Though the Battle of Vimy Ridge was a success for the Canadians and, one could
argue, earned Canada the status of nationhood, it did not turn the tide of the
war. British attacks at Scarpe failed and the war dragged on. Sir Julian Byng,
the leader at Vimy, was promoted and in his place came a man who would distinguish
himself as a master strategist in the war – Sir Arthur Currie, the first
division commander who had received a knighthood after Vimy.
After a hard-fought battle in the town of Lens (more than 9,000 casualties),
Currie faced what was to be one of the most desperate (and ultimately futile)
battles of the war: Passchendaele. This Belgian town represented the last bulwark
to prevent German access to the English Channel. It also had symbolic value for
the Allies. The Germans has taken the town two years before and held it – incurring
terrible casualties on the British and Australian forces there – which
infuriated thenew British
commander on the Western Front, Sir Douglas Haig. In October, 1917,
Haig ordered Currie and the Canadians to take the town.
What Currie found at Passchendaele was truly a hell on earth. After the second
battle of Ypres, rains had turned the bombed-out fields into a cesspool of water-filled
shell holes and deep, sucking mud – a treeless landscape dotted with the
dead and decomposing bodies of horses and soldiers. On the higher ground, the
Passchendaele Ridge, the Germans were firmly ensconced, with deadly machine guns
housed in concrete pillboxes. Currie argued with Haig, insisting the battle was
near impossible and would cost, he estimated, 16,000 lives. His dark prediction
would turn out to be tragically accurate.