The Battle of St. Eloi was fought March 27 to April 16, 1916 near St. Eloi, Belgium. The Ypres salient was active throughout the war and the site of numerous attacks and counterattacks. (This post is a companion piece to Melina Druga’s WWI Trilogy, Angel of Mercy, Those Left Behind and Adjustment Year, available wherever eBooks are sold.)
The nations involved were Canada, Great Britain and Germany.
“When day broke, the sights that met our gaze were so horrible and ghastly that they beggar description,” Private Donald Fraser said after the battle. “Heads, arms and legs were protruding from the mud at every yard and dear knows how many bodies the earth swallowed. Thirty corpses were at least showing in the crater and beneath its clayey waters other victims must be lying killed and drowned. A young, tall, slim English lieutenant lay stretched in death with a pleasant, peaceful look on his boyish face. Some mother’s son, gone to glory.”
Major Battle Events
- The Battle of St, Eloi marked the first major battle for Canada’s second division. The division was sent to the front without time to prepare. It was to hold the line after the British attacked.
- The British fought in hand-to-hand combat until April 3 when the Canadians relieved them.
- Dozens of underground mines intended to destroy German positions also destroyed Allied trench networks and left the ground riddled with water-logged crater holes. This created a chaotic battlefield where soldiers could easily become confused, unable to recognize landmarks.
- Bodies littered the battlefield, and the Canadians were forced to walk on their dead British compatriots as they advanced. Meanwhile, the wounded were moved behind the lines, many of the men having been awake for four days.
- The Germans regained all the ground taken by the British.
- The Canadians became confused in the terrain just as the British had and were exposed to enemy fire.
- The Canadians attacked again, but communication between the front lines and command was cut off. Telephone lines were destroyed and carrier pigeons were dead.
- Aerial photography finally revealed the true nature of the battlefield and the counterattack was called off. Before the Canadians could retreat, they were attacked with tear gas.
- A downpour made the issue worse, clogging guns with mud.
The battle ended in a stalemate. No ground was won or lost by either side. Canada suffered 1,373 casualties and Germany 480.
Two craters still exist on the battlefield. They are used as swimming and fishing holes.
Updated: 21 October 2020