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|In honour of those who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge this is one man's
account of the famous battle that took place in April 1917.
Bright Description by a Participant
(Excerpt from letter written by Lieut. Jack Turner to his father.)
I suppose the event s of the last few weeks are pretty stale now, so I
can take a chance on giving you a little dope on them. Don't suppose
anything I can tell you will really be new as the papers seem to have witten
things up from all angles--real and imaginary. However, I've a little time
on my hands--and spare time has been a mighty seldom article lately--so I'll
use it up spoiling paper.
My strongest impressions of the show are snow and rain, mud, mobs of
"Kamerads," artillery and more artillery.
It was just beginning to get very faintly light when the curtain went up,
and some weather--rain in sheets, blowing a half gale and fifty per cent.
colder than charity. I'd finished laying my guns some little time before
zero and was standing on the top of the pits, one eye on my watch and all
the rest of my eyes on the guns, when she started. Say, I've heard guns;
last season I had the luck to be on the receiving end of two of the
prettiest and most concentrated distributions of Krupp Confetti that Fritz
ever put over, but this one had them all skinned. Talk about barrages!
Don't know exactly how to give you an idea of it but here's a weak
illustration: Take a nice little heap of sand, five or six feet long, a
couple of feet wide and say a foot high--there's your ridge. Then take a
six foot length of pipe, punch it as full of holes as the law allows and run
a stream of water through it under high pressure. Now start at one side of
your sand pile and sweep your pipe slowly across the whole works. Get your
imagination running at full pressure. Your sand pile is now a fair sized
hill, consolidated to a queen's taste, (for Fritz, when he starts in to turn
a hill into a home, does a most thorough piece of work.) Every drop of
water spurting from your pipe--and remember there are several thousand holes
in that piece of pipe, all working overtime--is a shell--an eighteen pounder
or a fifteen inch, or some other of the many sized packages of concentrated
extract of Hell that comes between these limits.
Anyhow, breaking away from description and would-be-illustrations, she
started. For the next five minutes I was too busy to pay much attention to
anything outside the battery, but when things got running smoothly and I had
time to look things over, it was certainly worth seeing.
Our shells were bursting over (also on, and under) Fritz's line so thick
that it was impossible to pick out a single flash--the whole line was a
sheet of fire and, I guess, the atmosphere must have been about fifty per
cent, steel and the rest smoke.
The Festive Hun had begun to come to life a little by this time, and was
indulging in the finest fireworks display I've ever seen. You'd almost
think they'd sunk another hospital ship, or had been given an extra cubic
inch of Wienerwurst in their rations, and were celebrating the event. There
were reds and greens, twin reds and twin greens, and various combination of
red and green, not to mention thousands of golden showers and ordinary
flares. In the first half hour he threw up more flares than I thought were
there in the world. If he'd thrown less flares and more shells we'd have
had a much tougher time. If red and green represent Cherry-Brandy and
Creme-de-Menthe respectively, there was quite a fair number of
mornings-after-the-night-before heads in that bunch of pyrotechnists.
Then, as the barrage crept forward (and it sure was some well trained
barrage--it worked as if a man had hold of each end and was leading it long
in the way that it should go) the flares got farther back. There was a
mighty good reason for that too--the infantry were following close behind
the barrage and putting a sandpaper finish to the job that the guns had
started. About then we'd finished our first innings and had to move quite a
piece before we went to bat again--WE meaning our own little battery of
It sure was some trek; over a mile, rotten going, and loads that would
break the heart of a pack-mule. On our side of the line it wasn't so bad,
though I left a good many scraps of my garments hanging on the wire, but
once we hit No Man's Land -----. Well, I humped my load and used up any
little breath I could spare, thanking all the Gods I could think of that I'd
humped bad loads over bad trails before.
Just before we got to that stage we ran into Fritz's barrage. I think it
could truthfully be described as a model barrage--giving the word "model"
its dictionary meaning which is, I believe, " small copy of the real
thing"--and a darned small copy at that. In fact, that barrage strongly
resembled my breeches in one respect-it consisted mainly of holes.
Of course a few of his shells made hits--there were so many men moving
round that he couldn't miss all the time--but on the whole, he showed
excellent judgment in picking open country to drop his shells in.
I was dragging along, very sick of the whole job, beside an infrantryman
when something landed. I didn't investigate very closely, but I'm pretty
sure it was a 5.9; anyhow, when I got my wind back, feeling as if I'd been
kicked twice by a mule, the infantryman had vanished and so had the place
he'd been standing on.
Fritz's front line just wasn't there; our guns had taken the whole thing
to pieces and piled it up in convenient stacks. Second line wasn't much
better, though we got a few Kamerads somewhere 'round there.
It was coming through there that I got my first real idea of what our
artillery can do. There wasn't a single yard for a thousand yards back of
the front line that hadn't a shell-hole in it--and some of them were real
honest-to-goodness holes, twenty or thirty feet in diameter and about the
same in depth. The artillery sure did a peach of a job in making two (or
two thousand) holes blossom where only one blossomed before.
We did our second trick just behind Fritz's third line. Just as we got
there they got into us with a machine gun from the left, plugged one of my
boys through the heart and got my Battery Commander (one of my
fellow-privates in the original Sixth) plumb centre in the thigh--he's now
enjoying life in Blighty.
Things were pretty strenuous then for a little while but our luck held
good, and we got dug-in nicely. It is curious that through a few lumps of
high-velocity lead with nickel noses make a chap's thoughts turn to higher
things--his body turns to mighty low holes. The snake or is it the
"serpent"? of Holy Writ that perambulated "with his belly in the dust" was a
soaring eagle compared to me for a while. However, we were still carrying
our horse-shoes and the ground must have been covered with four leafed
shamrocks just there, for we didn't lose another man to that confounded M.
Our little job there held us a couple of hours and we burnt up quite a
bunch of ammunition, pointing out to Fritz that the Canucks were sitting on
top of his pet ridge and intended to stay there--'till they were good and
ready to move farther forward. We began to get the odd shell in that
position and a few of the boys got it in the course of the afternoon, but,
taken on the whole, our casualties wer amazingly light.
Long before this the Kamerad had begun to drift in. At first they came
in small bunches as the front line, considered as a Kamerad mine, wasn't a
very paying proposition--hardly asaying a prisoner to the ton. The
artillery had been too confoundedly enthusiastic about that piece of line
and most of its former tenants were found to be damaged beyond repair--in
fact, most of them were completely snowed under by the barrage.
farthe back though, their picking was better and they came in bunches.
The guy that does the heavy brain work (though the brain work department
seems to have fallen down) side by side with the gentleman that furnishes
the motive power to a shovel at trench-digging parties--hoary old veterans,
the heroes of a hundred frights, garnished with ribbons for house-burning
and well poisoning, mixed with half trained boys who were taking part in a
German victory, for the first time and whose military service was so short
that they hadn't even been awarded an Iron Cross for baby-killing; all
ranks and representatives of most Teuton breeds, but only one type--beastly.
In fact, it was a fine representative bunch and I consider that a little
wholesome hanging would have greatly improved most of them and made the
world a far better place to live in. Seriously, they were the most abject
mob I've ever run into--like a pack of whipped curs, saluting everyone that
spoke to them, apparently quite sure they were going to be murdered before
they got to the cages, and longinly looking forward to the time when they'd
be safely behind the barbed wire of a snug prisoners' compound. There
wasn't an ounce of fight left in a million of them.
Some fellows made awful bags. A lot of the blighters--particularly the
officers--were in dug-outs so deep that our moppin'-up parties were into
them before they knew there was a war on. One gentlemen, dropping in for an
informal call (on these occasions a sackful of Mills bombs is generallly
carried in case people domiciled in the dugout visited should stand on
ceremony and insist on an introduction) found three Huns, of high degree,
just sttling down to breakfast. Well, as he'd been on the road since 4 a.m.
breakfast looked good to him. The Hun officers, with true German
hospitality, did the Sir Phillip Sydney stunt: "Thy necessity is greater
than mine." (I think it was Sydney but won't bet real money on it). At any
rate, the uninvited guest consumed ten fried eggs while his hosts stood in
graceful attitudes round the wall, their arms upstretched toward the
beautiful, but distant, North Star. Then, Exeunt Omnes to the cage.
We used a lot of Fritzes for stretcher bearers, but at that the supply
was away ahead of the demand. The whole country seemed to be covered with
swarms of them, mostly without guards or guides, heading, with the homeing
instinct of a carrier pidgeon, straight for our back country and the peace
and security of the cages. I guess that, even now, there are hundreds of
them still in their dugouts that will never be found. Forty-eight hours
after we took a piece of line I saw prisoners being coaxed out.
At present I'm holding down a dugout well on Fritz's (perhaps I should
say the Fritz's) side of the ridge. Its mighty comfortable and--which
counts six points--mighty safe. If they want to get me here they'll have to
come along with a well-drilling plant--an ordinary shell won't do much.
(in the paragraph below are some words that are difficult to read so if in
doubt I will put a question mark in brackets after these words)
Right here I want to hand a small bouquet to the gentleman that designed
and built my new home. He must have known my taste in dugouts to a split
hair--couldn't have done better if I'd sent him plans and specifications of
what I wanted. It's a surface dug-out, with a shell proof roof and is nice
and airy(?). It's beautifully framed and lined with burlap and boasts of
two bunks, a table and a couple of benches. In the good old days before its
original tenant was evicted for nonpayment of rent, it was well fitted with
electic light but, going(?) by(?) the criminal negligence of our
barragers(?) in throwing shells around, all the wires are out of business.
It commands an extensive view of several historic villages ( in which real
estate values have slumped severely during the last few weeks) and many
miles of country(?) some of which has changed owners lately(?), and some
which we are allowing Fritz to hold for a little while, as we don't need it
all just yet.
We still get the odd shell here but not enough to worry about. It's so
quiet and peaceful just now that I'm not quite sure there's a war on at all
till I look across the flat and watch our heavies take Fritz's property to
pieces and "remould it closer to their heart's desire." From some papers I
got last night I learn that, so far, this show must be regarded as a German
victory. It must be true, as the Greman papers themselves say so. Rather
remins me of the young doctor whose first maternity case was a great
success--the mother and child died but he managed to save the father. If
this is a German victory, me for the losing side--it's safer.
Lieut. Jack Turner was quite descriptive in his accounts of the battle for Vimy Ridge of what they had to go through. Some of these men went through this more than once. So on this 89 anniversary of the "Capture of Vimy Ridge" we should all take a minute and reflect on what they fought for.
Military Records Contact: Daniel B. Breen
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