On 9 April 1917, 98 years ago today, Vimy Ridge was taken by the Canadian Corps.

Rufus was there, wasn’t he?

G 7  Rufus 1916, with 88th Bn. insignia

He was – his war-diary reads: April 9:  Cdn Corps attacked at 5.30 a.m. in snowstorm. Whole of Vimy Ridge taken – 14,000 prisoners, 36 guns and 83 MGs. 16th (Battalion) losses heavy – killed: Campbell, McGowan, Cornell; died of wounds: Rowan, Johnson; wounded: Scroggie, Rutchel, Kirkham, Hope, Floyd, Joe Mason, Clelland. Also Mason, Elliott (72nd). 4th Div is hung up. 9th Div (Br) did splendidly.”

Rufus doesn’t say much about capturing the ridge, does he? Most of this is about guys who were killed or wounded – isn’t that strange?

Strange? Why, no, not a bit! He’d only been at the front a few months – Vimy was his first battle and the horror had hit him like a punch in the face. He’d been in the 16th himself until 6 weeks before. He knew those guys – junior officers like himself – and some, McGowan and Cornell for example, were his best friends, while Joe Mason had been a surveyor friend of his dead brother Lyonel. When he wrote that, he was feeling devastated, in spite of the great victory.

But Rufus wasn’t with 16th Battalion that day, was he? He was at Corps HQ. So how did he know about 16th Battalion casualties?

Because his job was to collect reports from battalions as they came in, and to pass them on to General Byng, the GOC.

Julian_Byng

I see. I’ve got another question – why did he mention 9th Division, which wasn’t even Canadian?

Because GOC 9th Division was Major General Harry Lukin, who happened to be his uncle, his mother’s brother.

I 9  Major General Sir Harry Lukin KCB, CMG, DSO, Rufus's uncle and GOC British 9th Division

Oh, I remember – in the book he’s called ‘Uncle Harry’, and Rufus didn’t get to know him properly until Christmas 1916, when he was the general ‘s guest at 9 Div. And, while they were touring 9th Div trenches, they had a lucky escape when a shell splinter landed between them – that’s a good story. But I have another question – what does Rufus mean by 4th Div being ‘hung up?’

Well, he explains in the following day’s entry: “April 10:  4th Can Division took the Pimple – 10th Brigade (Gen Hillman) took it, with 300 prisoners. Roads appalling. Over ridge in blinding snowstorm with O’Neill as far as commandant’s house.” The ‘Pimple’ was the part of the crest that 4th Div couldn’t take on the previous day – hence Rufus saying they were ‘hung up’.

Where was Rufus a year later, on 9 April 1918?

He was near Ecoivres – still in France but about 50 km further west. This was his diary for the day: “April 9, 1918: Brigade forward HQ moved back to Blangy. Busy about trains for rations, etc., but at Division, I got word of moving to Ecoivres tomorrow. ACQ ‘Y’ hutments at Ecoivres heavily shelled all day – many casualties to Australian transport convoy, 2nd (Imp) Div transport and civilians. Saw tanks going south across Arras-St Pol road. New Whippets, 14 mph.”

Sounds like they were on the move – what was going on?

The famous German March offensive was ‘going on’, Ludendorff’s last hope of winning the war. He’d withdrawn all German troops from Russia to try to break the Western Front – before the Americans could arrive in numbers. The Canadian Corps was in reserve and had to be ready to move at any time. And Rufus was no longer at Corps HQ – he was now Staff Captain ‘Q’ at 2nd Brigade, part of 1st Canadian Division. And his job was totally different.

It sounds like he was in charge of bringing up the brigade’s rations.

That’s right, he was, and also of providing the brigade with everything it needed, from baths to bullets!

Sounds like quite a job! No wonder he says “busy about trains.” What were these Whippet tanks  that he saw?

whippet 4

Here’s one of them. Rufus claims they could do 14 mph, but I doubt that – more likely half that speed. They usually carried a heavy machine gun in the turret – hardly a formidable vehicle, though it could drive through shellfire on a battlefield. It was exciting to see them because he’d worked with tanks before and knew they could break the stalemate of the trenches.

Did they move to Ecoivres on the 10th?

They did – this is his 10 April entry: “Up the line in Div. car at 8.30 am. Round to baths at Stirling camp, and Arras and St Nicholas. To Div. for lunch, thence to chateau Maurice at Ecoivres. Ecoivres and ACQ again heavily shelled but move made without casualties. GOC had bad liver or something today – and I am, consequently, fed up.”

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So the soldiers still took their baths even though the brigade was moving?

It seems so, doesn’t it – must have been an organisational miracle – there were 5,000 men in a Brigade!

Who was the GOC and what does the ‘bad liver’ reference mean?

J 10 Loomis in Colour

Their GOC was this man, Brigadier General F.O.W. Loomis from Montreal. He was tactically a brilliant general, but also a bad tempered bully with who sometimes abused and humiliated officers in front of their subordinates. The ‘bad liver’ means that he was in  a foul mood and that Rufus had been the victim of it. Here’s another picture, with Loomis, in the centre, looking bad-tempered.

J 10  2nd Bde HQ staff at Etrun, June 1918. Loomis centre, Sandy McMillan behind him, Rufus to his left

It looks as if he had red hair like Rufus. Maybe they struck sparks off each other.

That may be true, but poor Rufus could’nt answer back – this being the army, after all. Nevertheless, Loomis learned to appreciate his Staff Captain ‘Q’ – in fact, came to rely upon him, especially in the mobile battles in August 1918, when Rufus managed to keep the troops supplied with food and ammo, in spite of 10 km daily advances. After the war, Rufus would drop in on the old buzzard for a chat whenever he was in Montreal.

One thought on “On 9 April 1917, 98 years ago today, Vimy Ridge was taken by the Canadian Corps.

  1. Dear Mr Castle
    Could you tell me the source of the photograph of Loomis and his staff included on your site, please? I would like to include it in a forthcoming book and need to establish who holds the copyright. Any help you might be able to offer would be very much appreciated.
    Best regards
    Trevor Harvey

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