Witness to War: Tuesday, Oct 1 – 1918

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:

Tuesday, Oct 1 – 1918: Got to position in front of wire at 3am Raining all the time Dirty night here at 5.00am went over in support of 13th and took village Bantigny Huns came back and drove us out as we were too weak to hold Firing point blank at us with whiz-bangs and M.G. Hottest place ever got in Retired to sunken road and made stand JD Monty and I together S.M. Fairbairn killed. Quite a few of our boys wounded and taken prisoners. Major Richardson wounded.

Author’s note in 1954: We now spent several days in intensive training. Finally, [we] moved off and came to our old trenches in Bauroines, [and] everything [was] very peaceful [at this time]. While [we were] here, German planes came over and dropped a lot of leaflets with the usual very crude propaganda. We [then] moved to Hindacourt by foot and train, where we went into trenches, and in [the] evening, took up position in readiness for attack [the] next morning.

            [The] next morning (Sept 27, 1918) at 5:17am, [we] went over the top behind the heaviest barrage ever put over in the war. 3 shells – one on [the] far right, one in [the] rear, and one on [the] far left – were fired, and then the whole work went off. From pitch darkness, the sky was lighted up by our shellfire, and the myriad [of] flares the Germans always put up when things began to pop. At 5:20 we moved forward. Our first obstacle, a short distance from our jumping off position, was a Creek about 15-18 feet wide, and about five feet in depth, which we waded [through]. (I should mention that we had lain on the grass all night, and under an almost constant drizzle which, as may be imagined, was anything but pleasant, and made for rather frayed nerves when the order came to go forward). As I went into the water, holding my rifle and knapsack overhead to keep them dry, I noticed one of our officers gingerly crawling on a tangle of wire, which laid across the creek, in an effort to keep from getting wet. However, a soldier evidently had a better idea, and jumped as far out on the wire as possible (evidently, not seeing or caring about our fastidious officer) with the result that he was thrown high in the air, and made a beautiful dive into the Creek. I saw the finish of this scene just as I was climbing up the far bank, where the enemy machine guns were playing, and several men fell back into the water. However, I reached out to help our water-soaked officer, and the scene struck me [as] so funny that I burst into loud and uncontrolled laughter. [This] seemed to cause him to fly into a rage, and as soon as he was up on the bank, [he] turned [to] me and asked, “What are you laughing at?” which in my nervous condition, only made me laugh harder, and I answered, “You, you silly ass.” This infuriated him, and he said “I’ll get you for this!” to which I replied, NUTS. This [incident had] occurred in the early stages of the battle, with the consequence that I had got ahead of [my Co O.C.]. I was in a great hurry to catch up with [him, but as a result of this incident] did not make contact until we reached our objective.

            Shortly after the above-mentioned incident, we came to the Canal du Nord, which we were told might be full of water, [so] ladders, etc. had been brought along, but fortunately, on our front, the Canal was practically dry so [we] had no trouble on that score. [However], on coming across to the other side, where quite a bank had been put up, and in which many Germans had taken refuge as the firing was quite heavy, I jumped into a dug-out entrance, and was greeted by Germans at the foot of the stairs shouting “Kamerad!” I answered in my toughest language, and told them to “come up”, which they did with their hands up, all 10 of them. I was wondering what would happen next, but by this time a number of other Canadians had arrived and the situation was quickly taken care of (nuff said).

            Following this attack, the battalion had a couple of quiet days, [and] then moved to assembly position, and took our position for attack at 3am. Zero hour at 5am and took back B[?], but had to retire temporarily as we were too weak in numbers.  Firing here was hot, as their field artillery were firing at point blank range, so [we] retired to [a] sunken road about 1000 yards [away]. One of my good friends, Sgt. Fairbaim, was killed a few yards from where I stood, [and] Major Richardson [was] wounded – some prisoners [were] taken, but [we] got our immediate objective.

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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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