Witley, July 31, 1917

Tuesday          Rain hard all last night & all day today. Should have gone out for the day but rain prevented Went to pictures tonight to pass the time Great offensive commenced this a.m. 3:50 in Flanders

“Heavy rain,” says the War Diary, and concludes this month with the assessment that it has been a “fairly useful month of training. Horse much improved.” (1)

In Belgium, as Percy notes, the Third Battle of Ypres begins, a battle that will continue for months and that is still the subject of argument. General Haig seems to have been convinced that the German army was enfeebled, and that a combined British and French offensive would achieve several goals. First, it would turn the tide of the war; second, it would restore French morale (which had been so low that soldiers mutinied only a few months ago); finally, it would provide a glorious victory which would not have to be shared with the Americans, whose troops were beginning to arrive in France.

1917 08 01 map page 1.JPGAt first, the “epoch-making offensive” (2) seemed to be going well. It was a “sweeping advance,” according to the war correspondent Philip Gibbs, launched after weeks of bombardment which had caused “great alarm throughout Germany and anxiety in our enemy’s command.” (2) The War Summary reports that “All objectives set out for the first day’s work were achieved,” (3) a description rather more reserved than Gibbs’s:

“We have gained ground everywhere, and with the help of the French troops… we captured the enemy’s position across the Yser canal and thrust him back from a wide stretch of country…. Many tanks have gone forward with our infantry… and have done better than well against several of the enemy’s strong points.” (2)

1917 08 01 birds eye view page 2.JPGBoth accounts strike sobering notes: the War Summary acknowledges that progress was made “despite unfavourable weather, presumably rain and fog.” (3) Gibbs warns that “the enemy’s resistance will be stronger as the hours pass, because he realizes the greatness of our menace and will beyond doubt bring up all the strength he has to save himself from complete disaster.” (2)

The map and the bird’s eye view both come from The Globe, August 1, 1917, pages 1 and 2 respectively.

(1) War Diary of the Fifth Canadian Divisional Artillery. Vol. 6 (July 1917): 3. Library and Archives of Canada.
(2) Gibbs, Philip. “To Save Himself from Real Disaster.” The Globe (1844-1936). August 1, 1917. 1. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
(3) War Summary. The Globe (1844-1936). August 1, 1917. 1.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”

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