Remembrance Day: Battle of Beaumont-Hamel World War I

A hundred years has nearly passed since the end of World War I which lasted from August 1, 1914 to November 11, 1918.

World War I was fought on four fronts in Europe:

  • Eastern front, with Russia
  • Italian front in the Alps
  • Balkan Front, against the Ottoman Empire
  • Western Front

In 1914, the population of BC was only 400,000. As soon as war was declared in Europe, more than 43,000 men voluntarily enlisted from throughout British Columbia. They formed regiments such as the Rocky Mountain Rangers of Kamloops and the Canadian Scottish of Victoria.

After a voyage of 11 days, the recruits spent months of training in England and Scotland. Hundreds of men suffered from spotted fever and pneumonia. Then they sailed to France where they soon found themselves in the icy-cold mud of the trenches. This was a war  in which picks and shovels were of secondary importance to machine guns and artillery.

In the beginning it looked as though Germany would win – they had superior fighting power and they occupied large portions of France and Belgium, controlling major economic resources such as the Belgium coal basins and the largest coal field in France.

French generals who led the Allied armies on the Western Front were convinced that a war of attrition was the only way to drive out the Germans. For every few feet that was gained, thousands of soldiers lost their lives.

Beaumont-Hamel

The first day of the four month long Somme battle on July 1, 1916 was a disaster, with nearly 60,000 casualties. Among those people killed were soldiers of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment near the village of Beaumont-Hamel in France.  Following orders from the British, the Newfoundlanders were sent over the top to make their way through the barbed wire, not realizing that every German machine gun was trained on them. There was no one else moving on the whole battlefield. Many were pinned down in ‘no-mans land’ with no means of escape. Out of a total of 801 soldiers 324 were killed and 386 were wounded.

Beaumont-Hamel France 1916 World War I
Beaumont-Hamel France 1916 World War I

This year marked 100 years since the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel. At this site, the trenches are still visible.

Vimy Ridge

At Vimy Ridge, shelling began in mid-March 1917 with 600 guns pounding the German positions with an average of 2,500 tons of munitions a day. On the evening of April 8th, 30,000 Canadian soldiers began to make their way to the front line.  For the next 48 hours, they fought in blizzard conditions.

Over 3,500 Canadians were killed and almost 11,000 were wounded. Finally they gained possession of Hill 145 where the Vimy Ridge memorial now stands.

On the surrounding wall of the Vimy monument are carved the names of the 11,285 soldiers killed in France during the First World War and whose final resting places were never found. For every one of those soldiers, a pine tree was planted in their honour.

Approximately 66,000 Canadians died in World War One.

The Somme

A soldier painted the scene below in 1916 near the French village of Bécourdel Bécourt. This area below is now the site of a British cemetery and war memorial. Small ceremonies and remembrance parades are held in each town and village of the Somme on the 11th of November.

Somme Battle 1916
Somme Battle 1916 painted in the field of battle

Lest we forget:

Half a million died at the Marne in 1914

Half a million died at Gallipoli in 1915

800,000 died at Passchendaele

1.1 million died at Verdun

1.2 million died at The Somme

1.5 million died in the German 1918 offensive

1.8 million died in the Allies’ counteroffensive over the last 100 days of 1918.