Friday, July 31, 2015

Hang on, then

Yates and Douglas Streets in 1916. Victoria, BC.

Yates and Douglas Streets, Victoria, 1950s.
Yates and Douglas Streets, Victoria, 1970s.

Why did I show you three photos of an intersection in Victoria, BC? Because at a bus stop in this area, in 1959, my father proposed to my mother.
April 23, 1915, the 7th Battalion - which was in reserve - found itself holding the peak of salient under heavy bombardment. That night, Lieutenant-Colonel Hart-McHarg was killed and Major Odlum took command. The German shelling rose to an unprecedented crescendo and a second gas attack was launched.

Between 3:30 am and 4:30 am, wave after wave of Germans were thrown back by rifle fire. But the bombardment continued and by 6 am, the 15th Battalion - on the 7ths left - was entirely wiped out. The 7th was the only one holding the critical apex of the line. The 7th repulsed another attack at 6:30 am but the line was broken on the right flank. The battalion, along with the remnants of the 13th and 14th, was surrounded.

At 9 am, the shelling was recorded as "tremendous". At 10 am, the Germans brought out their field guns to the right within 200 years. The two right platoons were wiped out. 

Lieutenant E.D. "Smoke" Bellew and Sergeant H.N. Peerless were alone with the battalion's only two machine guns. Yet they held the flank. When Peerless was killed, Bellew dragged his body in front of his own gun for protection and continued to fire, beating back several attacks. When his ammunition was gone, Bellew destroyed both guns, stood up and charged the Germans, firing his last clips of ammunition and killing three of the enemy with his bayonet. He was shot down and taken prisoner.

The Vancouver battalion won its first Victoria Cross.

The battalion made a fighting withdrawal at 11 am, 300 yards. During this manoeuvre, two left platoons died to the last man. At 12:30 pm, a second withdrawal was made at which time six Canadian battalions had so shattered the attacking units that 20 German assault battalions and the 51st Reserve Division were withdrawn from the battle. At 1:40 pm, 3rd Brigade troops nearby were withdrawn as result of a garbled order. The remnants of the 7th and 10th Battalions stood alone.

General Currie, commanding the 2nd Brigade, ordering the men to retire. But both officers and men refused, declaring they would die where they stood rather than give way any further. 

"Hang on, then, and - good luck," was Currie's reply.

Thanks to the book, Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill


  1. Love the up close photo of flowers. Good post.

    1. My new phone takes beautiful photos! Thanks for reading and commenting Lee.

    2. As always, an enjoyable read.