Today is the 100th anniversary of the first day of the series of battles named the Third Battles of Ypres, often commonly known as Passendale. The final part of the campaign, that lasted from 31 July 1917 to 11 November 1917, was the attack on the final ridge upon part of which stood the limited remains of the village of Passendale. This was several kilometres from the start line at places like Sanctuary Wood, St Juliaan and the Pilkem Ridge. The plan was to take the ridges surrounding Ypres in the morning of 31 July and press on to the channel ports to eliminate the German U-boat campaign which was ravaging the shipping bring food and munitions to the UK. After the first day it was clear a much longer attritional offensive would be required. Bite and hold, like on the Somme a year previously, became the method of attack. Often this coincided with some of the worst weather, though this was not the only reason for the atrocious conditions – shelling did much damage to infrastructure and the land.
Troops from the UK and across the Empire, including South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Canada fought across the land surrounding Ypres pushing on for limited gains. The well known attacks by the Australians and Polygon Wood and the Broodseinde Ridge, the New Zealanders at s’Gravenstafel, culminated with the Canadian attack on Passendale. This is a campaign that lingers in the consciousness and our perception of warfare in WW1.
On 31 July a major commemoration event will take place at Tyne Cot Cemetery. Other events across the Salient will also honour those who fo9ght here in 1917.
I will be taking part in a ceremony to unveil a new memorial to my grandfather’s regiment, the 1/1st Hertfordshires, who fought at St Juliaan on 31 July 1917. They lost, and there is current research that may revise these figures, 459 out of 650 men who attacked from the area of Hill Top Farm north of Weiltje and west of St Juliaan. They captured almost all of their objectives before the Germans counter-attacked. The Hertfordshires were forced into a fighting retreat, led by the only officer left, the battalion’s Chaplain, as every other officer was dead, wounded or missing.
Looking forward to events on 31 July on the edge of St Juliaan. Thinking of my grandfather, CSM Ernest Edward Sinfield, and his men.