The text below is from an email sent by my friend and colleague, Dr. Duff Crerar, author of Padres in No Man’s Land (McGill Queen’s 1995, 2nd ed 2014).   Duff regularly sends Canadian chaplains these emails to tell us what our predecessors did on certain notable dates, and thus to remind us of our legacy.  MP+

Canadian Chaplains and breaking the Drocourt-Queant line.

German Wire – Part of the Drocourt-Queant Line Fortifications

By 17 August, the Canadian Corps had clawed deeply into
German lines at Amiens. As the push ground down in the maze of old 1916
trenches, General Currie and Third Army Commander Rawlinson pushed for a
relocation of the Canadians to where the Germans would not expect an attack.
British Commander Douglas Haig concurred and persuaded the Supreme Allied
Commander Ferdinand Foch to agree. Currie’s force was transferred to General
Horne at Arras. Here the Germans had fortified a strong belt of defences,
thirty kilometers deep, as far back as the partially-drained Canal du Nord.
Behind it lay Cambrai. If the Canadians could break in here, the German
defences southwards would be turned and the whole front opened for

The Canadians had to work fast: Currie had two divisions in
the line by August 23. They would jump off three days later, backed by the
other two divisions and the 51st Highland Division. Twenty-six
Brigades of Artillery and one British Tank Brigade joined in the attack. The
first skirmishes at Neuville-Vitasse were over in minutes: hearing the
Canadians were in the line, the German defenders were already evacuating the
objective when the attack began at After great initial gains the
offensive ground down in heavy rain, bogged tanks and accidental attack by
friendly air forces. When the Canadians finally outran the range of their guns,
it was time to pause.

On 30 August the First Division carried out a textbook
breakthrough and capture of the critical launching points for the new attack
and held them against heavy counter-attacks.  Currie planned a renewed attack for 2
September while his guns blasted fields of uncut wire. Altogether, over 101,000
Canadians and 47,000 British troops were under his command.

The breakthrough, once again, was sudden and decisive, and
the advancing Canadians again outran their artillery coverage. German flank
attacks hit the 15th and 16th Battalions hard, leading to
hand to hand combat in the wire until tanks arrived. Heavy resistance occurred
in the central area, though by the end of the attack the critical Mont Dury was
taken and held. The D-Q line was cut, but Currie would plan a separate and
final assault to cross the Canal du Nord. The Germans left in between the
Canadians and the Canal banks were already streaming back to dig in on the
other side.
Throughout these operations, the Canadian padres worked as
they had at Amiens. Father F.L. French, Senior Chaplain, Canadian Corps, was
able to have up to twenty of his priests flow between medical posts and
stretcher parties. About twenty padres “jumped off” with attacking waves, while
the artillery chaplains visited guns, wagon lines and manned burial parties.
George Taylor accompanied his Seventh Brigade battalion on
the 28 August attack, which ended in Jig-Saw Wood. Snipers re-wounded men even
as he was dressing them. Thirsty men greatly appreciated the coffee he had in
two thermos bottles stuffed in his haversack. He rounded up about sixty German
prisoners to carry stretchers, but heavy shelling made it so hazardous that he
held off making a second trip until after dark. Then, assisted by the Medical
Officer, he brought out the rest by moonlight.

German prisoners, possibly waiting to carry the Canadian on the stretcher to the rear.
G.A. MacDonald, taking over as Senior Chaplain, 4 Division
from the wounded A.M. Gordon, reported that his padres were busy across the
field meeting reinforcements with encouragement, writing letters to next of
kin, assisting at RAPs. He had acquired a certain notoriety at Amiens by
accompanying the 54th Battalion onto the final objective.  G.H. Sparks visited all the batteries in his
care, and then reported to a Dressing Station, from 3:30 am to almost noon. In
that time he wrote seventy-one letters while offering prayer for patients and
with staff.
The Van Doos had lost their padre, Father Desjardins, to gas
on 28 August, so Father Fortier took over, encountering a wounded Georges
Vanier, who would lose his leg in the event. The Medical Officer offered
alcohol to Vanier, but Fortier advised against it, to keep his head clear.
Vanier took the padre’s advice. Fortier gave the future Governor General
absolution before he was carried to the rear.
One of the most extraordinary deeds of courage was carried
out by E.E. Graham, on behalf of the French Canadian unit, when in broad
daylight he made repeated trips under fire to pluck half a dozen Van Doos off
the barbed wire. Although recommended for a Victoria Cross, the Army chose to
award the Distinguished Service Order instead. On 2 September he spent the day
with the battalion as it attacked the D-Q “Switch”. Although in hospital at
this time, Father Ambrose Madden, M.A., also was awarded the D.S.O. for his
service at Amiens, where he received his third wound of the war.
Frank Buck’s work with the 46th Battalion in the
opening days of September included several days at the RAP under heavy
shelling. He led stretcher parties and went forward for a second day under fire
as the Battalion advanced. For his work at Drury and St. Quentin he was awarded
a Military Cross, one of several awarded to padres after the fight.  Military Crosses also went to S.E. McKegney
(58th Battalion), Fathers C.A. Fallon (102 Battalion) and Thomas
O’Sullivan (Engineers). They had exposed themselves to heavy fire locating
wounded in open country, offering first aid, and seeing to their evacuation.

Coffee stall operated by the Canadian Chaplain Service during the Hundred Days fighting.   Note the hasty sign beneath the “Art Mun Depot Harcourt” sign. Photo courtesy of Dr. Duff Crerar.
There were casualties, as well. E.E. Graham’s charmed life
was interrupted on 30 September, by leg wounds which forced him to the rear.
Chaplains who were exhausted or winged by enemy fire had to be replaced in a
hurry. Senior Chaplain Louis Moffit found one, an ordained Lieutenant in the 42nd
Battalion who was recuperating from minor wounds after Amiens. He was taken on
Chaplain Service Strength in October. W.G. Clarke, a Baptist, was given speedy ordination
in England and taken on strength, as was J.G. Gibson, a Methodist minister in
the ranks.
Father James Nicholson almost became a casualty when he and
the Medical Officer plunged into a dugout full of armed Germans at Monchy Le
Preux. The startled Germans surrendered to him instead. Cyrl D’Easum also
turned up, after burying 78th Battalion casualties in the open, with
another eight Germans who had insisted on surrendering to him. His reckless
work with the wounded and dying while under machine gun fire was recognized by
the award of a Military Cross.