Positive start for Allies reported at Passchendaele

The Battle of Pilckem Ridge. An advanced British 18 pounder RFA gun battery taking up new positions close to a communication trench near Boesinghe on 31 July 1917.
Photo credit -  Imperial War Museum Q5723.
The Battle of Pilckem Ridge. An advanced British 18 pounder RFA gun battery taking up new positions close to a communication trench near Boesinghe on 31 July 1917. Photo credit - Imperial War Museum Q5723.

The 100th anniversary of the third battle of Ypres, better known simply as Passchendaele, took place in Belgium earlier this week.

Looking back to the Galloway Gazette files at the time of the fighting, there is no name given to the battle, it is simple referred to as “the attack”. It is only with hindsight that the location and strategy involved becomes clear.

In The Galloway Gazette dated August 4, 1917, a report reads: “The cannonade in Flanders reached an extraordinary degree of violence during the weekend. This great artillery activity in Flanders was the prelude to a big infantry battle which began early on Tuesday morning (July 31) on a wide front north of Lys, the river which flows north-eastwards from Armentieres. Field-Marshal Haig stated that the Allied troops had captured their first objectives on the whole front attacked and were reported to be making satisfactory progress at all points.”

The offensive did begin with encouraging gains but terrible summer weather soon bogged it down. By August the offensive was clearly failing in its objectives and had descended into attritional fighting. New techniques by both sides led to agonisingly slow forward movement for the British, at enormous cost in casualties to both sides. Bad weather in October led to the battlefield becoming an impossible quagmire. An estimated 310,000 British and 260,000 Germans were killed.