An underground war: Captain Oscar Harvey and 1st Canadian Tunnelling Company

Medal trio, named to Captain Oscar Robert Havrvey, Collections CCGW/CCGG
Medal trio, named to Captain Oscar Robert Havrvey, Collections CCGW/CCGG

After the stalemate of the fall of 1914, the conflict in France began to slip into a state of almost total war. With millions of men entrenched on opposite sides of a roughly 400km front and the drive for victory unabated, it became a fight to win at any cost. An attritional war is by necessity one without rules and the victor determined by how far they are willing to go to kill off the manpower of the opposing side. While both the Allies and the Entente reached this point eventually, for much of 1915 it was a desperate race for Britain and France to catch up with their enemy. The most frequently seen example of this is the use of poison gas at Ypres in the spring of 1915, which the Allies were quick to adopt, but another terrifying result of the attritional war was the use of tunneling and mining  to strike fear into the enemy. The first German mining effort came to light in December 1915, when a section of the line held by the Indian Army near Festubert was blown up at 10:25am, scattering the survivors and leaving a 1 000 yard swathe of trench in German hands. At this point, it was decided by the British High Command that in order to ensure the morale of the men and maintain some kind of control of No Mans Land, they too needed to establish counter mining companies[1]Continue reading “An underground war: Captain Oscar Harvey and 1st Canadian Tunnelling Company”

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A well deserved rest: The 1st Canadian Division in the summer of 1915

[In trenches, France,1915] Horace Brown/Library and Archives Canada/ PA-107276. Please note that this image has been slightly cropped for this post.
[In trenches, France,1915] Horace Brown/Library and Archives Canada/ PA-107276. Please note that this image has been slightly cropped for this post.
The 1st Canadian Division fought two costly engagements in the spring of 1915, the 2nd Battle of Ypres and Festubert, which resulted in a combined loss of over 8 000 killed and wounded in the space of two months. Battalions lost up to three quarters of their fighting strength in a single engagement, with the PPCLI being reduced to just 150 men after they held the line at Frezenberg in early May. At this point, the division was moved to the relatively quiet front between Ploegsteert and Messines, where they would spend the summer months until September 1915 holding the lines. Continue reading “A well deserved rest: The 1st Canadian Division in the summer of 1915”