Unending Seige

Givenchy and Festubert

The British used Canadians for a summer 1915 offensive. Conditions were unpromising, all the more so because it would be impossible to surprise the enemy. Major-General Arthur Currie commanding the 1st Canadian Division was not unaware of this, but the orders were clear. The attack, which would last five days, would give the British control over a piece of land approximately 600 metres deep by 1.5 kilometres wide. The price of this lot: 2,323 Canadian casualties. Later, when the British asked the Canadians for other troops, Sam Hughes, who never missed an opportunity to point out the incompetence of the professionals, would comment on the events at Givenchy by saying that Texas cattle rather than human beings should be provided for such fighting.

At Givenchy, 3,000 Canadians opted for the equipment of the motherland by exchanging their Ross rifles, whose superiority over the Lee-Enfield had always been defended by Sam Hughes, even when he was in the Opposition.

The 2nd Division underwent its baptism of fire in an attack in the Saint-aloi sector in early April 1916. After some initial gains, a vigorous German counterattack pushed the Canadian brigades almost back to their starting point. This action cost the Canadians 2,000 casualties.

At Mt Sorrel from 2 to 13 June, something of a reverse scenario was played out as the Germans attacked the 3rd Division. The preliminary artillery bombardment killed Major-General M.S. Mercer, a lawyer. The Germans then advanced to seize positions which they settled down to consolidate. A Canadian counterattack failed and another was cancelled on 6 June when the German offensive resumed, to stop within sight of Ypres. Julian Byng, the new corps commander, took advantage of this respite to organize a reprisal. On 13 June the Canadian troops retook almost all the ground lost since 2 June. These hostilities, from beginning to end, however, cost the Canadians 9,383 casualties.