During November 2017, Canada commemorates the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. It was the third and last major battle victory during 1917, after Vimy Ridge and Hill 70, for the combined Canadian Divisions fighting together as a Corps.
The Battle saw German and Allied armies clash in the area of the Belgian city of Ypres. Fought from 31 July through 10 November, 1917, the battle is estimated to have resulted in over half a million casualties. Canada alone suffered over 4,000 dead and almost 12,000 wounded. The carnage in the infamous mud of the battlefield became synonymous with the senseless and massive losses suffered by troops during the Great War. Singular feats of sacrifice and valour during the course of the battle saw nine Canadians awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honor conferred within the British Empire.
The culminating push by Canadian forces on 10 November 1917 saw them take the village of Passchendaele and adjoining ridge. The exhilaration of the achievement was dulled by the fact that the bodies of one thousand Canadians were never recovered from the treacherous muds of Passchendaele.
The 49th Battalion of Alberta alone, in a single day, through wounds and deaths, lost 443 of 588 officers and ranks who entered the fray with 126 killed, 288 wounded, and 29 missing. This was the costliest battle the battalion or its successor, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, sustained in two world wars.
The events of Passchendaele resonated among Albertans and in July of 1919, the settlement area north of Wainwright and east of Irma, saw the establishment of a new School district named after the battle. It was located on land settled by James and Mary Dalton who arrived in Alberta from Ontario with their children during the early 1900s.
Two of Daltons’ sons, William and Albert served with the Canadian army during the war. Albert, who was born at Kinmount Ontario, enlisted with the 138th Battalion at Edmonton in March of 1916. The 138th was a reinforcement battalion which was absorbed by active front line units in Europe. He was killed in action in France while serving with the 49th Battalion on June 9, 1917 at the age 27, leaving his wife Alice Lucy at Irma. Albert was buried in the La Chaudiere Military Cemetery approximately 3 kilometers south of Lens, on the north-western outskirts of Vimy. The cemetery is the final resting place of 508 Canadian and 86 British soldiers.
The naming of the Passchendale School District was but one simple way that Albertans memorialized the events and battles of the First World War in order to keep its memory, and the memory of the soldiers killed and wounded in the trenches of northern Europe, foremost in their minds. Although Albert Dalton did not die at Passchendaele, his home community commemorated the loss of his compatriots at that battle over a forty year period. The Passchendale School District No. 3849 operated until 1957, at which point local students were bused to school in Wainwright.
Written By: Peter Melnycky, Historian
Title Image: Passchendale School Girls of 1923, Martha Johnson, Helen Christopher, Della Pollard, Flora May Christopher, Doris Johnson, and Mildred Johnson. Courtesy of the Gilt Edge Ladies Booster Club Buffalo Trails and Tales: Wainwright and District, 1973. [Note: the original Belgian town is spelled “Passendale” or “Passchendaele” while the School established in Alberta used the modified version of “Passchendale”.]
G.R. Steven, A City Goes to War, Edmonton/Brampton: The Edmonton Regiment Associates / Charters Publishing Company Limited, 1964.
The Gilt Edge Ladies Booster Club Buffalo Trails and Tales: Wainwright and District, 1973.
Norman S. Leach Passchendaele – Canada’s Other Vimy Ridge, Military History Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2.
Veterans Affairs Canada, Canada Remembers the Battle of Passchendaele
Remember: Newsletter of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum, 2017-4 (October)
Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, University of Alberta Libraries