Sunday 12 November 2017


Monday 12th November 1917

It seems clear, with winter drawing near and the weather worsening, that the Third Battle of Ypres must be drawing to a close, of it has not actually done so, especially now the all-important village of Passchendaele and its ridge have been taken. Certainly there seems to be no urgency to troop movements following the last attack on Saturday. This has led the gentlemen of the press corps to compare the great offensive here with that which occurred in the second half of last year on the Somme.

If the battle has indeed come to an end after the attack of 10th November this battle, which began on 31st July has lasted 103 days. The Somme began on 1st July and ended a week later on 18th November, for a total of 141 days. The length of front has, generally been shorter here, but the Somme was a joint attack by our own forces and the French whereas this battle has been carried on solely by British and Imperial forces.

It is reckoned that the Somme saw an advance of six miles at its greatest extent. The gains here have been less but still substantial. The most vexed issue, as always, is the number of casualties, for which there may never be a completely reliable number. Indeed, the numbers for the Somme are still in dispute, one year on. In the end we each did our separate research, each estimated a figure and found the average! We suggest 400,000 British and Empire and 200,000 french casualties (dead, wounded, missing) on the Somme as opposed to 450,000 German. We arrived at figures of about 250,000 for each side in this battle.

These figures are, obviously, guesses and, it may be said, irresponsible guesses at that. Each statistic is a man’s life. What is clear, however, is that this battle has been less hungry of those men's lives. Given the awful conditions prevailing for much of this battle and the fact that the enemy’s fortifications were of longer standing than those on the Somme this shows that our army is becoming more efficient and less destructive of its most precious resource.

I see from my notes that the battalions of the Bedfordshire Regiment involved suffered 1,281 deaths. By my best calculations, after speaking to the various adjutants, the Regiment has suffered something like 339 casualties during this battle, a reduction in the order of two-thirds. Of course, the Regiment was less heavily involved in this battle, the 8th Battalion, for example, playing no part. Nevertheless the numbers are remarkable.

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