Operation Distinction – Battle of the Somme
Last spring I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: to fly out to France and Belgium to represent the BCDs for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at the Beaumont-Hamel memorial site. Of course, I agreed to go! I had never been to Europe and to be part of the guard for the ceremony was something I could never pass up.
On July 1st the ceremonial guard arrived and prepared for the presentation at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in northern France. One hundred years ago to the day, over 700 members of the Newfoundland Regiment had become casualties just in the first half hour of the Somme offensive, leaving just 68 Newfoundland soldiers to answer roll call the day after. After the memorial ceremony we were allowed to walk around the site. It was amazing to be there on the ground and see how well preserved it was. Line after line of trenches connected by what was referred to as communication trenches remained,
showing what these soldiers had lived in, moved through, and fought over. There were walkways across no-man’s land that headed towards the German trenches.
From the German front lines, you could see why it became such a costly battle for the Newfoundland Regiment. German gunners in 1916 could have seen everything. They had good positions of view, and cover all along the Newfoundlander’s front, along with flanking trenches and pre-sited artillery. The German lines would not be broken here until the 13th of November 1916 by the Highlanders in Britain’s 51st Division.On July 2nd our second memorial ceremony took place at the Canadian memorial site just on the edge of the town of Courcelette. This memorial is dedicated to the Canadian soldiers who helped push the German forces back during the later stages of the battle of the Somme in September 1916.Canada’s role in the Battle of the Somme took place from September 3, 1916 to November 18, 1916 and it resulted in over 24,000 Canadian casualties. During the many battles that occurred on the Somme, the Canadians developed a reputation for themselves as “hard hitting shock troops” that had high success rates in taking enemy trenches.
The British Columbia Dragoons at that time were part of the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles and they fought in several battles during this and other campaigns, including Mont Sorrel, where the Canadians defended the high ground 3 km east of Ypres, Belgium, in July 1916. Flers-Courcelette saw the first ever British tanks used in battle in September of that year, and Ancre heights which included six major offensives against German forces by Canadian, British and French soldiers between October 1st and November 11th 1916. On July 3rd, after two days of ceremonies, the guard contingent got the chance to visit several cemeteries and historical sites from the First World War, including Vimy Ridge where we toured around the site and were shown the tunnels made by Welsh miners. These tunnels were not only there in order to protect troops moving to the front lines, but also had communication lines running throughout them and areas for evacuating the wounded.
At the end of it all, it was a mission success! Our group, which had been selected to represent our regiments and Canada, had completed its task and it was time to return home. I had learned a lot about Canada’s history in the First World War and came away with a better understanding of our part in the conflict because of the opportunity I had. It made clear why it is important to honour the fallen and those who have served, because without them we would not have the life we live today.
Submitted by Cpl. M.J. Collin