Cameron Highlanders of Canada Memorial Site

Arrival in France

After a rough night time crossing, the 43rd arrived in Le Havre, France, 22 February 1916. It was winter, the roads were frozen and it was very cold. The men were divided into two groups and were sent by rail toward the front, a long and tiring journey.

The Ypres Salient

After a brief instructional tour of duty in trenches just north of the Wulverghem-Messines Road, the battalion began a six month tour in the Ypres Salient - the most dangerous part of the British line.

In June 1916, the Camerons were at Camp E, safely away from the front. On the 2nd, the Germans attacked the 7th and 8th Brigades of the 3rd Canadian Division. Almost immediately, the 9th Brigade was ordered forward to help.

#420292 Pte. William Norman Graham
They shelled us very heavily going up and they used weeping gas shells, which are very irritating to the eyes and nose. We used our goggles [gas masks].

It was evening by the time the men reached the forward area. From Belgian Château the 43rd headed for Zillebeke Bund. Meanwhile, a counter-attack was made by the 52nd, 60th, and 49th Battalions, but all attempts to re-capture lost ground failed; there were heavy Canadian casualites.

#153002 Sgt. Donald Mowat
On June 3rd, we formed stretcher bearer parties and we carried out the wounded to the dressing station at Zillebeke Bund. I was in charge of about a hundred men. We went up to the front and carted out the wounded.

At midnight, 3/4 June, the 43rd moved forward with orders to take over the trenches just east of Maple Copse.

#420638 L/Cpl. James Low
That day we went in, my God, we were walking over all the dead bodies that lay in the trenches.

The Camerons held the line that day, and repulsed one counter-attack. The original line was later re-captured by the 1st Division.

For the men who survived the Salient, they would never forget their first experience in battle. They endured heavy shell-fire and sniper-fire. That August, they were happy to leave the area. The men marched south to a new front, enjoying the warm weather.

The Somme

The 43rd Battalion took part in two battles: 20 September and 8 October, 1916. The first action was a fairly minor one. D Company was assigned to capture a section of the Zollern Graben with the assistance of the 58th on their right.

At dawn, D Company, led by Lt. C.G.Carey, went over the top and succeeded in capturing a 200 yard section of the Zollern Graben. However, during the next several hours, these Camerons endured a perpetual bombardment of rifle grenades and the casualties continued to mount. By noon the men were again attacked with such strength that the remnant of the company was forced to retreat across No Man's Land to their jumping off trench.

Lt. J. Gordon Young
With both flanks exposed, they were bombed down on each side. Very few of them got back to our front line.

The next action was a major attack by the Canadians against the strongly held Regina Trench. Led by their pipers, the 43rd Battalion advanced at 4:50 AM in the dark. Shortly after it began to rain heavily. As the Camerons crossed No Man's Land, they encountered heavy machine gun fire and suffered considerable casualties. Ahead lay the uncut German barbed wire.

When the Highlanders reached this wire, attempts were made cut it. Men veered left and right looking for gaps in the wire. However, there were very few gaps and the Camerons' advance was effectively stopped. A handful of men reached Regina Trench, but were too few in numbers to hold on. The few survivors retreated to their own lines at the end of the day when it was again dark.

Casualties were as follows -- Officers: 3 known killed; 2 wounded; 4 missing.
Other Ranks: 8 killed; 224 wounded; 121 missing.

Most of the missing were, in fact, killed. The battalion's rifle strength in the line was but 6 officers and 67 other ranks. If it weren't for the small percentage of men left out of battle at the transport lines, the 43rd Battalion would have almost ceased to exist. When the battalion marched from The Somme to Vimy Ridge, the unit numbered only 257 men; there should have been a thousand.