The Story of An Ontario Veteran - Excerpts from the John Mould Diaries: The Battle of the Somme - Page Banner


Photo: German prisoners taken by Canadians on the Somme being escorted to the prisoner's cages by Canadian Military Police
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German prisoners taken by Canadians on the Somme
being escorted to the prisoner's cages by
Canadian Military Police, 1916
Unknown photographer
Black and white print
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-9-20
Archives of Ontario, I0004779

In late August 1916, the Canadian Corps was moved to the area north of the Somme River, east of Amiens. They were situated on the front line west of the village of Courcelette.

Situated north of the Allies’ location, the Germans had a commanding position on the Theipval Ridge, and while they suffered heavy casualties, their defensive lines in the Kenora and Regina trenches seemed impregnable.

Photo: Canadian Pioneers carrying trench material to Passchendaele quiting work while German prisoners carrying wounded pass by, 1917
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Canadian Pioneers carrying trench material to Passchendaele quitting work while
German prisoners carrying wounded pass by, 1917
Unknown photographer
Black and white print
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-10-19
Archives of Ontario, I0004829

Photo: French women selling oranges to Canadian toops on their return to camp, [ca. 1918]
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French women selling oranges to Canadian
troops on their return to camp, [ca. 1918]
Unknown photographer
Black and white print
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-9-49
Archives of Ontario, I0004808

The following excerpt from John Mould’s diary relates the events of September 28th, 1916 when the goal of the 19th Battalion was the Regina Trench.

Having got within 500 yards of the trench, the Canadians came under very heavy fire from a place called Destremont Farm. They stopped advancing and succeeded in establishing a position west of the farm.

Click here to listen to an excerpt from the diary in "wav" format (1.6Mb). It is also available in "aif" format (1.6Mb).

“You can imagine how we felt after marching all night and not having any rest for 3 or 4 days. So we were very soon on the job making places in which to get a little sleep. Everyone thought we would be here for a day at least and some were already lying in the trenches. What happened shortly after however was enough to take the heart out of any man. We had not been in the trenches more than 15 minutes when all N.C.O.’s were called up in front of the officer in command of the company. I, having been made Corporal a few days previous, being included amongst these. After we had gathered around he explained to us the position of our trench and also the surroundings. After telling us off to our different positions, he said it was our duty on this particular morning to advance as near as possible to a place known as “Regina Trench” it not being known for sure if it was being held by the Germans or not.

It was 4 a.m. when we started on our perilous journey and as we passed by several Battalions which were lined up on the trenches, they thought we had gone crazy, and said that none of us would get back alive. We have to take our chance however and trust to providence to get safely through…

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… Whilst passing down the Courcelette Rd. to a point where we had to make the advance, a sight met our eyes which would have upset the nerves of anyone. This village, which was only captured a few days previous by the “Canadians,” was strongly held by the Germans and naturally there were a large number of casualties on either side. Every yard along the road there were dead bodies lying in all positions, some of them being awful to look upon. A cold feeling seemed to run through my body as I stepped over some of them, and my thoughts at once went to their dear ones whom they had left behind.

After a few minutes rest at the starting point, we fixed bayonets, and then opened out on extended order ready for the charge. No one knew if he would get back safe or not and many a prayer was said for those whom they have left behind. … All went well till we were within about 500 yds. of the Regina Trench, we at this stage having advanced about 400 yds. Here we were met by a very deadly machine gun fire, which caused us to drop to the ground and wait for things to cool down a little. Whilst waiting here the order was passed along that we were not to attack the trench as it was too strongly held by the Germans.

After 15 minutes of hard work during which time we made fairly good cover, the enemy, who had evidently got wise to our position started to shell us. Unmerciful shells were sent over in dozens and within a very short time the ground all around us looked to all appearance like a newly ploughed field. How we escaped without being cut up is one of the things I am not able to explain. I had a very close call myself during this bombardment, a shell bursting within 2 yards of where I was digging. I never knew a thing for a few minutes, the force of the explosion sending me quite silly. It was an awful experience and one which I hoped would not happen again. After about 5 hours of this terrible anxiety, things became much quieter so we were able to proceed with our work of digging more quicker than before. Keeping hard at it during the night, we had by the morning completed 3 lines of trenches and also consolidated them good enough to protect the Battalion from machine gun fire and shrapnel.”

John Mould's Diary

Photo: A trench mortar shell bursting, [ca. 1918]
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A trench mortar shell bursting, [ca. 1918]
Unknown photographer
Black and white print
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-10-6
Archives of Ontario, I0004816

After repeated attacks, Regina Trench was finally captured on November 11th.

In the final attack of the Battle of the Somme, the 4th Canadian Division captured Desire Trench, situated north the Regina Trench, yet victory over the Germans was by no means secure.

Photo: A tank homeward bound, [ca. 1918]
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A tank homeward bound, [ca. 1918]
Unknown photographer
Black and white print
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-10-3
Archives of Ontario, I0004813

Photo: Canadian troops dressing wounded in a trench, [ca. 1918]
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Canadian troops dressing wounded in a trench during
the battle of September 15 in which the Canadians
played a great part, storming the village of Courcelette
and taking many prisoners, 1916
Unknown photographer
Black and white print
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-9-7
Archives of Ontario, I0004766
Photo: War casualties on the battlefield after a charge by the Canadians, [ca. 1918]
Click to see a larger image (123K)

War casualties on the battlefield after a
charge by the Canadians, [ca. 1918]
Unknown photographer
Black and white print
Canadian Expeditionary Force albums
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-9-19
Archives of Ontario, I0004778

Heavy rains finally necessitated the end of the fighting at the Somme on November 19th, and the 4th Division left to join the rest of the Canadian Corps at Vimy.

Allied casualties at the Somme were 650,000 with 200,00 killed. Canadian casualties totalled 24,029 men.