Birth of a Regiment

 
Passchendaele00039

Passchendaele

The Regiment organization chart at Passchendaele shows the growing influence of the University Companies. Three of the four companies were commanded by soldiers commissioned from the ranks. Two were part of the 1st University Company. Talbot Papineau, the talented Montreal lawyer who many saw as a natural post war leader, commanded No. 3 Company. The Canadian Corps was now commanded by General Aurthur Currie, a militia artillery officer who had been an insurance and real estate agent in Victoria in 1914.
The battlefield, was a muddy morass, chewed up by unrelenting artillery fire and the heavy rain of the summer and fall. As the Third and Fourth Division had been held in Corps reserve during the attack on Hill 70 earlier in the summer, they were to lead the attack at Passchendaele. In the initial phase, on October 26th, the leading brigades pushed forward about five hundred yards albeit at considerable cost. On the night of October 28th, the Patricia’s move forward in single file along a duckboard track through the mud. Under cover of darkness early on the morning of the 29th, in a successful preliminary action No 4 Company captured a strong pill box known as Snipe Hall to secure the start line for the main attack. The Third Division was positioned in the centre of the main attack with the objective of seizing the narrow Meetcheele Ridge just outside the ruined village, attacking with the 7th Brigade on the right and the 8th Brigade on the left.
The Patricia’s attacked with two companies forward on a front of about 500 yards against a defensive position marked with isolated machine gun posts instead of the continuous trench lines they had faced earlier in the war. As they had at Vimy, troops moved forward in fighting order carrying 170 rounds of ammunition, rations for two days, two rifle grenades and a trench shovel. Trench coats were left behind in the jumping off trench. As with the earlier battle, as officers fell, killed or wounded, their place was taken up by NCOs. At a critical point in the battle as the officers of No. 3 Company fell, Company Sergeant Major Charles Peacock, an Original, assumed command. He would be commissioned in September 1918 just before the action at Canal du Nord. When he in turn was wounded, command passed to 22 yr old Corporal Les Moore who had joined with the 5th University Company. Moore was one of many American born soldiers who served with the Regiment. He was struck off strength in the spring of 1918 to join the RAF. With the company down to about 40 men, Lt Hugh Mackenzieof the brigade machine gun company and Sergeant George Mullinof the Regimental snipers appeared to rally the troops in the final push to seize the ridge line. Mackenzie was killed in the effort, but remarkably, Mullin survived after the single handed capture of a pill box. MacKenzie and Mullin became the first two members of the Regiment to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

By the end of the day, the ridge line was firmly in control of the battalion but at great cost. Of the 600 men in the attacking companies, 363 were casualties with more than 150 killed or died of wounds. Once again, the Regiment faced the task of rebuilding.

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