Friday, 8 May 2015


The Battle of Frezenberg occurred on May 8th, 1915, 100 years ago today, as part of the Second Battle of Ypres. Successive German attacks pushed back the British lines, causing the Patricia's left flank to be exposed and threatening to collapse the entire Commonwealth divisional line. Despite constant attacks and bombardment by the Germans, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry held the line. When the Regiment was relieved at Frezenberg, only 4 officers and 150 soldiers remained. 

Entry from the PPCLI War Diary

MAY 7th BELLEWAERDE LAKE Shelling started by Germans about 9 A.M. and considerable damage done to Fire trenches. casualties 3 men killed 13 wounded (Capt [D.F.B.] Gray & Lt [P.V.] Cornish were sent back sick in Evening. Nos 1 & 2 Coy relieved 3 & 4 Coys in fire trenches. 


4 A.M.
Shelling by Germans started chiefly from our right flank which enfladed our fire trenches this grew more severe by 5.30 & about this time some Germans were noticed coming down hill directly in front of us and we opened rapid fire on them

6 A.M.
All our telephone wires were cut by this time both to Brigade & also to trenches so all Signallers, Pioneers, Orderlies & Servants were ordered into Support trenches and shortly afterward all advance by Germans was checked and any not sheltered by buildings or dead crawled back over crest of ridge to trenches Germans had two possibly three Machine guns in buildings & were sweeping our parapets both in fire and support trenches. An orderly took a note to Brigade H.Q. notifying them of situation

7 A.M.
Major (A.H.) Gault was severely hit (by shell in left arm & left thigh.)
Shelling by heavy Howitzers using all high Explosives & field guns started again in heavy bombardment both on Fire & Support trenches. Fire trench on right being blown in at several points. A note by orderly to Brigade notified them we were being heavily shelled & asking for reinforcements as our casualties were  heavy. 

9 A.M. 
Cessation in shelling and Germans again attempted to advance but heavy fire from our Machine Guns & rifles checked them & forced them to retire & take cover at this time P.P.C.L.I. accounted for many of the Enemy.
Lieut (A.G.) Martin (1266) & (G.) Triggs were hit & came out left communication trench with number of wounded Capt. (S.H.) Hill & Lt (M.S.) De Bay hit also

9-30 A.M.
Lt (H.W.) Niven went at this time & was in communication with the Officer of K.O.Y.L.I. on our left & Officer of 4th Rifle Bgd. on our right both were suffering heavy casualties from enflade fire. Bombardment started again particular attention being paid to our Machine Guns all machine guns were buried but two were dug out & mounted again over three times but a shell killed every man on its section. 

10-30 A.M.
Left half of our Right fire trench was completely destroyed & Lt (H.S.) Dennison ordered Lt (D.A.) Clark (1763) to take remaining men & get in our Right Communicating trench. Lt (H.S.) Dennison and Lt. (P.E.) Lane (1789) still held part of our right fire trench with few men. Lt. (N.A.) Edwards was killed.
Our Left fire trench (right half) suffered severely & trench was blown in and Machine Gun put out of action. Sergt Scott (L. 640) and few men withdrew to communications trench & held it until it was blown in. Lt (R.G.) Crawford who was most gallant was severely wounded. Capt (Agar) Adamson who had been handing out ammunition was hit in shoulder but continued to work with only one arm useful. R. Sergt Major Fraser (A.3) was also handing out SAA to support trenches was killed instantly by bullet in head. 

12 A.M. Snipers had been extremely brave taking messages to Brigade & reserve Batn kept in rear of BELLEWAERDE LAKE during the morning as ground they covered was continually shelled. A message was sent asking Brigade for more S.A.A., as rifle fire was brisk at all times. 

1-30 P.M. 
One Platoon of 4 R.B.'s was sent us as reinforcement (& the support trench gave them a cheer as they came up). Lt. N (H.W. Niven) placed them on our extreme right in order to watch our flank as we were unable from trench to overlook this ground. They were in line with our support trench behind trees & hedge. They also sent a Machine Gun and section that did good service.

2 P.M.
I went with orderly to BELLEWAERDE LAKE dugouts as ordered by Brigade to telephone G.O.C. 80th Infty. Bgd. complete details of situation returning at 2-30 P.M. Orderlies accompanying me both going and coming were hit by High Explosive shells. 

3 P.M.
A platoon of K.S.L.I. under an Officer reached our Support line with 20 Boxed S.A.A. which was distributed. This party also acted as reinforcement & occupied Left end of Support Trench 

4 P.M. 
Made tour of Support Trenches & found we were out of touch with Regt. on our Left a gap of fifty yards was unoccupied, I placed 8 men in this gap to inform me of happenings there. Shortly afterward I was informed that Monmouth Regt. on left of K.O.Y.L.I. had withdrawn to trenches 300 yards in rear and about 5-30 was informed that K.O.Y.L.I. had also withdrawn to same line of trenches
Another attempt by Germans to advance was stopped by our rifle fire although some reached our (fire) trench on right that could not be observed from our support trench but I believe at this time there was none of our men alive at this point. 

11.30 P.M.
We were relived by 3rd K.R.R.C. who gave us assistance to bury our dead that were in Support & Communicating trenches as it was impossible & imprudent to attempt to reach the fire trenches.
Our casualties were as follows Killed (2 + 73) Lieut (N.A.) Edwards died of wounds Lieut (R.G.) Crawford, missing (2 + 79) Lieut (H.S.) Dennison & Lieut (P.E.) Lane (1789). Wounded (6 + 203) Major (A.H.) Gault, Capt (Agar) Adamson, Capt. (S.H.) Hill, Lieut (M.S.) De Bay Lieut (A.G.) Martin (1266), Lieut (G.) Triggs Other ranks 93 killed, 79 missing 203 wounded.

During April 1915 the Commanding Officer of the P.P.C.L.I. was Lieutenant-Colonel H.C. Buller, until he was wounded in the eye on May 5th, 1915. Major A.H. Gault took over until he was severely wounded, for the second time, May 8th, 1915 and Captain Agar Adamson took over command and kept on acting as such even though he was wounded in turn and lost the use of an arm. After a while he relinquished command to the Adjutant, Lieutenant H.W. Niven. 

Sunday, 3 May 2015


The Allied defences had been so badly ruptured after the German gas attacks and subsequent  advance on the salient that Sir John French, the Commander-in-Chief, believed it necessary to straighten out the line and pull all three Divisions of Plumer's 5th Corps back to a position where they would not be outflanked. The 27th, 28th and 1st Canadian Divisions moved back about two miles to a subsidiary line on the last high ground to the east of Ypres. 

Agar wrote to Mabel of his frustrations, "It has now been decided that the new back line of trenches upon which so much work has been done with the object of making them a little better than ditches, has been condemned, as being in the wrong place, and would be nothing but a death trap and could not be held very long against artillery fire coming, as it would do, from both sides....For the last three months the regiments at rest have been building a most magnificent back line of trenches with drains, cement, bomb-proof dugouts and everything that could be devised, including wonderful wire entanglements. The Army for months has been priding itself on this wonderful back line. They now find it is not facing the right way and instead of facing the enemy is almost at the right angle to it. It is things like this that make one very angry and wonder how we are ever going to win the war against so skilled and alert an enemy who leave nothing to chance or luck while we muddle ahead in the same old British way, losing magnificent men of for the want of a little common sense or at least judgement."

Exhausted from twelve continuous days in the Polygon Wood trenches, the Patricias would now be tasked with the difficult operation of withdrawing while still in contact with the enemy. Orders were received on May 3rd to retire to the second line of defence in front of the beautiful town of Hooge, still intact but destined to be in ruins. The new trench system was referred to as the General Headquarters Line (G.H.Q.) and was situated across from the railway line to from Ypres to Frezenberg, running from the eastern edge of Sanctuary Wood past the eastern corner of Bellewaerde Lake. The GHQ Line was well positioned but not constructed with continuous trenches. It comprised a series of well fortified redoubts, each approximately 400 meters apart, connected by thick coils of barbed wire entanglements. A garrison of about 50 soldiers would man each redoubt.

G.H.Q. Line April/May 1915

In preparation for the move every Patricia that was able worked to fortify the new defences. In the late afternoon on May 3rd, the mens' spirits were lifted with the welcome sight of Hamilton Gault arriving back to the battalion, after months of convalescence. He brought with him a small draft of reinforcements and immediately took over supervision of the efforts on Bellewaerde Ridge.

By end of day on May 3rd the incredible undertaking of moving 12,000 men back several miles in complete silence was achieved without a single man killed or wounded. Completely undiscovered by the enemy, the rear guard had successfully outwitted the enemy with regular shots from the front line. The machine guns were the last to retreat to repel any attack that might be thrown at them if the Germans suspected the withdrawal.

There were congratulations all around for a job exceptionally well done. It seemed they night have days to complete their work on the trenches before the Germans would realize they were gone as they were still shelling the abandoned trenches.

At 6:00 am on the 4th, however, the peaceful and sunny daybreak was shattered with the heaviest bombardment the Regiment had yet experienced, knocking their hastily prepared trenches to pieces. Artillery fire rained down on them throughout the day completely unchallenged as their own artillery had not had enough time to set up in their positions. By noon they were running out of ammunition. The Patricias had little choice but to lie at the bottom of the trenches and hope. With support from a company of the Rifle Brigade and a platoon of Shropshires bringing in more ammunition they were finally able to beat back the German assault but the casualty list was appalling. When the Regiment was relieved by the Shropshires at 10:00 pm they had lost 122 men killed or wounded. The worst was yet to come.