Battle of Pilckem Ridge (Passchendaele) - 1 RIR's Approach March.

Mon, 07/30/1917

During July 1917, the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles had been preparing for the battle of Pilckem Ridge. This would, on 31 July, be one of the opening battles of Passchendaele, a campaign also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. On 30 July 1917, the Battalion began its 8-mile approach march to the start line for the battle. The Adjutant, Captain (later Brigadier) Whitfeld, described that march:

IWM Q5935All companies having reported present, we proceeded on our way, going by a cross country route. Our route led us right through the heavy batteries just north of the Kruisstraathoek - Ypres road. We reached this place at twelve midnight, and were floundering along in the dark in single line, the Commanding Officer and myself leading, while there were blinding flashes all around us. The great counter-battery bombardment had opened.

The 'going' was frightfully slow, owing to the weights the men were carrying and the fact that we had the whole of 2nd Lincolns in a single file in front of us. However, we pushed on and crossed the canal at 12.30, having taken three and a half hours to do four miles - we still had four to go. Soon after crossing the canal a message came back to say that the Germans were shelling Shrapnel Corner. I knew this corner of old. It was one of the most terrible places in the Ypres Salient.... On arrival at this dreaded spot we were fortunate, for, owing to a lull, the whole Battalion got past with only one casualty. Then commenced one of the most terrible marches I ever experienced. Try to imagine for yourself a dark night, a shell swept track, the stench of dead horses ... and the sickly smell of asphyxiating gas; then, perhaps you can realize more or less what that night was like. It is a horrible sensation to be floundering along in the dark with a gas helmet over one's head, and falling into shell holes. I got so 'fed up' I removed the helmet from my eyes, keeping, however, the tube in my mouth. At last we reached our destination, Halfway House, where it had previously been arranged that all men should be under cover. This, however, was not the case, and the men just flopped down and fell asleep, regardless of gas and high explosive shells that came over at frequent intervals’.

Above: Battle of Pilckem Ridge. Stretcher bearers struggle in mud up to their knees to carry a wounded man to safety,© IWM (Q 5935). Please click on Mud to read the poem written by the Irish war artist Major Sir William Orpen.