Sunday, April 30, 2017

The View from Opposing Sides at Vimy Ridge

Canadian Troops Advancing on Vimy Ridge
Lt. C.F.B. Jones,  First Canadian Division at Vimy Ridge

Sharp on time, 5:30 am. Easter Monday, there came one big crash, the whole  weight of our artillery swept the Hun line and we walked out following under our barrage. It was a wonderful sight and I shall never forget it. Dawn was just breaking, the sky was bright with Hun fireworks, his infantry frantically sending up SOS to his artillery, but he could do little against our stuff...The noise was terrific, but above all the din of the big guns could be heard the rattle of the Hun machine-guns as they endeavored to stop the rush of the Canadians.  Men dropped out here and there but nothing could stop us, and we reached our first objective in record time. Here there was a pause while our guns played on the Hun back trenches, and here I ran across young Archie Cornell, bright as a button, still leading his men...

All day and until the next night,  we remained at our last objective while other troops passed through us and drove the Hun back. It was beautifully worked and by the afternoon we had taken prisoners galore, officers and generals, guns and all sorts of stuff...

We have had to pay for it, but not too heavily. Poor Mac was killed early in the fight...Poor Archie Cornell, the brightest little sport in the battalion, was killed fifty yards from the final objective. Campbell, who played tennis in Calgary, a friend of Sheffield's, was killed early in the day; Kirkham was wounded. When the final objective was reached, two of us [officers] were left in our company—the O[fficer] C[ommanding] and myself. He had been wounded twice but carried on until the next morning, when he went back to the [Casualty] Clearing Station, and I assumed command of the company—the only one left without a scratch.

Observers Atop Newly Captured Hill 145
Otto Schröder, 262nd Reserve Regiment. Near Hill 145 (Site of the Memorial)

...In the morning, tired and black from night duty, we lay down with the words: 'Now let us pull the blankets over our heads and sleep.' Suddenly there was heavy drumfire. The day-sentries shouted: 'Outside! the British are coming!'

...While I was handing out hand grenades, in the trench the shooting had already started. The English—they were Canadian troops—had broken through on our left, in the sector of the 3rd Bavarian Reserve Regiment, and, advancing from the road, were already rolling up our position. My corporal told me to go down into the dug-out and fetch the box with the egg-shaped grenades.... But on the way back, when I had gone up half of the thirty-eight rungs, the corporal suddenly shouted: 'Come up, to the left the British have already passed the trench.' So I dropped the grenades back into the dug-out and went up into the trench...I noted that I was alone...only a dead comrade was lying on the edge, in a grotesque way....his name I had forgotten.

Now I had to act, but how? I pulled the dead soldier into the trench and lay down beside him, as if dead too. Meanwhile the assault waves were passing over us.This was going on for quite a time. Suddenly a strapping big Canadian appeared and curiously stuck his fixed bayonet into my dead comrade.

This was the worst moment of my life. I moved and the Tommy shouted: 'Come on.'  With that I climbed out of the hole (silently saying good bye to my dead comrade). Immediately he held his bayonet against my chest and said: You blässiert, no?' [Are you wounded?].*  I did not know what he meant, and shrugged my shoulders. Then, as suddenly as he had come, he disappeared. 

[Otto Schröder wandered around for a bit in Canadian territory and was eventually taken prisoner.]

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