Ypres Again. Blowing Up of Hill 60
and Messignes Ridge
Headquarters, seemingly, were not too pleased with the number and quality of prisoners. It looked as if all odds and ends of feeble Germans had occupied their trenches.
We were supplied with smoke shells and all guns were switched to another part of the line. Howitzer guns used high explosives, we used smoke shells. Again the bombardment was on a massive scale. The Germans sensed the smoke screen was to obscure our advancing infantry. Our troops moved rapidly on the quiet sector, cut wire entanglements and moved deep, capturing many first class Jerries who had just arrived for an attack.
There was confusion in the Hun ranks. Our infantry made a deep, wide sweep, driving the bewildered Germans into our sector. This was the glorious conclusion of the long number of raids by Canadians.
Our losses were few but again the prolonged standby without sleep and on poor rations began to tell on our gunners. There was praise on all sides, including the Germans, for the accuracy of the 24th Division gunners.
The Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, issued this message - 'Please convey to the 24th Division congratulations on the success of the operations and my appreciation of the gallantry and skill shown by the troops engaged.'
Our artillery was withdrawn from forward position for refit and rest. During our second day out we were told by Major Hobdav that we had to move within an hour. I was one of the NCOs detailed to go with an advance party.
We were bound for the 'Hell of all Sectors', Ypres.
We moved swiftly through Bethune, Merville, Barlheul, Eecke, Boescheppe and Poperinge. We regrouped near 'muddy, bloody Vlamertynghe', only to find out why it was so nicknamed. In darkness and drizzle we passed through Ypres, past the Ramparts, up the dreaded Menin Road. We tried to dig in our guns, but high explosives and phosgene gas shells made it impossible. We had many casualties. As day was breaking on 29th May, 1917, we reached the rubble of the once Blenpoorte Farm. To this day I just do not know how or why any of us survived.
We lay in sodden shell holes for an hour with crumps of shells plastering us with mud. Then came the 'do or die' order, 'Range 1,525 yards, all guns, rapid fire on Hill 60!'
We knew the poundings we were receiving, but we were actually firing twenty shells to the Germans' one. Our circumstances may have been bad, but the enemy's must have been infinitely worse. For seven days and seven nights without stop this pounding continued. On 6th June an enormous German cavalcade of more guns, ammunition and equipment reached Ypres. The enemy threw all his big shells into the ruined city. Our losses were very heavy. We were stunned.
In the late afternoon I was at Ypres with important dispatches. I ran from corner to corner of broken walls. I dodged more than a hundred shells, fortunately. I delivered the message and returned to our guns with a reply. Talk about dodge and run. In all I covered seven miles. I was young, alert, athletic and wary.
I had only eaten a hard biscuit smeared with Tommy Tickler Jam when zero hour arrived. Yes, it was 7thJune when we blew up Hill 60 and Messignes Ridge. The whole earth shook. Every gun blazed. One gun caught fire, another was disabled. Our Engineers had tunnelled into the hillside, stuffed their workings with explosives and blown away most of the Huns' entrenched positions.
Major Hobday and Sergeant Nicholls rushed us into the inferno and we rescued enemy wounded.
Luck was in our favour, the many stacks of shells around us did not blow up.
With Hill 60 and Messignes Ridge gone, we could see great fires in the rear of the German lines. Long columns of prisoners passed our way as the shelling ceased; the spoils of war also passed us, so too the wounded British and German soldiers. Thousands died. We had our losses in gunners too. One young lad, Gunner Cox, was killed at my side, others were injured. No hurt came my way.
We were very exhausted, dirty, hungry, lousy, short-staffed, but not dismayed. With difficulty we withdrew to a place called 'The Bluff', then, with the help of Engineers, we moved back to a cosy place called Aire. We had so many killed and wounded we could only muster one half of our unit. A huge dixie of stew and potatoes arrived but we were too tired to eat.
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.