The Battle of Passchendaele

Battle of Passchendaele:  31 July – 6 November 1917

Officially known as the Third Battle of Ypres, Passchendaele became infamous not only for the scale of casualties, but also for the mud. The battle was launched on 31 July 1917 and continued until the fall of Passchendaele village on 6 November.

Voices of the First World War podcasts Imperial War Museum

It was mud, mud, everywhere: mud in the trenches, mud in front of the trenches, behind the trenches. Every shell hole was a sea of filthy oozing mud. I was tired of seeing infantry sinking back in that morass never to come out alive again. I was tired of all the carnage, of all the sacrifice that we had there just to gain about twenty-five yards. And there were many days when actually I don’t remember them; I don’t remember what happened because I was so damned tired. The fatigue in that mud was something terrible. It did get you and you reached a point where there was no beyond, you just could not go any further. And that’s the point I’d reached.

When you got up there, there was no front line; there was no line at all, just a series of posts scraped in the mud. Here a machine gun’s crew, there a few riflemen, further on a Lewis gun’s crew and in some cases the battle depth of your battalion was a thousand yards of these posts bogged about. You couldn’t get to any of them in daylight, because you were under enemy observation the whole time. You couldn’t get food nor rations nor ammunition or anything up in the daylight, because these duckboards were taped by the Germans and they were shelling them the whole time. In most places, if shells start dropping you run to the right, you ran to the left and to get some cover but if you were on the duckboards you couldn’t run. There was mud to your right and mud to your left and you had to face it and go on.

It was a nightmare, because all you had was a couple of duckboards side by side and either side of it was about ten feet of mud with the top of a tank sticking out of it here and there. If you fell off, it would take a traction engine to pull you out, almost. It was that deep – it was absolute sucking mud. There were cases when one or two men slipped off the duckboards and it took a couple of their comrades to pull them out gradually, inch by inch, when they managed to keep their arms out and they pulled them out, inch by inch, out of the mud and got them on again, on the boards again…

It was a curious kind of sucking kind of mud. It ‘drew’ at you, not like a quicksand, but a real monster that sucked at you…

 Commemorating Passchendaele