north of the village.

While the Canadian Corps had achieved what no other Allied force had been able to, over 4,000 men died in the effort and 12,000 were wounded. The Third Battle of Ypres bolstered the Canadians’ reputation as storm troops, one of the best fighting forces on the western front. Nine Canadians were recognised with the Victoria Cross for their extraordinary actions in one of the most horrific battlefields ever known.

Library and Archives Canada’s series, First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients will profile each of them over the next three weeks.

Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.