Canada and the Big Push

Canadian soldiers returning from Courcelette after their victory (1916)

The 1916 Allied plan to break enemy lines was known as the “Big Push” it had been conceived to allow for troops to advance and attack on German rear areas, battery positions, headquarters and communications. The plan, mastered by Sir Douglas Haig, was cooked up following multiple appeals by the French to hasten the Somme offensive in order to take pressure off Verdun where General’s Erich von Falkenhayn’s plan to “bleed France to death” was sadly succeeding.

Decimation at Beaumont-Hamel

Part of the “Big Push” was the deployment of the 1st Battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment, part of the 29th British Division, at Beaumont-Hamel on the first day of the advance, July 1, 1916. The failed surprise attack on the German lines practically decimated the Regiment after less than half an hour of taking on heavy German artillery and machine gun fire.

From Flanders to the Somme

The Canadian Corps was brought in from the muddy fields of Flanders to the Somme in August 1916 where they took over a section of the front line west of the village of Courcelette. On September 15, thanks to new tactics and weapons, namely the mechanized tank, the Canadians were able to secure their main objective west of Courcelette. They repulsed numerous German counter-attacks and consolidated their position. But as the enemy brought up reinforcements the fighting went on and on as both sides fought to maintain or regain positions. The three Canadian divisions fought on to reach its final objective, Regina Trench, which repeatedly defied capture. When the newly arrived fourth Canadian division took its place in the line it faced a harsh battered environment with knee-deep mud and a hunkered down enemy not ready to budge. However improbable the situation, the Canadians captured Regina Trench on November 11 and a week later, during the final attack of the Somme, the Canadians advanced to Desire Trench — a remarkable feat of courage and endurance.

The Somme cost Canada 24,029 casualties and earned them a reputation as hard-hitting shock troops. Many of the new ideas experimented on the field during the final months on the Somme by the Canadian Corps were successfully refined and contributed to the achievement of the corps in 1917 at Vimy and Passchendaele.

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