Published By Ben Hillidge
Kitcheners Wood (St Julien Wood), 10 Bn Canadian Infantry. 22 April 1915.
SOUND RECORDING – Interview with a veteran of Kitcheners Wood Link to Calgary Highlanders Web site
Following the successes of the opening day of Second Ypres the Germans continued with artillery and machine gun fire to prepare the ground for the next days expected advance. The Canadian GOC however made a bold decision to counter attack to disrupt German preparations and win back lost ground. They were also to recapture 4 British guns. The attack was planned for the night of 22 & 23 April at German positions in an oak plantation known as Bois de Cuisineres, or Kitcheners Wood, so named because the French had located their field kitchens there.
The 10 and 16 Battalion Canadian Infantry were called forward to reinforce the Canadian positions – by mid evening 10 Bn was in the line but 16 Bn was still coming up. At 10.47pm 22 April orders were received to attack Kitcheners Wood. The 10 Bn Canadian Infantry were to lead the assault, the 16 Bn in support. They quickly moved to their assault positions. In 10 Bn A and C Coys would be in the first wave, B & D Coys 30 yards behind. In the faint light of a dim moon the wood could be seen ahead, at its nearest about 200 meters distance. By about 11.45pm the 16 Bn were reported in position and at 11.48pm the order was given to go. They advanced in silence, relying on the darkness to conceal the surprise. About 50 meters from the wood the forward line came across an unexpected hedge that barred the way ahead. The noise of them breaking through the barrier alerted the German sentries. Enemy flares went up, a hail of rifle and machine gun bullets fell upon them, many men were hit. There was a momentary panic, the attacked paused, the second wave began catching up but then the lead troops burst through the hedge and rushed the German lines at the edge of the wood where – ‘much work was done with bayonet and butt, cleared the trench in less than a minute’ (10BN War Diary). The war diary continues – ‘the whole body pushing on into the wood where the enemy was making a fair resistance, the men were thoroughly aroused and pressed on clearing the wood’.
It was now coming up to mid-night, men from 16 Bn, in the second wave, arrived at the wood’s edge. They cleared the German trenches – hundreds surrendered so that there were too few men to guard them and, with ‘the large number of enemy and the fact that some of the enemy continued to shoot very few prisoners were taken and many lives were lost by the enemy forces’ (10Bn War Diary), the battalion then pressed forward following 10 Bn which was coming under increasingly heavier fire as they continued into the wood. The enemy resistance toughened, order was being restored after the initial surprise and confusion. The Canadians began to suffer more losses. Also, instead of swinging to the left to reach the N and W edge of the wood as was planned, they continued ahead to the N and E. The advance began to break down. They reached the northern corner of the wood and by 12.20am they had begun to dig in, their position was exposed and isolated, heavy enemy rifle and shells rained down. Within about 10 -15 minutes they were forced to evacuate and retreated back to no man’s land and the hedge line they had been held up by, here they dug in and began entrenching. They remained in this position, under heavy shell fire and in threat of an imminent enemy assault, as the Second Ypres offensive continued around them. They stayed in the line until 29 April. Of the 816 men who crossed the start line on 22 April, only 193 survived.
In Calgary, Canada, the main recruitment area for the 10 Bn, April 22 is still remembered as ‘St Julien’s Day’ with parades and functions as well as commemorative and memorial services. There is also a memorial at the former site of Kitcheners Wood.
Private. 20628 Arthur Hughes, 10 Bn Canadian Infantry. KIA/ Missing presumed dead, 22 April 1915, Menin Gate, Ypres. – was reported missing on 22nd April 1915. Officially confirmed “presumed dead” on the 23rd August 1915.
GOOGLE MAPS LINK – takes you to the Canadian memorial at Kitcheners Wood. The Wood, now gone, was behind the monument and house. TURN ABOUT. The Canadians attacked across the fields to the left of the road.
References and Sources War Diary 10 Bn Canadian Infantry & Calgary Highlanders web site
B&O 1915 Ypres, Second Ypres. Kitcheners Wood (St Julien Wood), 10 Bn Canadian Infantry. 22 April 1915.