On April 15th the 2nd Brigade CFA, 3 batteries (5th, 6th, 7th) and an ammunition train - 18 guns in all and nearly 800 horses got their orders to move into position to support the 2nd Brigade CI. Each Battery was about 200 men and had 6 officers. Each battery had 6 guns and 200 horses.
In the picture above, we see a battery just coming on line in the open. The horses all 200+ of them would then have been moved 1,000 yards to the rear.
On April 17th, my Grandfather Alec Paterson's battery, the 5th in the 2nd Brigade, CFA, arrived in their new position deep inside the Salient in support of Arthur Currie's 2nd Brigade of Infantry.
But because they were so close to the Germans, they then dug gun pits and stacked ammunition beside their guns. The men had to work all night to do this.
This is an Australian Battery later in the war - but the set up for the 5th Battery on April 22 1915 would have been similar. There would have been a shallow gun pit and spare ammunition would be stacked by the side. In 1915 on the left of the gun.
Here is the big picture of the Ypres battle before it began.
In this map, look up at the green. This is the French position. They are on the left of the Canadians and above. As you follow the front down from the French, you will see the 3rd Brigade and then the 2nd. In the 3rd Brigade were Trum Warren and Guy Drummond.
Behind the 2nd Brigade CI (Canadian Infantry) is the 2nd Brigade of the CFA. (Canadian Field Artillery)
On April 22, the 8th battery from the 3rd Brigade CFA came to relieve the 5th in the 2nd CFA. But the Germans had other ideas. The 8th, from the 3rd Brigade, worked with the 2nd Brigade for the duration of the battle..
The Red Stars on this map show us where the 5th Battery was at various times during the battle. On April 22, they are on the far right hand side of the line of guns that are the 3 batteries of the 2nd Brigade. The HQ for the 2nd CFA is back at Wieltje in the middle of the map.
As with the infantry, communication and supply, especially the supply of ammunition, will be the core issues in the next 6 days. Here is a link to more context for the battle where you can see these issues more clearly.
In short, it's a long way back to the Division HQ at Ypres and to resupply.
On April 22, there are about 2,800 rounds for the 2nd Brigade CFA and there is another 1,200 rounds in the ammunition column at Wieltje under Captain Eakins, one of the heroes of this battle. When compared to the usage in earlier engagements, this looked like a lot. But in the next two days, they would fire over 12,000 rounds. More on what happened before and on the 18 pounder gun here.
In this close up map, you can see the positions more clearly as the battle opens at 5.30pm on April 22nd.
Guy Drummond is in the 3rd Company in the Apex (The Hinge) in the top left corner where the Germans are trying to turn the line.
10 batteries of French guns, that had covered the Canadians in support of the 3rd and 2nd brigades CFA, were over-run immediately and the two Canadian Infantry Brigades now depended on the the remaining 12 batteries of the two Canadian brigades. These, of course, had been facing south east covering the front lines. But as you can see from this map, the threat was coming from the north west now.
Guy and Edward Norsworthy sacrifice themselves to hold the Apex and prevent the Germans from rolling up the line at this junction.
The Canadian guns immediately have to split their attention to the north but also they still have to cover the east. They begin firing north at 6pm and continue firing continuously until 8pm. They start again at 8.10 and go on until 10.20pm.
By that time there is so much pressure from the north and west that, to save the guns, they are ordered, at 11.25pm, to retire to around Wieltje. Under fire, the 800 horses that are needed to extract the brigade come up to the guns and they are all limbered up. They move off at 12.50pm. Only one man was killed.
At 3.30am on April 23, they are in position again near Wieltje. They are in action all the next day firing continuously now mainly north to to support the counter attack into Kitchener Wood. You can see this on the big yellow map. Look above Wieltje at the red lines showing the counter attack of the 3rd division.
By nightfall on April 23, it is quiet for once. But there is no rest. New gun pits have to be dug and ammunition and food and water brought up. 800 horses have to be fed and watered too.
The full crisis is about to fall upon them.
On April 24th, at 4.05am, the Germans attack again with gas. This time it is the Canadians that are the target. The infantry are pushed back. At 6am, April 24th it is reported that the Germans have broken though on the left. The 5th battery and the 7th (under Andy MacNaughton) turn left to cover this open flank.
By 9.45am they are very short of ammunition and very exposed. Colonel Creelman reduces his risk by giving up all the remaining ammunition to the 5th and to the 6th batteries and withdraws the 7th and 8th 1 & 1/2 miles to the GHQ line near Poitje. Then 1/2 the 6th (2 guns) run out of ammunition and they too have to retire leaving the 5th and the two remaining guns of the 6th alone and exposed.
While the 5th carries on alone, there is relief for the rest of the brigade. At 4.36pm reinforcements arrive and then, miracle of miracles, Captain Eakins arrives with 3 wagons of ammunition. He had had to scrounge most of this from the British and had come back from Ypres, under fire for miles, to save his comrades.
I will try and make sense of this map for you. Look to the right. The Canadian front facing the Germans to the east has been squashed flat and now it is the 28th British Division that still faces the enemy on the east.
The 2nd Brigade has been pushed back off the ridge and now faces north on the right. The 1st Canadian Brigade has come out of reserve, from west of Ypres, and has been pushed into the centre where it is counter attacking. To its left is a new Brigade made up of a number of scratch units under the command of Col Geddes a British officer. We don't see the 3rd Brigade. It has been largely wiped out with 1,500 men captured in the Apex.
The 2nd brigade CFA are now just north of the road at the bottom of the map near the village of Verlorenhoek. That is the 2nd Brigade minus the 5th battery. The war diary says "The 5th battery could not be found." They are "lost". No one knows where they are. No orders have reached them and no messages have been received from them. There must have been a time when HQ thought that they had been overrun in their rearguard effort.
Later that night the 2nd Brigade CFA move again and are now closer to Poitje on the bottom left of this map.
At 3.30am April 25th, in the new positions, the brigade opens fire on the wood to the north. Off and on they fire all day into the woods as the Geddes Brigade and then the Indian Lahore Division attempt to take back St Julien.
At 10.50pm, April 25th, orders are acknowledged by the 5th battery to join the brigade in the new position. The diary says no more. But you can surmise that the 5th had remained in its old position. Likely it had not received any orders to change. The runners must have died or been wounded and never got to them. The 5th had stayed at their posts.
At 11.50am, the next day, April 26, the 5th battery rejoins the 2nd brigade. The 2nd Brigade and the 5th are in action all day. At 2am, April 27, the 5th is ordered to change position again and joins the 6th battery at Poitje.
At this point, I start to think about how much sleep anyone had had since they had moved into the line on April 16/17. Certainly none since 5.30pm April 22nd.
5 nights and 6 days in action and no sleep.
But the crisis is over. From April 26 things settle down on this part of the front. The Germans had shot their bolt and had run out of energy. For the next week there is shelling and counter shelling but no more chaos.
But it is now clear to the high command that the salient, that had been a wide bulge, was now more a long thin point and so was now indefensible. The British 27th and 28th Divisions would have to pull back and offer more of a gentle curve of a front.
In the 27th was the PPCLI.
On May 4th, the 5th battery and the Canadian Gunners retire to the west side of the Yser Canal. The shattered Canadian Division retires from the Salient to rest and to reform. Total casualties had been about 6,000 killed, wounded, missing or captured.
The PPCLI take up a position on the Apex of the southern flank of the Salient.
On May 5th, Uncle Hammy Gault returns to the regiment with a batch of replacements. Just in time for the defining moment in the history of the regiment on May 8th.
He returns also in the knowledge that his nephew, John Stephens, is crossing the Atlantic with his mother in law, Baby John's granny, on the Lusitania and that his brother in law, Chattan Stephens is gravely ill and is not expected to live. But at least he knows that his wife, Marguerite (nee Stephens) is in England and ready to help.
Meanwhile other actors in our play are in motion too.
Mrs Stephens is closing her house in Montreal and is excited by her trip. She always goes to Paris every year to go clothes shopping. She tells her family that she is damned if the Germans will stop her this year. She is also privately convinced that bringing baby John with her will buck up the spirits of her sick son, Chattan.
Alexis Helmer, in the 1st Brigade CFA, has survived the worst of the battle. He and his battery also pull back to the west of the Yser near his friend Dr Jack McCrae who has been working day and night on the wounded and the dying in a bunker cut into the side of the west bank of the Yser Canal. They probably enjoy each other's company.
My cousin Martha Allan was about to arrive in England on the Adriatic. Her beloved brother Hugh would be meeting her. They would have a few days of fun in London together before going to Liverpool to meet their sisters Gwen and Anna and their mother.
Aunt Marguerite is excited to see her son again and to get going on her great adventure with the Red Cross in England. She has rented a mansion called Encombe in Sandgate. It is just next to the huge army camp of Shorncliffe that will be the Canadians' main base.
Aunt Marguerite and Uncle Montagu probably have dinner with Lt Col Yates and his wife Alice. Maybe their daughter Emily is there too? They are best friends. Yates will board the Metagama on May 7 with the Number 3 McGill General Hospital. It will start its work at Shorncliffe. I am sure that Lady Allan is looking forward to looking after Henry there. Uncle Montagu is godfather to their son Montagu. Alice is the head of the IODE in Montreal. She is working with Lady Julia Drummond who is in London to set Lady Allan up. Emily is not going anywhere and might be jealous of her friend Martha Allan who will be a VAD Nurse.
Aunt Marguerite will have comforting Julia Drummond, who has just lost her son Guy, high on her to do list. She and Julia know each other very well. The Allans had bought Guy's summer home after the death of his father in 1910. Lady Julia will be her partner in the work ahead.
Dr Todd who is chaperoning Martha on the Acadia will join the Allans at Encombe too. He will take up a post at the Number 3 McGill Hospital and will work with his friends Major Dr John McCrae and Lt Col Dr Yates.
Dorothy Braithwaite is heartbroken to hear of the death of her sisters' husbands but is thrilled to think that she can help them both. She is excited to be part of the Allan set on the journey. She will not be on her own. She will have her 25th birthday on board. Lady Allan will host a party for her.
Robert Holt, 15, and the son of Sir Herbert, the President of the Royal Bank of Canada, is excited to be returning to his friends at school at Marlborough. He had been taken out at the beginning of the war, but Sir Herbert now thought it safe to send him back. He also would have have felt safe about Robert being looked after by Lady Allan. Robert might have had a bit of a thrill to think he would spend all this time with Gwen and Anna. After the war he will become a neighbour of my Grandfather Alec.
The family staff were also very busy. George Slingsby would have been very busy getting all of his master Frederick Orr Lewis things ready to return to England. Annie Walker and Emily Davis would have been going mad doing the same for Lady Allan. They packed 18 steamer trunks. You can imagine the 3 women arguing about what was to go and what was to be left. It would have been the same for Mrs Stephen maid Elise Oberlin. Baby John's nurse, Caroline Milne, was packing for him too.
Ypres had been terrible. Worse was about to follow for this group of Montrealers.