‘There was not a sign of life of any sort. Not a tree, save for a few dead stumps which looked strange in the moonlight. Not a bird, not even a rat or a blade of grass. Nature was as dead as those Canadians whose bodies remained where they had fallen the previous autumn. Death was written large everywhere.’ (Private R.A. Colwell, Passchendaele, January 1918)
This year is a very important year; it marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Throughout the year, schools, museums, and a variety of other institutions have been hosting lectures and exhibits with the focus of remembering the Great War, those who fought, and the changes which it caused.
Passchendaele was one of the definitive battle of World War I, especially for the Canadian soldiers who had answered both the call to serve their country and to serve the British Empire. Against great adversity, the Canadian troops came to be known as the best shock troops on the Western Front, breaking lines that neither the French nor British troops had been able to. Passchendaele was also one of the bloodiest confrontations; known as the Third Battle of Ypres, the landscape had been torn apart by the artillery shelling from both sides. This, paired with heavy rain, left the battle field a muddy landscape of broken and skeletal trees, and pits filled with water, mud, and blood.
I prepared this research presetation a couple of years ago when taking a graduate level course on Canada’s involvement in World War I, both on the Western Front and on the home front. Find in it an overview of the Canadian role at Passchendaele, the realities of war, first hand accounts of the battlefield, the goals, and the outcomes, links to archival and historical information, and links to further video information.
Clicking on the link below with download a .pdf file of the presentation.
As a Canadian, this particular battle strikes a chord of pride and sorrow within my memory; many lives were lost, and yet in the end there was a triumph (of sorts), when the Canadian troops managed to reclaim the town of Passchendale. On this day, which saw the end of the war in 1919 (well, the Armistice, which led to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and the official end of the war), I would like you all to take a moment to either re-learn, or to learn for the first time, about the sacrifices made in World War One. While we choose this day, the 11th of November, to commemorate all soldiers who have made the sacrifice for their country, I would like us to also remember the initial reason for the commemorative ceremonies which take place on this day. For Canada, World War I was a watershed moment, an event which proved that we could stand toe to toe with the world and its problems, and that we could do it in a way which could make our country, our citizens, and our allies proud.
Lest we Forget.
To learn more about Canada and World War I, especially the lives of those who came from my hometown, I would suggest reading For All We Have and Are: Regina and the Experience of the Great War by Dr. James Pitsula. He is a wonderful historian, and a truly wonderful man, and I have had the fortune to have been both his student and his Teaching Assistant.