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“I died in hell – They called it Passchendaele”

By megan, Nov 1 2017 10:12PM

The Battle of Passchendaele

“I died in hell – They called it Passchendaele”

Memorial Tablet, Siegfried Sassoon

The Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele, became infamous for the scale of unnecessary casualties, but mainly for the conditions in which casualties occurred.

The offensive commandeered by Sir Douglas Haig, intended to push Allied Forces to the Belgian Coast in the North-East with the aim to destroy the German submarine bases.

The battle began with the successful Battle of Messines on the 7th June 1917. At a cost of 24,000 casualties, it was an omen of harder times to come.

The infantry attack began on 31st July 1917. Constant bombing and shelling had churned up the clay soil and destroyed drainage systems. The worst rain in 30 years produced think mud that clogged up rifles and grounded tanks to a halt. The mud became so thick that many men, horses and pack mules drowned in it.

The battle continued under immensely difficult circumstances; with each new offensive, fresh rain water

exacerbated the already difficult conditions.

Despite the misery, the battle continued. By the beginning of November, petered out. Although officially claimed as a victory for the Allied Forces, the soldiers had advanced just five miles, at a cost of 325,000 casualties. The German suffered grievously also, losing 260,000 soldiers.

Historians are still unclear why Haig continued to push in such horrific conditions. For many, the despair and desperation is summed up in the words of Siegfried Sassoon:

Memorial Tablet

by Siegfried Sassoon

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight, (Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell— (They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight, And I was hobbling back; and then a shell

Men and horses drowned in the mud

Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light. At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew, He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare: For, though low down upon the list, I’m there; ‘In proud and glorious memory’ ... that’s my due. Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire: I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed. Once I came home on leave: and then went west... What greater glory could a man desire?

Read more about the personal stories of those who served here

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