99 Years Ago: The 18th Battalions Attack at Vimy Ridge

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Lieutenant William John McLean

At Zero hour[i], vis 5.30 a.m., the advance was made. Simultaneously with the opening up of the Artillery Barrage the Battalion left the “Jumping-off” trenches[ii] and attacked the German front line. Very little opposition was met with whilst capturing the first line system of trenches. The enemy barraged “No-man’s-land” for about 15 minutes, after which his Artillery fire became very indiscriminate[iii]. The support line was captured without any difficulty and the Battalion Objective (Black), a line of trench from A.11.a.79.3/12. To A.11.a.45.75, finally reached. At 6.05 a.m. a message was received at Bn. H.Q. saying that the Black Objective had been captured and was in the act of being consolidated. The casualties up to this point had been very slight, considering the magnitude of the operations. Major C.C. Gwyn, one of the most popular and efficient Offices was killed by a M.G. bullet, about 100 yards from the objective, and Lieut. W.J. McLean was also killed while leading his men across No-man’s-land”. After the death of Major Gwyn, Lieut. P. Jerdan assumed Command of “B” Company, and did splendid work in consolidation and reorganization[iv], as also did Lieut. D.A.G. Parsons who commanded “A” Company.

Photo of Ellis Sifton

Lance-Sergeant E.W. Sifton, V.C.

An act of conspicuous gallantry was performed by Sergt. E.W. Sifton of “C” Coy. A [enemy] M.G. was holding up his Company and doing considerable damage. Sergt. Sifton, single-handed, attacked the Gun crew and bayoneted every man, but was unhappily shot by a dying Boche[v].

At 10.50 a.m. a message was received from Major W.J. Gander, now senior officer of the line, reporting that the consolidation of the objective and the reorganization of the battalion was complete. Telephone communication[vi] from the Report Centre, which was established in the FELSENKELLER WEG[vii], to Bn. H.Q. and Brigade, was successfully maintained throughout. A tunnel with a 4’ gallery was dug beforehand, with an exit in the PHILIP CRATER, with 20 yards of the German front line, and telephone lines laid to this point before Zero [hour]. Lieut’s W.H. Lewis and V.M. Eastwood secured much valuable information, and established an advanced Bn. H.Q. at A.10.b.85.35. Major K.H. McCrimmon finally established Bn. H.Q.s at A.11.D.1.8 and performed most efficient work handling all information and superintending the process of reorganization.

Several large straw-stacks were discovered just ahead of the Black Objective and were found the have been the means of hiding concrete M.G. emplacements[viii]. The night of 9/10th being spent in the Black Objective and funk-holes[ix] being the only shelter, the straw was a great help to the men in making their shelters comfortable. The approximate casualties for the whole operation were: – 2 officers killed (already mentioned), Lieuts. W.G. Worth, S.C. Kirkland, C.E. Tuck, W.K. Rooney, (Wounded). 40 O.R.’s killed and 180 wounded.

Worth, Walter Garlick: Lieutenant

Lt. Vincent McCarter Eastwood’s Military Medal commendation.

[i] Zero hour indicates the specific time of the attack and was assigned to the specific unit depending on the tactics and strategy of the battle. Therefore, this time was not necessarily generalizable to other units. Other units may have had earlier or later Zero hours.

[ii] This may indicate that the “jumping-off” trenches were located in a different location from the front line trenches of the 18th Battalion. Several battalions had galleries or tunnels dug out in front of their front line.

[iii] Indicative of the work done by Canadian and British artillery in range finding, flash spotting, and other efforts to supress the German artillery.

[iv] Consolidation and reorganization of the line was important in preparation of a German counter-attack. The German trenches faced the wrong way so fire-steps, machine gun pits/nests and other trench defenses had to be fashioned in preparation for this. The troops in their respective Companies would need to be allocated to the new trench system in a systematic manner to assist in the defence of the objectives.

[v] Lance-Sergeant E.W. Sifton was to earn a Victoria Cross for this action. This was also the only V.C. earned by the 2nd Division on that date.

[vi] Note that effective and timely communication during the action was one of the biggest challenges for the combatants during the war.

Lieutenant S.C. Kirkland

Its emphasis here indicates the importance to the operation.

[vii] Appears to be a reference to a German trench position. The printing of the war diary is indistinct so this is an approximation of the text.

[viii] The German Army used a range of camouflage methods to hide or obscure their defensive positions.

[ix] Holes scraped into the side of the trench usually able to hold one or two men and temporary on nature and generally forbidden in more organized front-line trenches but almost certainly allowed given the tactical needs of the attack.

18th Battalion War Diary for April 9, 1917.

18th Battalion War Diary for April 9, 1917.

18th Battalion War Diary for April 9, 1917.

18th Battalion War Diary for April 9, 1917.

18th Battalion War Diary for April 9, 1917.

18th Battalion War Diary for April 9, 1917.

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