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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 Third Battle of Ypres, was one of the most controversial battles of the entire war, denounced by contemporary politicians as savage, vain, bloody and 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.