The Battle of Passchendaele
July 31 2017 marks 100 years since the Battle of Passchendaele, one of the most dreadful military battles that has ever taken place.
Because of the torrential rain, the British and Canadian troops found themselves fighting not only the Germans but a quagmire of stinking mud that swallowed up men, horses and tanks. After three months, one week and three days of brutal trench warfare, the Allies finally recaptured the village of Passchendaele – but by then around a third of a million British and Allied soldiers had been killed or wounded in some of the most horrific trench warfare of the conflict.
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On July 31, 1917, the Allies launch a renewed assault on German lines in the Flanders region of Belgium, in the much-contested region near Ypres, during the First World War. The attack begins more than three months of brutal fighting, known as the Third Battle of Ypres -also known as Passchendaele, for the village, and the ridge surrounding it.
In the first two days of the attacks, while suffering heavy casualties, the Allies made significant advances–in some sectors pushing the Germans back more than a mile and taking more than 5,000 German prisoners. The offensive was renewed in mid-August, though heavy rains and thickening mud severely hampered the effectiveness of Allied infantry and artillery and prevented substantial gains over the majority of the summer and early fall.
After several small gains in September, the British were able to establish control over the ridge of land east of Ypres. Encouraged, the British Commander Sir Douglas Haig pushed Plumer to continue the attacks towards the Passchendaele ridge, some 10 kilometers from Ypres.
The eventual capture of the village, by Canadian and British troops, on November 6, 1917, allowed Haig to finally call off the offensive, claiming victory, despite some 310,000 British casualties, as opposed to 260,000 on the German side, and a failure to create any substantial breakthrough on the Western Front. Given its outcome, the Third Battle of Ypres remains one of the most costly and controversial offensives of the First World War representing the epitome of the wasteful and futile nature of trench warfare.
SSAFA (then the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association) was the only charity that, from the outbreak of war in 1914, was caring for the families of troops sent to the front line. Without a welfare system in place the government turned to SSAFA and asked for help to fill the gap that quickly appeared in support to the servicemen’s families.
From the very beginning of the war SSAFA worked tirelessly to support military families. It not only addressed the vital issues of accommodation for those made homeless and healthcare for soldiers and their families, it also helped to boost morale through providing the little things in life and thousands of children’s toys were distributed at Christmas.
As well as practical face-to-face support for families, SSAFA was also leading the way on some very modern issues, fighting and defeating the more reactionary elements in the Church and the Government who felt that the families of unmarried partners should not be provided for.
Many of the challenges of 100 years ago remain unchanged and families continue to need our help on issues ranging from injury, disability and bereavement to housing, finance and transition. Today we still support some 90,000 current and former Forces personnel and their families each year.