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Veterans 1914-1918

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Graphical element: Rendering first aid to a wounded Canadian soldier

The Battle of Passchendaele (The Third Battle of Ypres)

In this section:

Interview with W.E. Curtis: 10th Battalion
Transcript Excerpt, 9 minutes, 40 seconds

Q. Well, when you went up to Passchendaele, Sir, I gather that the 10th was the very last unit involved in the Passchendaele campaign. The 7th and the 8th battalions went forward that morning. There's the Macilly crossroad which is out in that area.

A. There was a point where we went.

Q. Here, Vindictive Road, is that it?

A. No. St. Pol, no, not St. Pol. There was a point on the right of where we were at where we were congregated, the whole brigade congregated in there and we had a review by the corps commander, General Currie. Could it be St. Pol?

Q. Yes, I think so, yes.

A. There we had a review by General Currie. He told us what a fine body of men we were and all that stuff. He volunteered to take Passchendaele for his superiors. He had volunteered to do that. If the truth was only known, he was told to do it. From there we went up into Wilshire camp which was just nothing but tents. That was on the way up. We stayed there a couple or three days and then moved out overnight right through the city of Ypres up into a place which I believe was St. Julien. However there was nothing there but shell holes. We lay there overnight. I was buried there that night, as a matter of fact, up to my neck in mud and sand and chalk. We had nothing to do but do the best we could to get out of sight and keep ourselves as well-protected as we could so we cleaned out what was in the crater or shell hole and dug a little bit of a ledge around it so that we could sit down and found some old galvanized iron laying around, sheets of galvanized metal, and made a roof out of it and we established ourselves for the night and stayed there the whole day and moved up to Passchendaele the second night. I was fortunate coming out of there, as a matter of fact, because a shell from the enemy came over and dropped into the crater behind us or which would be forward of us and, in dropping in, it did not explode but it did disturb the earth between the two craters and we got all the water that was in the other. The whole thing caved in and there were two or three of us buried to our neck. We had one whale of a time getting out of that but we got out. We went forward up there over the old duck walks. We could see a plank road that had been built of nothing else but planks which I would think would be about three by twelves or four by twelves and the guns and that like were moving up there and particularly ammunition but we had nothing else to do but just walk the little duck walk which was just like a lumber sidewalk about two feet wide and probably eight feet long, in sections. Every once in a while we'd come to one and I came to one of them that wasn't there and stepped off of it. I had a Lewis gun on my back. We had been told to keep two paces apart in our walking. If it was convenient, of course, we'd be able to do it, on account of the shelling you know. I happened to fall off with my gun. A young officer was behind me and he started to try to drag me out. There was another little incident there that I could never forget. The officer was trying to pull me out. I created an obstruction and the men were bunching up. Some kind friend at the back, I won't use his expression but he did say, "Leave the son of a gun there". That's what he should have said if he was going to be polite. It was better to lose one man than a dozen. They got me out anyway and we carried on up into Passchendaele. Another little unfortunate thing about that was, we got out from there quite late in the evening and we were told to dig in. It was a case of every man for himself because the gunfire was so heavy. I think our battalion headquarters was in a big German pill box, one of these concrete creations, and if my memory serves me correctly, I may be wrong here, we lost our regimental sergeant major that night due to the fact that a shell exploded just about in front of the door of headquarters. I think his name was Thatcher. They hammered the daylights out of us all night long. We were trying to dig and, as fast as we dug one shovelful of mud out, two rolled in but we did eventually establish ourselves and then at daybreak we got the word, "You're in the wrong place. Advance two hundred yards". We advanced the two hundred yards losing quite a few men. We went in to take a nice trench in gravel and got out of the mud for a while. It was a little higher, I guess.

Q. I guess you were on the peak of the ridge.

A. Yes, it was a little higher there. There we had a full view, in early morning we had a full view of everything. We could see our own planes, just these little moths, I suppose you'd call them in those days, going backward and forward. The enemy, of course he was doing the same thing and machine gunning us to the best of his ability. I can remember another little incident there. Looking through, there was a stretcher party that went across in front of us in the German lines, carrying the sign of distress, the Red Cross flag, you know, showing a stretcher party. In common decency, if you want to call it that, or common custom, whichever you want to use, it was to respect them and let them carry on and take their wounded away. Our men naturally popped their heads up to see what was going on and some of them came down in a great big hurry. There was a machine gun on the stretcher, not a body, so you know what happened.

Q. Yes, that happened every once in a while.

A. Of course our men quite promptly responded and the stretcher dropped to the ground. I was only for a tour of twenty-four hours only in that trench. We were told that we had relieved the Australians but we never saw an Australian, we never saw anybody else. It was an empty trench when we got to it and it was empty when we came out. We stopped out the back of the trench and walked straight back.

Q. You went forward that morning, did you not, on the 10th?

A. We did not, not our section.

Q. But parts of the battalion?

A. They may have, yes. They may have put another company in, they may have done anything.

Q. The general story from most people is that you went through the 7th and 8th Battalions at some point on the 10th and took over.

A. It's quite possible that some of them did.

Q. You were very heavily shelled in the process.

A. Yes, we were very heavily shelled before we established in that one trench. We tried to dig in all we could. We were told, "Every man for himself". The officers alike were all digging and that was the first night we went in, the night that I went in with them. We could see them dropping like flies all around us. However, we were in there for twenty-four hours and they pulled our company out. That's all I know.