St. Eloi Craters. Kemmel in background. Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-0045
The Battle of the St. Eloi Craters was a complete and total disaster for the Canadian Corps. In 13 days the 2nd Canadian Division suffered 1,373 casualties and lost every key point on the battlefield. The Battle of the St. Eloi Craters was a major turning point in the war for the Canadian Corps.
This was the 2nd Division’s first real battle since arriving from England. They were moved into the line in April 1916. It was a front line in name alone, however, as the Canadians found only water-filled craters instead of trenches.
For the next two weeks the Canadians fought off repeated German attacks. The battlefield was so fluid Canadian commanders did not know where their own troops were. As a result of the confusion Canadian troops were shelled by their own artillery, and units operated independently of each other for days at a time.
It was chaos.
On April 16, a low-flying plane identified Canadian and German positions on the battlefield. It was only then that some degree of order was restored.
As a result of the battle both the commander of the Canadian Corps, Lt. General Edwin Alderson, and the commander of the 2nd Canadian Division, Major General Sir Richard Turner, VC, were sacked. A British career officer, Sir Julian Byng, was named commander of the Canadian Corps. Under Byng the Canadian Corps began its change from a fledgling, colonial army to one of the finest and most revered fighting formations of the war.
Tall, slim, outgoing and naturally athletic, John was a popular member of local hockey and rowing teams in his youth. He enlisted early in the war and went overseas in 1915 with the 2nd Canadian Contingent.
In April 1916 he took part in the confused and horrific fighting at St. Eloi Craters. Suffering shell shock, he was evacuated to a hospital in England for treatment. After his recovery he spent another 18 months in France serving behind the front lines with the Canadian Forestry Corps.
John returned home from the war a changed man, preferring to spend his time in quiet, solitary pursuits on Lake of the Woods. He married late in life and died in Kenora in 1959.