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War Diaries

Passchendaele (the 3rd Battle of Ypres)

October 26-November 10, 1917

The Misery of Passchendaele

"It was really a miserable day, quite miserable. We were lying practically on the bed of the river which had been shelled all to pieces and it was just a marshy bog… our company headquarters got blown to pieces… before we started off… and the battle hadn't even begun."

Alex Strachan, 43rd Battalion, War diary of 43rd Battalion. RG 9, series III-D-3, vol. 4938, file 434.

Passchendaele, or the 3rd Battle of Ypres, was one of the most controversial battles of the entire war, denounced by contemporary politicians as savage, vain, bloody, and as a pitiful waste of human courage. The spectre of soldiers dying, even drowning in a sea of mud, was so harrowing that it inspired poets, composers and artists to depict the unspeakable horror years after it took place. Nature conspired to turn the battlefield into the nightmare they described. Situated in a low-lying area reclaimed from marshy lands by means of an elaborate drainage system, the vulnerable terrain was easily and quickly destroyed by shellfire; once shelling started, flooding would rapidly turn the whole battlefield into a sea of mud. To add to the misery, Flanders was notorious for wet weather, which usually started in the late fall. Canadian troops took over operations at Passchendaele on October 26 and extended British efforts that yielded an advance of only nine kilometres on the Allied front and did not succeed in meeting the ultimate objective for the battle—breaking through German lines and freeing Belgian ports of the German U-boat menace.