Thursday, 19 March 2015


The trench raid, though it accomplished little in practical terms, had been an important operation in boosting the morale and confidence of the men. There were hard losses but for the first time the men had been on the offensive rather than the usual routine of helplessly taking cover against the constant shelling. They surged with pride at their daring and the accomplishment had been well noted in high command and perhaps even more significantly, well reported in the newspapers abroad. At a time when the lack of reinforcements threatened the Regiment's very existence, the reputation of leadership and courage in the field contributed to securing its future.

Both Papineau and Crabbe had earned the new decoration for junior officers, the Military Cross, and were the first Canadians to do so. Hamilton Gault was awarded the first Canadian DSO for his heroic rescue of the wounded soldier.

Having just arrived, Agar Adamson was initiated into action on the day of the trench raid. Even more shocking, he found himself in Trench 21, the most vulnerable and hostile trench in the Ypres Salient. Over the next weeks he wrote to Mabel virtually every day with lengthy descriptions of his encounters. In his letters, Adamson kept detailed accounts of the dead and wounded along with graphic descriptions of the horror. In the next breath he would make lengthy requests of Mabel for new supplies. 

“My Dear Mabel, 

It is beyond my powers to describe what has happened in the last 4 days, but I know if I read what I am going to write, I doubt if I would be able to believe it was not written by a liar or the ravings of a maniac. In my trench I lost 6 killed, 21 wounded, the Regiment lost 17 killed, 46 wounded. Poor Colquhoun who went out alone in the dark to place his snipers, never came back. The Kings Royal Rifle Corps report having found him in the German sap in front of trenches with 6 bullets in his head. Crabbe, another officer who led the charge, had 3 fingers shot off. Major Ward shot through the head is still alive but paralysed down one side. Major Gault who tried to rescue a wounded man after the stretcher bearers had to desert, went out with another man to rescue him in broad daylight, which they succeeded in doing, but Gault was badly hit in the wrist, he still carried on for 24 hours until the C.O. insisted upon his going back to England for treatment. As Keenan said, complications were sure to set in if he didn't get absolute rest and quiet, it almost took force to get him to go. He has played the game magnificently, night and day, crawling from trench to trench and cheering up the men.

…I have lost everything I took into the trenches; revolver, compass, torchlight, canton, webb equipment, rucksack, haversack and their usual contents. We had to leave everything behind as we were all so stiff and swollen that we could not carry anything. The men had to leave their greatcoats and equipment behind and in many cases, their rifles as it was a case of swimming. A man's greatcoat when wet through weighs 90 pounds. I came out with waders (the ones you gave me) a fur jacket and mackintosh. The water got inside my waders which added to my discomfort. The march from here to the trenches was only 4 miles, but over cobble pavements, all cut to pieces by the traffic, my feet were badly bruised as the sole of a wader makes a very bad sock. I had on a pair of socks under and over my waders and needing very large boots, the socks, creasing up and becoming hard, cut into my feet. The suffering of the men is very great after they came out of the trenches; their feet and hands all swelled and a stiffening of their joints set in. They rub each other to get the circulation and then a curious tickling sensation sets in and lasts about 24 hours. During this time the men are unfit for any kind of duty. That is why we can only stand a 48 hour go and I doubt if 24 would not be wiser.” 

…Keenan is proving himself to be very sound and kindness itself to the really sick.…I found the other day that opium was of great effect in relieving wounded men and putting them to sleep - until night comes. Send me a few capsules. One poor chap never woke, but I think he would have died anyway and it made it easier….It is very difficult in dressing a wounded man in a bombardment trench, his clothes are very tight owing to being soaked. For instance, a man shot only with one bullet in the shoulder. You cannot take off his fur coat, his serge, his shirty and vest to get at him. It is too painful and really quite impossible, so you cut it off with a knife and this is most difficult and few men have really sharp razor blades or knives which are required. The only thing to do is to give him opium and then try and pour two iodine capsules over the place which is often impossible to see as you cannot use a light; the moon helps. You then use safety pins (which all men carry) to fashion together part of his cut clothing. One with tight breeches had to take his chances and so far is not infected. One sergeant of the draft, had shrapnel all over the face, bled from what looked like 20 different places, refused to be touched an in an hour’s time the bleeding had stopped and beyond looking an awful sight and being a bit groggy he was able to get out of the trench in the dark alone and has only gone to the rest camp. One man with his leg blown off clean above the knee was carried out several hours afterwards (about 5 hours) and did not bleed to death as would be expected. Although it looked as if he must bleed to death at once. I did not see this man. Ask your lecturer why. I think every trench should have a medical student and many lives might be saved. Ward is still alive, had an operation to remove the pressure of the skull against the brain. Keenan is optimistic. 

Goodnight dear old girl. 

Aggressive artillery assaults from the enemy intensified in the wake the raid. The Regiment had stirred up the hornets nest and the Germans were not going to let it go quietly. After ten days of relentless retaliation, more casualties, and constant activity by Patricia work parties on trench repair, the battalion finally marched to their billets in Westoutre for well deserved rest. Shortly after they arrived they were put on half hour notice to return to St. Eloi. The 82nd Battalion in the front line trenches had been overrun by the enemy. 

St. Eloi, Winter 1915