Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

XIV
The fateful hinge of Verdun--The counterhinge of the Somme--Enter the "landsbip," cistern, or reservoir, finally called the tank

THE fable that no news is good news ought, in theory, to apply with particular force to any large body of people under the imminent and continuous threat of death. For the front-line soldier of 1916 any prolongation of the status quo also meant a prolongation of life, and therefore should have had its compensations.

In fact, the status quo in the Ypres salient--leaving its dangers tside-had proved so totally miserable that for those who dwelt there the opposite of the fable had come true, and any news was good news. For the Canadians on the Western Front the late summer of 1916 was filled with red-letter days: the day they traded their Ross rifles for Lee-Enfields; the day they learned they were being pulled out of Flanders; the day they heard that, after sixteen months in defense, they were to move south to join the general offensive on the Somme.

At the beginning of 1916, the Western Front was still in the state of bloody paralysis that had set in with the fall of 1914. Like corporation directors preparing for a new business year, the German general staff and the still loosely co-ordinated French and British commands had spent much of the previous November and December weighing, modifying, and finally adopting their policies for the next twelve months. In so doing they repeated the pattern of 1914, when the French attacking eastward to the south and the Germans attacking westward to the north had become locked and immobile, like two men caught going opposite ways in a revolving door. This time the axis on which they sought to pivot was shorter, their heaving shoulders were closer together, and the direction toward which they struggled was reversed: the Allies thrusting east

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