David Campbell


The 2nd Canadian Division, which landed in France on 15 September 1915, had established an uncertain operational record by the summer of 1916. As part of the Canadian Corps, the division had spent virtually all of its time in or near Belgium’s notorious Ypres Salient, where it was embroiled in a grim campaign of trench warfare. Notable successes in trench raiding were offset by costly setbacks, such as the division’s failure to hold a series of mine craters at St. Eloi in April 1916. This was followed in June by the withdrawal of one of its brigades in the face of heavy enemy attacks at Hooge, which were part of the Germans’ ultimately unsuccessful effort to hold captured Canadian positions around Mount Sorrel.

Major-General Richard Turner, the commander of 2nd Canadian Division, was himself under a cloud. His earlier performance as a brigade commander in 1st Canadian Division during the 2nd Battle of Ypres in 1915 was questionable at best, and his division’s inability to make sense of the bewildering topography at St. Eloi in 1916 raised serious questions about his suitability for high command. Turner retained command of the division largely through his personal connections with the Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence, Sir Sam Hughes.1

Redemption for 2nd Canadian Division, and to some degree, for Turner himself, would finally come with the division’s successful storming of the French village of Courcelette on 15 September 1916. This operation, which was part of the larger Somme offensive, was 2nd Canadian Division’s first major victory of the First World War. Unfortunately, the glow of success would be obscured by heavy casualties and limited gains during the division’s frustrating second operational tour at the Somme in late September and early October. Nevertheless, the victory at Courcelette proved that the division could successfully organize and execute a major offensive operation. For Major-General Turner, the battle stood as a personal vindication, and, at least in his own mind, made up for past failures.