Witness to War: Thursday Nov 15, 1917

Private Raymond Duval, MM, was a soldier of the 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment) CEF who served overseas during the last two years of the First World War. He participated in some of the fiercest fighting seen by Canadians during the war and was decorated for bravery at Passchendaele. Determined to preserve his memories of the First World War, he maintained a daily record of his experiences. Here is what he wrote precisely 100 years ago today:

Thursday Nov 15, 1917: Nothing much doing today except to stay here for a couple of days – Received parcel from Lena with safety razor also one from Mother Grace and one from Aunt Naomi.

Author’s note in 1954: The weather continued wet and cold until Oct 13th, when we marched to Gauchin Legal on the main road to Vimy. Next day being Sunday, was quiet and for a change, a nice sunny day. More Canadian mail was received while here. We [also] had an inspection by the 1st Army Commander while here.

            After a couple of days in Gauchin Legal, spent in light drill and target practice, we marched 8 miles to Bruay – a mining town – where we were billeted, and we now knew that we were on our way to Belgium. After a couple of rather pleasant days here we marched on by way of Ham-en-Artois, a distance of about 12 miles. Next day marched to Thiennes where the two of us were billeted in a rather nice old house occupied by an old bachelor. From here we marched on north and were now in the Flemish country bordering on Belgium. We managed to get a billet in an attic of a large farmhouse outside of Hazebrouck. This little village is named “Staples.” Partner and me went into Hazebrouck, which we found to be a nice little town. The weather was up to regular standard of rain, cold, and mud – miserable.

            Oct 27th was inspection day by the Canadian Commander, General Currie. As usual, this was a long tiresome day, but we had no doubt that this was the preface for a big show of some kind. This was the battle of Passchendaele, which lasted several weeks – a terrible trip in mud, water, and more mud, and heavy casualties.

Sunday today, and Church parade within sound of the big guns booming and many dog fights overhead. After a few days of drill, etc., we entrained and came to the well-smashed town of Ypres by way of Poperinge. We marched some few miles to the trenches and finally were located in old German concrete pill boxes at Weiltje, a desolate landscape of mud and ruin.

A soldier walks through the mud at Passchendaele in 1917

Running here was not at all pleasant; no trenches, just duck-board paths through the mud, and we had innumerable escapes from shells which spattered everywhere here. However, after a few days we moved to a place called “Capricorn Keep” not far from Ypres, where we had a bath, which was badly needed. Met a home boy here, Bert Brooker, and it certainly was pleasant to meet him. He is with the 13th battalion (Black Watch).

While on this trip, we were in the line at Passchendaele, and had a very narrow escape. Four of us were sitting in a deep trench when a heavy howitzer shell burst on the parapet, and buried us under several feet of wet earth. Fortunately, a working party happened to be close by and immediately dug us out, but it left us badly shaken. The M.O. recommended that we be sent out for a rest, but as we knew that there was a shortage of men, my partners and I volunteered to stay in the lines. On two more occasions, we were both thrown around pretty severely, and partially buried but somehow we pulled through. Running in this part of the country was really tough, and we were glad to entrain at Ypres, and come to Poperinge, where we took motor buses to Merville and spent one night there. Spent the night on the shelves of a small dairy – not bad. [The] next morning, [we] embarked in lorries and came to Bethune – a very nice town – and slept on a real bed for the first time in many weeks. [The] next day, we went by bus to Sains Goel, a mining town. While in Bethune, [I] received quite a lot of mail, including some fine parcels: cake, cigarettes, candy, etc., all very much appreciated.

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The RMR Foundation thanks Natalie Dyck for generously sharing her publication of “The Diary and Memoir of Private Raymond Duval” in order for us to be able to share his story with you 100 years on. You can learn more about Private Duval here.

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