Honourable senators, 93 years ago today on November 6, 1917, the Canadian Corps led by Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie took Passchendaele. After great success at Vimy Ridge and Hill 70, the Canadians were viewed as the best bet to secure the Belgian town. This would open up all of northern Belgium for the Allies, allowing them to gain momentum and capture German submarine bases.
Allied casualties had been extremely high, objectives had not been met, they had gained just a few miles and the battlefield was a pool of mud. Currie was hesitant to have Canadians participate and predicted 16,000 casualties. The Canadian Corps practised the attack. They would advance in increments, with the first goal being the red line, the second being the blue line, and the third being the green line.
When the Allies' artillery barrage commenced at 0540 hours on October 26, it was reported as having been heard in London. Over the course of the 14-day battle, more than 1.4 million shells were fired by the Canadian Corps. Shortly after the barrage began, 20,000 Canadians began advancing toward the red line through the pouring rain. Major Robert Massie wrote:
I don't believe they had been going ten minutes before they were all soaked and covered with mud, head to foot.
The Canadians were able to achieve and hold the red line. On October 30, they began advancing towards the blue line. They quickly reached their objective, but for several days had to hold their gains against intense opposition. By the time reinforcements arrived, 80 per cent of the 3rd and 4th Divisions of the Canadian Corps were casualties.
At 0600 hours on November 6, the Canadian Corps began advancing toward the green line, which meant capturing Passchendaele. By the end of the day, what was left of Passchendaele was under the control of the Allies.
The victory came at a great cost. As Lieutenant-General Currie had predicted, Canadian casualties reached 15,654 — 1,000 of which were never recovered from the mud.
General Sir David Watson said:
It need hardly be a matter of surprise that the Canadians by this time had the reputation of being the best shock troops in the Allied Armies. . . . the Canadian superiority was proven beyond question.
Now, as then, Canadian men and women in our Armed Forces are the best in the world.
Please join me in remembering the great courage that took place 93 years ago and the great courage of our Armed Forces in Afghanistan today.