Records of battles are easy to find. Where they occurred are often recorded in media of the day and that can be a daunting problem if you want to walk the ground. However, when the battle fades into memory the ground is still there. But where is “THERE” ? In recent years there has been a resurgence in the history of Canada in World War One. Soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel files research are the number one item on demand at Canada`s National Archives. But where did your ancestor or names on your local war memorial serve? The Imperial War Museum has a new map set coming out that may assist you. Great War Digital in the UK also have a wonderful product called LINESMAN. The Great War was heavily dependant on information and one of these indicators was rapid development of mapping technology. How it worked is explained here. The two map products above bring forward the technology of 1914 – 1918 to your home computer and GPS.
The first exposure of the 18,000 men of the 1st Canadian Division to danger was in a supporting role at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in northern France just up the road from Vimy Ridge. While Vimy has burned its way into the national consciousness the battles that went before all built capability of the Canadian military to train, deploy and fight in what was then the war of the future.
But that was then. This brief article points you to some written material on Neuve Chapelle, most notably the Canadian Official History and an online map. However, this map is high level, it only gives you a general picture of where the engagement occurred.
Consulting the online 1st Canadian Infantry Division War Diary at the National Archives website yields this map (shown below) which is hard to get a feel for where the location actually is. If you open the link you will see a faint reference to Fleurbaix in the upper right hand area and Croix Marachel to the upper middle near Right Sector 7th Division. At the bottom you see the defended trench lines snaking from lower left to upper right near a number 31. This is a large scale trench map used by the 1st Canadian Infantry Division at their deployment area in Fleurbaix. That’s all we have to go on to start.
Several maps dating from July 1917 provide further clues. They are part of the Linesman package from Great War Digital. Reading the war diary and secondary sources lead you to the realisation that the Canadian frontline didn’t move and it is well described from July 1917 onwards.
The Petillon sector below showing square 8 is at the lower left of the black and white map above. The blue dashed line is the defended frontline. The dashed red line are the German positions.
The map above, dating from July 1917 shows the front line well described down to the trench level. The deduction is the front hasn’t moved and its probably static since March 1915. If we superimpose a modern map on these measurements, we see where the entire front line was in relation to the area comprising Neuve Chapelle to the west and Fleurbaix to the north east.
You can follow the frontline by joining the Central Ontario Branch of the Western Front Association from the Canadian side or the German lines. All it takes is confirmation of your paid up membership and we will be pleased to send you on a 7 mile hike into history.
Just leave a note below and we will be in touch.