Ypres Salient map highlighting Ypres.Canadian 1st Division's reserve battalions to move at a moment's notice

22 April 1915: 19.00

The first reports received by General Alderson at 1st Canadian Division headquarters (Chateau des Trois Tours, Brielen) gave the idea that all the French had disappeared and that the Canadian left had been driven back to St. Julien.(1)

Indeed, another message sent at 6.45pm from Lieutenant-Colonel G B Hughes of 3rd Brigade headquarters in Mouse Trap Farm was on its way to him. It stated that the Canadian line was being driven back on its left. Because the telegraph wire between 3rd Brigade and 1st Division headquarters had been cut this message was being carried slowly on its way by hand:

“Your wire to us is down aaa Our left driven back and apparently whole line forced back towards ST. JULIEN. Two and a half reserve companies have been brought up and are occupying G.H.Q. line. aaa Have no more troops available. signed G B H” (2)

Canadian 16th Battalion

Map showing the location of the 1st Canadian Division's two battalions (10th and 16th) in reserve north of Ypres.

General Alderson placed one of his two divisional reserve battalions, the 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion at the disposal of the 3rd Brigade commander, Brigadier-General Turner. The 16th Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel R G E Leckie, was to be prepared to move at a moment's notice. The battalion was presently located on the west bank of the Yser Canal north of Ypres (see map below).(3)

The War Diary of the 16th Battalion described the time during the afternoon of 22nd April as follows:

“Afternoon heavy shelling of Ypres. Windows of H.Q. smashed. Everyone belonging to Regiment ordered to go out along Canal. Panic among inhabitants! Many casualties. Orders to hold ourselves in readiness to move at once. “Stand to arms” Went immediately to Regimental billets on West side Canal. Paraded Regiment and lined Canal West side occupying old trenches and digging in where there were no trenches. French refugees pouring in and French soldiers principally Zouaves in flight. Looked as if French had been routed. Ordered at 7.40 to proceed at once to Brigade H.Q. near St. Julien. Called transport and ammunition served out. Moved off within half an hour. Learned that French had been driven out of their trenches adjoining our line to the left and had fled. Canadians still holding their line. We were to check the German advance.” (4)

Canadian 10th Battalion

General Alderson's other divisional reserve battalion, the 10th Battalion, was presently carrying out earlier instructions from 2nd Brigade headquarters to move from the canal basin north of Ypres via Wieltje to Bombarded Cross Roads by 8pm. It also received instructions from divisional headquarters that it was to be prepared to move at a moment's notice.(5)

Upon the battalion's arrival at Wieltje the Officer Commanding, Lieutenant-Colonel R L Boyle, went to the 2nd Brigade Headquarters in the village. The 10th Battalion proceeded under Major J McLaren to the G.H.Q. Line of defence. The Battalion War Diary reported that here “the gas was very bad indeed”.(6) By 7.45pm the battalion was located along 500 metres of the G.H.Q. Line south of the Wieltje-Fortuin road. However, it would only be there a short time before it was to be moved on in the direction of Mouse Trap Farm, the HQ of Brigadier-General Turner of the 3rd Canadian Brigade. When the battalion arrived there Major McLaren, the Officer Commanding (he was the Second-in-Command of the battalion), the Adjutant and all four Company Commanders were to report to Brigadier-General Turner.

3rd Brigade Urged to Hold On

General Alderson impressed on the men of 3rd Brigade that they must hold on. The soldiers of 13th Battalion on the far left of the 3rd Brigade line were indeed doing everything in their power to hold on. But they were in a difficult situation. Their defence of the left Canadian flank was being conducted from an emergency flank located at right angles to the front line. They were mostly lying in the ditches by the St. Julien-Poelcapelle road or hastily dug trenches which did not provide any protection against the German artillery shelling. They were affected by remnants of the gas cloud drifting their way. Also enemy infantry of the German 51. Reserve Division were trying to take them on their left and rear.

At the 3rd Brigade HQ in Mouse Trap Farm German bullets were hitting the brickwork of the farm buildings. The Staff Captain organized the men of the headquarters staff, including the cooks and batmen, to set up defences in and around the farm in the event that the enemy tried to rush the buildings that night.

At 7pm the message from Colonel Romer in the 1st Canadian Division headquarters (Chateau des Trois Tours, Brielen) to 3rd Brigade headquarters in Mouse Trap Farm went as follows:

“You must guard your left and bring up your Brigade reserve Battalion [i.e. 14th] so as to prevent being turned aaa The Divisional Reserve Battalion [i.e. 16th] can take the place of Brigade Reserve aaa Important to keep high ground near subsidiary line.” (7)

The "high ground near subsidiary line" referred to in the above message was the area of ground on the western edge of the Gravenstafel Ridge at Keerselaere. It was believed to be unoccupied by Allied troops. Lieutenant-Colonel Loomis had, however, already sent the 2nd Company of 14th Battalion from St. Julien towards Keerselaere at 6pm, but there had been no further contact with these men by 8pm.(8)

At 7.15pm Colonel Romer informed the British V. Corps report centre at Goldfish Chateau of the situation:

“French on our left have retired and our left is being driven back am sending up my Divisional Reserve [i.e. the 16th and 10th Battalions]” (9)

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