Festubert: The Forgotten War (May 15 – May 25, 1915)

The Canadians' bravery at this ultimately futile battle is today largely forgotten.

While Vimy Ridge has taken its place among the hallowed group of Canadian victories, Festubert has all but disappeared from the annals of the Great War.

It’s important to remember that while the Canadians stood their ground in defence at St. Julien near Ypres in April 1915, they still had a great deal to learn about attacking an enemy trench. This lack of experience was underscored less than a month later at Festubert.

As part of a larger British offensive, the Canadians were hurried into exactly the kind of attack that today summons up all the worst images of trench warfare. Not only were there few clear objectives, the maps provided incorrectly identified them. Artillery barrages, which at the time were considered to be quite large, proved ineffective at best.

Despite repeated requests for more time to prepare, the confused Canadians crossed no man’s land in a futile attempt to push the enemy back. Free from harassing artillery fire, the Germans fired at will at the Canadians as they emerged from their protective trenches. Most of the attacks quickly disintegrated as they approached German strong points, and all attacking units suffered heavy casualties.

Rushed into a war for which they were not yet prepared, Canadians suffered more than 2,500 casualties in the debacle.

— Text by Joel Ralph

Sir Arthur William Currie

Sir Arthur William Currie

“Currie used … organization and covering support of all kinds to the maximum in order to ensure the lowering of the cost of lives.”
William John "Jack" Gray

William John "Jack" Gray

“I will not escape...nor will I attempt to commit any action during this time to the prejudice of the German Empire.”