The Somme Offensive

Summer – Fall, 1916
The Empire Strikes Back

The five-month Somme offensive consumed British Empire troops for the entire summer and autumn of 1916. While the French fought around Verdun, the British Empire troops attacked in the Somme River valley.

The offensive started on July 1, 1916. After the largest artillery bombardment in history (to that point) British troops pushed forward. The artillery barrage did not break the German troops, nor did it cut the barbed wire in front of their lines. There were 20,000 casualties on the first day. By the time the offensive ended in December 1916, the combined losses on both sides totalled 1.6 million men.

The Canadian Corps was brought into the fight in September 1916. In places like Flers-Courcelette, where Canadians first used the creeping artillery barrage*, and Thiepval Ridge, one of the original July 1 objectives, Canadian and other Commonwealth troops traded very modest gains for lives lost.

October saw Canadian troops take Kenora Trench and November culminated in an assault on the Regina Trench. After a series of grinding assaults, the position was taken on November 11, 1916.

For the Canadian Corps the dreadful cost of three months on the Somme was 25,000 casualties, or 1 in 4 men. Many lessons were learned on the Somme, but that was little comfort for the Canadians who lost their comrades in the hell of the Somme River Valley.

*artillery fire falling just ahead of advancing troops, cutting barbed wire and forcing defenders into dug-outs to take cover. Precise timing and aim was vital to the assault with the infantry “hugging” the artillery barrage all the way to the objective. Ideally they could kill or capture the enemy before they had a chance to emerge from their dug-outs. Following a creeping barrage required discipline and precise timing.

Photo Gallery

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5_Soldier_Randolph-CampbellRandolph Arthur Campbell
1887 – 1916
Killed while attacking Thiepval Ridge

Randolph Arthur Campbell was a watchmaker by trade when he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force on January 1, 1915. Campbell had grown up in Kenora, but had since moved to Winnipeg.

Randolph was promoted to Lance Corporal in January 1916, and three months later, in mid-April, he was attached to the 8th Battalion (The Winnipeg Rifles) and sent to France.

Campbell was with the 8th when he fell in action on September 26, 1916 during the attack on Thiepval Ridge. He was buried near the village of Courcelette, but after the war his grave could not be identified. Randolph Arthur Campbell is honoured on the Vimy Memorial, along with over 11,000 of his comrades who died in France and have no known grave.

5_Soldier_Joseph-FortierJoseph Charles Ferdinand Fortier
1896 – 1916
Killed in the attack on Regina Trench

Joseph Fortier was born the son of a lumberman on December 2, 1896 in Rat Portage (Kenora).

In November 1915, Fortier enlisted with the 94th Battalion at the age of 19. Once overseas Fortier was transferred to the 43rd (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) Battalion.

Joseph, more commonly known as “Blet”, was listed as missing, and then as killed in action in the attack on Regina Trench, near Courcelette in France. There is no record of how he was killed.

43rd Battalion Diary: In the attack on Regina Trench 8 October 1916 there were 2 officers killed, 2 wounded, 4 missing; other ranks 8 killed, 224 wounded, 120 missing. Three other Kenora fellows with the 43rd Battalion, John Francis, his nephew David Francis, and James Begg, were reported as missing/killed in action the same day. Joseph Fortier is buried in the Regina Trench Cemetery, Somme, France.

5_Soldier_David-ParfittDavid George Parfitt
1891 – 1916
He said, ‘very good, sir’ and immediately rushed on

David Parfitt was born in Friern Barnet, London, England. In 1910 David immigrated to Canada, joining his uncle on Superior Street in Keewatin.

Parfitt was active in the local 98th militia, and when war was declared he enlisted with the first draft. David joined the 8th Battalion and arrived in France in February 1915. Parfitt fought with the 8th, and was eventually promoted to company sergeant major.

In the attack on Thiepval Ridge on September 26, 1916, Sergeant Major Parfitt’s company commander was hit. When the stricken officer commanded Parfitt to lead the attack, he replied, “Very good, Sir” and rushed the enemy line. He was killed shortly after while storming a German trench.

David George Parfitt is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial in France, the Cenotaph in Keewatin, the St. James Anglican Church plaque, and the Lake of the Woods Milling Company Roll of Honour.

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