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ARCHIVED - Oral Histories of the First World War:
Veterans 1914-1918

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Graphical element: Rendering first aid to a wounded Canadian soldier

The Battle of Passchendaele (The Third Battle of Ypres)

In this section:

Interview with W.H. Joliffe: 4th Battalion
Transcript Excerpt, 5 minutes, 44 seconds

Q. Well now, eventually we got up to Passchendaele.

A. After the summer of 1917 we were told that we were going back up in the Passchendaele area. We trained for that for several weeks and, when we got in the area, we learned via the underground that the efforts on behalf of the army as a whole had not been too successful. However, our job at Passchendaele was, and it took us a very considerable length of time to get up into our jumping-off positions as the area was full of shell holes and the shell holes were filled with water. In some cases the shell holes were ten and fifteen feet deep so that we had to be very careful as to how we moved forward and the method of going forward was in single file over the duck boards.

Q. In this Passchendaele business, what did you get to when you got forward into jumping-off position? Did you have just another hole in the mud?

A. We just skirted the holes and then when the barrage started, we moved forward as best we could, skirting around these shell holes.

Q. What was your objective now at Passchendaele?

A. The objective of the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion was a section of Passchendaele Village. Passchendaele Village was infested with concrete pill boxes which created tremendous casualties at Passchendaele. As I recall it, the battalion went in full strength and our losses were extremely heavy. In my own company the four platoon officers, one was killed and three were wounded so that I was the only officer who came out of the company alive. However, we reached our objective and shortly after that, with the winter season coming on, the campaign came to a close. My recollection of Passchendaele is that it was a hell hole. Many men who were wounded, walking wounded going back to the field dressing stations or hospitals, would become weak and they would miss their footing on the duck boards and fall into a large shell hole full of water and be drowned.

Q. The village of Passchendaele itself which I suppose had been pretty badly shelled was on a little rise, was it?

A. It was at the top of the Passchendaele Ridge, it commanded the whole country.

Q. After you got through the mud you would have to climb up this smallish hill into the pill boxes.

A. We had to surround these pill boxes and knock them out, those that were not knocked out by artillery.

Q. When you attack a pill box, a pill box is a pretty solid piece of cement with a hole in it out of which comes a machines gun. That's the usual sort of pattern. There may be rifles as well but generally there's a machine gun. If you've gone to all that expense, you put a fairly biggish gun into a pill box. How would you attack such a pill box? You're an officer commanding coming up with troops and say there are three pill boxes across the road, what would you do in the way of a plan?

A. Well, in the case of one of the pill boxes on my company's frontage which was giving us considerable difficulty, it was decided to skirt around to the right and get behind the pill box which was eventually done and then several bombs were tossed down into these pill boxes from the rear and killed all the Germans inside.

Q. Passchendaele was a terrible time for everyone.

A. It was the most ghastly attack in which I ever participated because of the conditions and the fact that men who were wounded didn't have much of a chance to get out and if they tried to get out, in many cases they just were drowned.