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The Battle of Passchendaele, 1917

This week, in honour of our launch in Canada, we are sharing the stories of the nine men from the Canadian Armed Forces who won the Victoria Cross during the Battle of Passchendaele. You can read about the first parts of this series here: Part One, Part Two.

One of the bloodiest battles of World War War, the death toll of the Battle of Passchendaele reached the hundreds of thousands over nearly four months. The true number is still debated today.

Awarded for “most conspicuous bravery”, winning the Victoria Cross was a great honour and acknowledgement of courage in the face of the enemy.

Corporal Colin Barron

Colin was originally from Scotland, but moved to Canada in 1910 at the age of 17 and enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914, aged 21, serving with the third infantry battalion.

In the final days of the battle, on 6th November, Colin’s unit was held up by three machine-guns. Colin rushed the guns, opening fire at point-blank range. Four the crew were killed in this attacked and Colin was able to capture those who remained, as well as the gun, which he was able to turn on the enemy.

Though this may seem like a small action in a much larger battle, it had far-reaching consequences and enabled the advance to continue. The Battle of Passchendaele would finally end four days later, Corporal Colin Barron having played his part.

After the war, Colin remained in the army for a while and married, having two daughters. He had various jobs between the wars, before serving with the Royal Regiment of Canada in the Second World War.

Private Cecil Kinross

Cecil moved to Canada with his family at the age of 16. In 1915, Cecil was 19 and enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force finding himself, two years later, in the Battle of Passchendaele.

On 30th October, Cecil’s company were part of the attack on Passchendaele Ridge and came under intense machine gun fire, holding off their advance. Cecil removed all his equipment, with the exception of his rifle and bandolier.

He charged across open ground, in broad daylight and was severely wounded in the arm. However, he made it and was able to kill the crew and destroy the gun, allowing his company to advance.

On October 30, Kinross’s company came under intense German machine gun fire. Alone, he stripped off all his equipment, save his rifle, and charged across the field, in broad daylight, at the guns. He killed the six-man crew and destroyed their gun. Though severely wounded, he allowed the company to advance 300 metres.

Cecil was sent back to England for treatment, while there he received his Victoria Cross from King George V the following March. After the war, Cecil returned to Canada where he was given a plot of land.

Lieutenant Robert Shankland

Born in Scotland, Robert left for Canada when he was 23 and enlisted at the beginning of the war, joining the 43rd Battalion – the Cameron Highlanders of Canada.

Robert was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1916 when he was a Sergeant in charge of a stretcher bearer party and became an officer later that year.

On 26th October, Robert left his platoon of 40 men to the crest of the hill at Bellevue Spur. This was the main trench line which defended the approach to Passchendaele and it needed to be overrun and held, before the town itself could be captured.

A company caught captured the Spur early on in the fighting, but the right flank was under heavy fire and forced to retreat without reaching its objective. Some of the retreating men joined Robert’s platoon, but the left flank was dangerously exposed.

For four hours the platoon faced heavy shelling and withstood counterattacks, but the casualties were rising sharply and it was not long before both of the platoon’s flanks were exposed.

At this point, the danger was that Robert and his men would be cut off and lose the position. There was no other option but to get reinforcements and stage a counterattack, so Robert handed his command to another officer and set off to battalion headquarters.

Despite the heavy mud and constant shelling, Robert made it back to give not only a first-hand report, but also a detailed plan for a counterattack. He  then made it back to his men to lead the attack.

After the war, Robert remained in the army and when the Second World War began, he returned to the Camerons as a Major. Though too old for combat duty, he was appointed camp commandant of the Canadian Army Detention Barracks in England.

 

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