German trenches demolished by artillery (Battle of Mount Sorrel, Belgium), showing German dead. June, 1916. Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-000186
On June 2, 1916, the German army let loose a massive artillery barrage on Canadian positions on top of Mount Sorrel. The 3rd Canadian Division took the worst of it. Their commander, Major General Malcolm Mercer, was killed with his men in the barrage.
After the barrage, German infantry rushed forward and captured Canadian positions. On June 6 four mines were exploded under Canadian lines, and the Germans made further gains, taking the city of Hooge.
The Canadian Corps commander, Lieutenant General Sir Julian Byng, was determined to regain the ground that was lost to the German attack. He ordered 1st Canadian Division’s Major General Arthur Currie to retake the lost ground. Currie drew up a series of mini ‘set-piece attacks’*, with artillery and infantry working together. The Canadians attacked on June 13, and were able to take back almost all the ground that the Germans had captured in the previous weeks.
The Battle of Mount Sorrel was the beginning of a new way of doing things in the Canadian Corps. After the initial losses, the Corps regrouped and launched a carefully planned attack using artillery and smoke to shield the infantry. The Canadian Corps ceased using the Ross Rifle after the Battle of Mount Sorrel, replacing it with the robust British Lee-Enfield. Also in June the Canadians traded their Colt machine guns for the Vickers and Lewis light models.
* Intensely planned operations that aimed to achieve specific objectives. After the war, Sir John Monash wrote, ‘It is a ‘set-piece’ because the stage is elaborately set, parts are written for all performers, and carefully rehearsed by many of them. The whole performance is controlled by a time-table, and, so long as all goes according to plan, there is no likelihood of unexpected happenings, or interesting developments.’ The planning of set piece battles was essential because there were no radios, only telephones and runners. Plans could not be changed on the fly. During the war, the Canadians Corps perfected this type of assault, largely through intense preparation and tireless staff work.
Brown, David Lambert
Carmichael, Hugh Melville
Hannon, Henry Edward
Hill, Harkey Merlin
Jones, Robert Henry
Macaulay, Frank Gordon
Martin, John Bard
McKie, Allan Paton
Nuson, Robert Thomas
Owen, Ernest Clinch
Sampson, Louis Frederick
Carmichael grew up in Rat Portage (Kenora) where his father was very involved in the local business community. A university graduate, he was working for the CPR as a civil engineer when he enlisted in Calgary in May 1915. He trained as a machine gunner and went to France with the 28th Battalion.
During the Battle of Mount Sorrel, Carmichael’s unit was sent to hold the front line near the village of Hooge. On June 6, 1916 nearly half the battalion was wiped out when the Germans detonated explosives planted under the trenches.
Missing and presumed killed that day, the young machine gunner’s body was never recovered. Hugh Melville Carmichael is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium, as well as on the Kenora Cenotaph.
Over 60,000 Canadian soldiers died in the First World War and almost one third of them have no known grave. One of the missing was Private Robert Henry Jones. Jones served with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles, in a hard-hit unit that suffered 80 per cent casualties. Jones was listed as ‘previously reported missing, now for official purposes presumed to have died’ on June 5, 1916.
From Bertie Township, near Welland, Robert had moved to Kenora where he worked as a contractor and lumberman. Jones married Isabella McConnell in 1908, and the couple eventually moved to Brandon, Manitoba with their two children. Robert Henry Jones enlisted in June 1915.
Robert is commemorated on the Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial along with 54,000 men who died in Belgium and have no known grave.
At the Battle of Mount Sorrel, during intense bombardment of the lines and supports, the dressing station in charge of John’s unit was partially destroyed by shell fire while filled with wounded men.
The dressing station had to be evacuated and all the wounded carried to a place of safety. Corporal Martin went out in charge of a number of walking cases and proceeded down the trench which had been destroyed in many places and was under heavy shell fire.
John’s body was found with that of a comrade some days later, kneeling at the side of a stretcher, evidently in the act of bandaging a wounded man.
Born in Rat Portage (Kenora), John was ordained as a deacon with the Church of England in 1910. He went overseas with the 10th Field Ambulance, Canadian Army Medical Corps in March of 1916 and had died by early June.