SSNS Home > Senior Years > Curricula 9-12 > Grade 11 > Canadian History > Battlefields Tour > 16 July 2010
This was a most interesting day. It started with a visit to the Dominion Cemetery in the middle of a field near Cagnicourt, southeast of Arras. The landscape here is relatively flat and open, much like the prairies around Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, a circumstance making it extremely dangerous for advancing troops. Consequently, thousands of Canadian soldiers were killed as they moved forward, trench by trench, in the 100 day push to Mons in 1918. The enemy was near defeat, but he made us pay dearly for our victory. We saw the results in this lonely place. I chanced upon the grave of Eric Drummond-Hay here, whose brother, Major Leonard Drummond-Hay, had been adjutant in the PPCLI prior to his death in August 1918. Their parents’ only children were killed just three weeks apart during the push to Mons. How does one recover from such a loss?
After Trevor made his presentation on a soldier buried here, we left for Beaumont-Hamel, about 34 km to the southwest of Cagnicourt. This is where the Newfoundland Regiment was nearly destroyed on 1 July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. That campaign was a diversionary tactic to take pressure off the French at Verdun, who were near collapse after a bloodbath that resulted in about seven hundred thousand casualties on all sides. It worked. Three days into the battle, the Germans called off the offensive at Verdun, and moved five divisions to the Somme. This took the pressure off the French, and they were able to hold the line and even regain some lost ground. As Lee told us time and again, the French and their allies worked at a team to defeat the enemy. This time, it saved France from falling. It also taught important lessons that were applied less than a year later at Vimy.
Our next stop was a few km south at the Ulster Tower Memorial, which commemorates the 5,000 casualties of the 36th (Ulster) Division on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. We had lunch at the adjoining café staffed by a most hospitable Irish couple, then moved south again through Pozières and along the Albert-Baupaume Road (D929) to the Pozières Mill Memorial, which is a slightly elevated point commanding an excellent view of the surrounding countryside. Here Lee told us about the Battle of Courcelette in 1916, which was of great interest to me because Frank Whiting and the PPCLI were directly involved. We could see the site of the sugar factory just up the highway from the mill. To its left, further down the slope was Courcelette and beyond that was the Regina Trench. The battle began after a 7-day bombardment, and Canadians achieved all their objectives in the first hour and a half with about 4000 casualties during the advance behind a creeping barrage. The Canadian achievement panicked the Germans, who brought in additional battalions and the battle continued for seven more weeks, with an additional 20,000 casualties along the slopes leading up to Regina Trench on the north side of Courcelette. After this battle, following so closely behind the Battle of Sanctuary Wood, Frank Whiting worked hard to escape the frontlines where most of his friends and acquaintances had already died.
Before we left the area, we took pictures at the Tank Corps Memorial across the road. It commemorates the first use of tanks, which occurred in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. Then we travelled to Meharicourt Communal Cemetery, about 30 km south of Pozières, where Leanna spoke about Andrew Mynarski, VC, a famous Canadian air gunner from WWII, who is buried there. As elsewhere, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission meticulously maintains the graves of our Canadian war dead. Even though their numbers are few in this local cemetery, nobody is forgotten.
It had been a long day, and Leanna’s presentation was a fitting introduction to the next phase of our tour, which was to take us to Dieppe and World War II. The journey there was lengthy, and we arrived at about 7:00 p.m. After checking in at our hotel, which overlooks the English Channel, Trevor, Diane R., Debbie W., and I sampled the local cuisine at a nearby restaurant. It wasn’t to everyone’s liking, but I did not go away hungry. After that it was back to the hotel and a comfortable bed. It had been a very long, adventure-filled day.