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A Soldier's Sacrifice

Resource from Lest We Forget

Clarence Garfield Mainse, Private
28th Battalion, Saskatchewan Regiment (Northwest)
6th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division
Canadian Expeditionary Force

Personal Information:

Clarence Garfield Mainse was born on November 2, 1892, in Lyndhurst, Ontario, 30 kilometres northeast of Kingston. He was the oldest of five children born to Edward and Susan Mainse, also of Lyndhurst. As a young unmarried man, he moved to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, where he took a job as a clerk.

Military Movements:

Clarence Garfield Mainse was a member of the 28th Battalion of the Saskatchewan Regiment (Northwest Regiment) in the 2nd Infantry Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Upon enlistment, Mainse and the other members of the 28th Battalion were organized in Winnipeg before moving east for debarkation to England. (Nicholson, p. 549) In May 1915, the 2nd Division sailed for England to train at Shorncliffe on the coast of Kent. On September 15, 1915, the 2nd Division joined the 1st Division at the Ypres Salient, and the two became the Canadian Corps.

Early in the war, the rotation for a soldier at the front was six days in the front line, six days in support and six days on relief, but heavy casualties meant less relief time and longer periods spent at the front. It became commonplace for a soldier to spend eighteen days in the front line and six days in the rear. While at the front, a soldier often endured disease, lice, and the chronic problem of trench foot.

The Final Days:

In early November 1917, the 28th Battalion moved into position on the northwest edge of the village of Passchendaele under the Division command of Major-General Macdonell. The last of the men of the 28th Battalion arrived from Ypres at 4:00 a.m., merely two hours before the "zero hour" assault on Passchendaele.

On November 5, 1917, Operation Order 159 was issued, directing the 2nd Canadian Division to attack and capture the village of Passchendaele. This assault, known as Attack 8, was unusual in that the Canadian Corps alone formed the offensive. The 1st Canadian Division was positioned to the left of the 28th Battalion while the 3rd and 4th Divisions were held in the rear, going left to right. The 28th Battalion was to attack on the left of the front. Most of that day was spent getting the battalions into position -- the 27th Battalion (from Winnipeg) on the right, the 31st Battalion (from Alberta) in the centre, and the 28th Battalion (from Saskatchewan) on the left.

The attack plan called for the 28th Battalion to move to the Mosselmarkt road, northwest of Passchendaele, while the 31st Battalion moved to the northwest edge of the village, and the 27th Battalion moved into the village itself. (Nicholson, Map 9) The Germans also wanted to keep Passchendaele and had reinforced their lines on November 3 with the 11th Division, which had been transported from Champagne in Northern France. According to records from German High Command, "Passchendaele must be held, or, if lost, recaptured at all costs." (Dancocks, p. 161)

At 6:00 a.m. on the morning of November 6, 1917, Clarence Garfield Mainse and the rest of the 28th Battalion moved into the village of Passchendaele using a heavy artillery barrage to penetrate German lines. The 27th Battalion and the 31st Battalion were to move two minutes behind the artillery barrage. To reach their objective -- the road to the northwest of Passchendaele -- they had to cover a distance of 1,000 yards on the left flank. (Nicholson, Map 9)

The tight coordination between artillery and infantry movement was critical to the success of the mission. Too often before, the time span between artillery and infantry movement had been too great, leading to disastrous results for the infantrymen. For this mission, however, General Currie had cut the time span from eight minutes to two minutes, which did not allow the Germans sufficient time to get out of their bunkers and into position. This tactic produced excellent results for the Canadians in that the German trenches were overrun and many prisoners were taken. The 27th and 31st Battalions covered the ground in good speed but this was not the case for the 28th Battalion.

Immediately the men of the 28th Battalion experienced difficulty. Mud impeded their attempts to move forward. Much of the terrain was muddy up to the knees and in some places up to the waist. This slowed their advance significantly, increasing the time span between artillery barrage and infantry attack. As a result, the 28th Battalion received the brunt of German fire and suffered heavy casualties. (See maps on the movements of the 28th Battalion on November 6, 1917.)

Members of the 28th Battalion were pinned down on two occasions, caught between the Canadian artillery barrage and the actions of the heavy German rear guard. Twelve officers and 178 infantrymen were killed taking the village of Passchendaele and the ridge to the north. By 7:40 a.m., the village was in Canadian hands, but not without heavy casualties. Many German pillboxes were overrun. It is reported that Corporal P.H. Linsell ran through an artillery barrage, taking a German pillbox by bayonet and capturing 16 prisoners.

Events on that morning in the village of Passchendaele, as recalled by survivors of the offensive, tell stories of hell on earth. Corporal H.C. Baker remarked on the morning of November 7, "My impression was that we had won the ridge but lost the battalion." (Dancocks, p. 170) The assault and the next day's bombardment by German artillery brought the casualty total of the 2nd Canadian Division to 2,238 men, of which 734 were killed or died from their wounds. (Nicholson, p. 325)

In the early hours of November 7, 1917, the 28th Battalion was relieved and bivouacked near the cemetery at Ypres. Soldiers recount that cooks served them soup -- their first hot meal in 72 hours. Roll call for that day reveals that not many soldiers of the 28th Battalion remained alive after the previous day's attack. Between October 26 and November 7, 1917, the Canadian Corps suffered some 16,000 casualties in taking Passchendaele -- 3,000 dead, 1,000 missing and 12,000 wounded.

The success of Attack 8 was communicated to General Currie who passed the information onto General Headquarters. Field Marshall Haig, in his response, classified the importance of the attack as one on par with Vimy Ridge. However, weeks after Passchendaele and the ridge had been taken, the British Expeditionary Force abandoned the area as it was not seen as strategically significant.

Attack 8 was unique in that it provided the first testing ground for the use of wave wireless sets in operational conditions of combat. The sets proved to be successful, greatly enhancing the level of communication during the offensive. (Nicholson, p. 325)

The 28th Battalion distinguished itself many times over the course of the war. On June 7, 1916, the entire 28th Battalion was almost obliterated when four mines underneath the Regiment blew up. After the Battle of the Somme, the Regiment was reduced to 140 men, all ranks included; it was and remains the Regiment's bloodiest battle. On November 11, 1918, Private George Price of the 28th Battalion was shot by sniper fire at 10:58 a.m., two minutes before the armistice was to stop all fighting and end the war. He is considered the last casualty of all Allied armies of the First World War.

Medical Records:

Clarence Garfield Mainse spent a few days in the infirmary in 1917. On April 17, 1917, he was admitted to hospital and released; no indication of his illness is recorded. At the 6:00 a.m. roll call on November 7, 1917, Clarence Garfield Mainse was missing. Later that day, Mainse was found and taken to the Number 1 Field Ambulance Depot where he was examined and pronounced dead. His medical records reveal that he suffered a concussion to the head, sustained in a blast from a German shell that had landed close to him. This is consistent with information that is recorded about a heavy concentrated German artillery barrage after the Canadians had taken both Passchendaele and the ridge.

Lest We Forget:

In his written will, Clarence Garfield Mainse left everything to his mother. She received his military plaque identified by his serial number 752774. He had received $402.01 in total earnings from the CEF from the time he enlisted until his death at the age of 25.

Mainse is buried at Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery in Belgium. For much of the First World War, the village of Vlamertinghe was just outside the normal range of German shell fire and was used both by artillery units and field ambulances. Burials took place in the original Military Cemetery until June 1917, after which the New Military Cemetery, designed by Sir Reginald Bloomfield, was opened in anticipation of the Allied offensive launched in July. Although it continued to be used until October 1918, most of the burials took place between July and December 1917. Today, the cemetery contains 1,813 Commonwealth graves from the First World War. (Canadian War Graves Commission)

Bibliography

Dancocks, Daniel G. Legacy of Valour: The Canadians at Passchendaele (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1986).

Murray, W.W. The History of the 2nd Canadian Battalion (East Ontario Regiment) Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War, 1914 -- 1918 (Ottawa: Mortimer Limited, 1947).

Nicholson, Colonel G.W.L. Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914 -- 1919 (Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1964).

Archival Reference

Military service files of Private Clarence Garfield Mainse (RG 150, Acc. 1992-93/166, Box 5855-37) obtained from Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario.