One Hundred Years Ago: November 11, 1916

if_ye_break_faith_-_victory_bonds_poster

There was no Remembrance Day in 1916. The concept of remembering the dead with a national day of recognition had not been conceived of until later and it would be a whole two years of conflict with its dead, dying, wounded, and damaged combatants.

The 18th Battalion had been through the Somme and had suffered grievous casualties. 182 men died of all causes in those two month of September and October 1916. Untold wounded were also be counted. Assuming a 3 to 1 ration of wounded to dead almost 600 men of a battalion with a nominal strength at full complement of 1,115 gives a stark indication of the cost to the Battalion. Up until August of 1916, in contrast to the 182 men killed in September and October 1916, the Battalion had suffered 129 deaths since it inception 26 months ago.

In two month the Battalion suffered more casualties than it did over the proceeding 26.

On that very date of November 11, 1916 the 18th Battalion War Diary relates:

Calonne: Battalion in Brigade support. Rifle inspection by Company Commanders. 2 o.r. admitted to hospital.

A simple and terse statement. This brevity is reflected in the War Diaries of September and October 1916 as if the catharsis of the Somme with its many dead and wounded was too much to relate. The War Diary of the 18th Battalion generally reflected an economy of words compared to other Battalions of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade. The sheer number of commissioned officers lost during the previous two months must have had an impact to the morale of the officers and their focus on their duty must have wavered or come into question given the terrible costs of the operations of the Somme. As war diaries were the duty of the officer, typically the adjutant, to record and with the relative recent change of command of the Battalion from the founding Lieutenant-Colonel Wigle, who was replaced after the St. Elois Crater engagement, by his subordinate, Major H.L. Milligan and then at the beginning of October by Lieutenant-Colonel Morrison, one wonders how the dynamic changes of command and soldier morale worked in the Battalion during this time and how it affected the soldiers of the Battalion.

November 11, 1916 passed for the Battalion quietly. The Battalion was off the line in Brigade Support which would allow them some semblance of safety compared to being on the line in the trenches.

Yet, on November 14, the War Diary relates that 8 soldiers who previously where reported wounded were now reported wounded and missing. If one takes a look a the number of 18th Battalion men during those months who died and are commemorated on the Vimy Memorial (70% for September and 66% for October) this ratio of men without known graves illustrates the carnage of the battle.

Two years would pass. The “Originals” – the original officers and men of the 18th Battalion from the April 1915 nominal roll were being replaced. Many had died. Many were wounded and returned and were wounded again. Many go sick and never regained active duty status. The Battalion would fight on and become victorious.

At a cost. Always at a cost.

Galt Cenotaph November 11, 2104. Photograph by Eric Edwards.

Galt Cenotaph November 11, 2104. Photograph by Eric Edwards.

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