July 1917 saw one of the most costly and bloody offensives of the First World War took place: the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele.
Meticulously planned, the Battle of Passchendaele was intended to be Sir Douglas Haig’s breakthrough battle. Allied forces were to sweep through the strongly fortified German defences enclosing the Ypres Salient, and then push on to the German submarine bases on the Flemish coast.
Third Ypres was launched on 31st July 1917. Over the following months, battles broke out in places that have now become infamous: Pilckem, Langemarck, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde and Poelcapelle.
It was a nightmare mission. Torrential rain turned the ground into a quagmire. The thick, stinking mud swallowed man and machine. Wave after wave of Allied forces were mowed down. Troops were called in from Australia and New Zealand only to perish within days. Passchendaele became known as ‘Passion-dale’ — the valley of suffering.
Eventually on 6th November, fresh Canadian troops succeeded in seizing the tiny village of Passchendaele — or what was left of it — mercifully bringing an end to the Third Battle of Ypres. The Allied forces ended up no nearer the Flemish coast than when they had started. They gained merely eight kilometres of ground.
In doing so, they incurred 310,000 casualties, while German casualties numbered 260,000. Yes, that’s right: over half a million casualties from both sides!
Three opportunities to remember
- Walking Where Many Had Fallen: Two walks in the countryside where the Battle of Passchendaele took place, taking in some of the most poignant World War One cemeteries.
- Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917: A museum dedicated to the battle, with numerous artifacts, a Dugout Experience that takes you underground into a mock-up of the British Army’s quarters, and reconstructions of trenches.
- Cycle through Flanders Fields: An overview of cycle routes on RouteYou that start from or pass through the Passchendaele battlefield.
Such a terrible war, my Grandfather served in the second world war. and was injured, calling himself lucky as he had some of his toes shot off. I hope mankind learns that there are really no winners on any side during the battles fought in war.
Wishing you well Denzil.
Yes Sue I agree, there are no winners. Unfortunately the powers that be don’t seem to realise this. Thanks for stopping by Sue
My Pleasure Denzil 🙂
I read All Quiet on the Western Front recently which increased my horror of the First World War greatly. Not sure how anyone survived those conditions.
I have that on my book list to read Anabel but have never got around to it yet. Thanks for the reminder!
I didn’t know there was going to be a commemoration! Thanks for letting me know!
Pleasure Ritu! Maybe you can catch it on TV.
I shall check it out!
I’m so glad you posted this. The centenary of the First World War is passing by in the U.S. with very little notice.
“Nightmarish” is used a lot, by people with a hangnail or an underdone crouton in their salad, but I always think that word, when looking at pictures of the front.
That’s true Robert. I still struggle to get my head around these numbers. Half a million casualties, in a fairly small area. It just emphasizes that it was like a conveyor belt spewing young men at the guns.
I’m sorry to say that I don’t know as much about WWI as I do about WWII. Perhaps it’s because my father and Uncles fought in WWII, but I am not aware of any relatives that fought in WWI. My mother and father were born in 1919, after the war, so there are no stories from them about it. There are plenty of stories of their lives through the Great Depression and WWII though.
As time goes on there will be fewer people who remember relatives who fought in WW1 i guess. It’s always good to remember though, isn’t it.
Yes it is. US history in school spends a lot of time on the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and by time the 20th century came around, they try to shove it all into one month. Sad really, the way they don’t spend as much time on “modern” history. So ask me about the Civil War, I’ll be able to tell you about a lot of tragedies.
OK, I will prepare my 20 questions on the American Civil War, and I will expect at least 19/20! 🙂
It’s so important to remember these events and the casualties. The numbers are mind-boggling, especially when you see them listed on a war memorial like the Menin Gate. You might be interested in this book, Denzil. It tells the story of the war from an Australian perspective and is fascinating reading. It’s quite a tome but very easy reading. https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-great-war-les-carlyon/prod9781743534236.html
Thanks for the recommendation Carol, I will surely check it out. Another mind-boggling statistic is that 38,000 Australian soldiers died at Passchendaele, and 300,000 Australians fought in the First World War. Aside from the deaths, the thought of all these young men sailing right around the world and fighting so far from their homeland is chilling.
Considering the total population of Australia at the end of the war was just 4.9 million, that statistic is amazing. Of course, these young men thought they were off on an adventure to the other side of the world. They didn’t know what they were getting into.
I visited the trenches and the memorials like Tyne Cot back in 1996, on a wet, foggy day. A very sobering experience I will never forget.
Thanks once again for a very good article Denzel – a very poignant reminder.
Thanks for your positive comment.
Film “Dunkerque” seems to be a new way to pay tribute memory.
How did anyone survive this?
Thank you for the information about this event. Even one death is tragic, but so much loss at this battle – impossible to fathom. Maybe one day we’ll have no such need, wars being a thing of the past.
That’s the tragedy isn’t it Sharon: 21 years later and the Second World War started. Will the ceremony be on US TV do you think?
It may have been broadcast on one of the cable channels but we get very few channels, so I don’t know for certain. Obviously, our president, The Trumpeter, has so many really important things to tweet about, he can’t be expected to make time to acknowledge this terrible battle.
Sharon I am saddened by that man’s attitude and statements; most recently about the LGBT community, but also especially about the environment. Very disappointing.
About everything, absolutely everything.
I’m not going to start laughing, otherwise I’ll end up crying …:(
As I type this, the commemoration will have just taken place there.
Thank you sharing this history and the ways in which we can show our respect by walking in the soldier’s shoes. My Grandfather was in France during World War One.
My husband will appreciate your information about the walks and cycling as opportunities to ‘remember’ as you outlined.
Thank you, a very informative post, Denzil.
Thanks Di.I can’t fathom what it must have been like for men like your Grandfather to have sailed for weeks across the oceans to fight in Belgium or France. I hope he survived Di.
Thank you kindly, Denzil, and I agree.
Yes, he did survive. I have only memories of him as a very old man sitting in a chair talking to Dad about the war…as much as Dad probably didn’t want to hear, as he was in WW2 and never spoke about it.
If only I could go back and hear what my Pa had to say now…of course it didn’t interest me as a young teen then!
Thank you for the chance to have a discussion about it.
That is good news Di. And yes, wouldn’t it have been fascinating to hear his discussion with your Father. I was pleased to be able to take my Mum and Dad to Tyne Cot Cemetery a few years ago and we found the gravestone of a distant relation.
There is such a connection and an interest in our family members who were part of this piece of History, isn’t there Denzil. That would have been quite something to find a gravestone from a distant relation….
So far we know of no one we could search for.
Until soon, wishing you a good week,
So wish I had seen this before we went for the walks as my Mum would have enjoyed them. We did though during our couple of days in and around Passchendaele manage to visit much of what else you suggested as well as her Uncle’s grave. A very moving experience. https://beckybofwinchester.com/2017/08/06/great-uncle-thomas/
I have read your post Becky and am so glad you were able to take your mother to your Great Uncle’s grave in Passchendaele. Particularly at such a timely time.
I was so glad too….. it was an amazing trip. Also insightful as until this trip I had never appreciated how much Belgian civilian’s suffered. The devastation was horrendous. They are an amazing people.
They have certainly been through hell more than once Becky. Just 22 years later and the country was again under enemy rule.
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