British Engineers Beat Germans at Mining Trench

Saturday, July 10, 1915

Reserve Billets – The Piggeries

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “The Battalion supplied working parties of 150 by day and 150 by night for work with Engineers on various forts and reserve trenches.  3 officers with each duty.” [1]


THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: “Incidents in connection with mining and countermining being carried out on the British front are described by Captain H. DesRosiers, of the 14th Battalion, in a letter under date of July 10, somewhere in France, to his brother Mr. A. DesRosiers, of The Imperial Tobacco Company of Canada, Limited.

10 July 15‘Since my last letter we have occupied trenches at Givenchy and Cuenchy and we are now in another part of the country.  We evacuated the new trenches last night after four days occupation, and I will not hide that we were glad to get out of them.  To start with, my company was the nearest to the German position (from 60 to 100 yards). Moreover after having occupied the trench two days I was informed that the Germans were mining our position, and that the British engineers were countermining, in order to blow up the German’s work.  As we were not sure which side would blow the other one first, I was instructed to send three-quarters of my men to a new trench which had just been dug up about 100 yards behind to receive them.  The fact of knowing that we could be blown up at any moment was not exactly a nerve tonic, and when the 13th (5th Royal Highlanders of Canada) came to relieve us we were not sorry to get out.  The British engineers fired their mine this morning, and the 13th Battalion occupied at once the hole made by the explosion without losing any men.  The engineers expressed the hope that the German mine had been fired at the same time.’

Captain DesRosiers also mentions a false alarm which they got when occupying the last trench.  ‘We were having supper at about 8:30 (it was getting dark) when all at once we heard rifle firing on our front.  The booming of the canon could also be heard.  It did not take us very long to come out of the dugout.  As a measure of precaution I asked the artillery officer to telephone his battery, instructing them to open fire, and in another moment our own shells were flying over our head.  Then Captains DeSerres, Roy and myself ran to the parapet, one to the center and the others at each end of the position, and we assured ourselves that the enemy had not left their trench.  I thus gave orders to cease firing immediately and learned afterwards how the thing had happened.   Immediately on our right we had a number of soldiers from Kitchener’s army, who had been placed there to be initiated by older men.  For some reason or other they started firing on the German trench and the firing afterwards spread over my front.

We only have about seventy men left out of the two hundred and twenty-one which we had at first (the others are either killed, wounded, sick or missing), and our company which numbers about 170 men has been reinforced with new men.  As they were for the first time occupying a trench really dangerous, they got really excited.  It was comical to see them passing their rifles over the parapet and firing without aiming.  I had afterwards a bit of conversation with them which they will not forget in a hurry.  Each man had put on his respirator.  This is a breathing apparatus shaped like a hood with a piece of mica to enable them to see, and it gave them the appearance of so many professional divers.’

Captain DesRosiers adds further that the health of the men is good, and that they enjoyed immensely a supply of cigarettes which they received with their rations a few days ago.”   [3]

[1]   War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, July 10, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089762.jpg
[2]   “Beat Germans at Mining Trench,” The Gazette, Montreal, Friday, July 30, 1915, pg. 4, col. 5.
[3]   Ibid

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