By Lord Beaverbrook
WITH MAPS AND APPENDIX
HODDER AND STOUGHTON LONDON TORONTO NEW YORK MCMXVII
The narrative of the Second Battle of Ypres was written on the spot and immediately after the action. It was not until long afterwards that it was possible to collect and collate the whole of the battalion diaries. The story, therefore, could only be compiled from the personal reports of the officers commanding units, and in some cases these were not available, and certain regiments did not therefore receive the prominence which was their due. These regiments will, I am sure, readily understand that the omission was not intentional, but due to the impossibility of making sure of all the details of a great and confused action until months after the event. Although the material has become available, I have decided not to attempt to rewrite the story. It is, in its main features, absolutely accurate, and has the advantage which must belong to any narrative written within sound of the guns, and while the impressions of the battlefield are still vivid to the mind. I am, in fact, afraid that any attempt on my part to reconstruct the narrative would spoil whatever merit it may possess.
In the first place, it is necessary, however, to make good some mistakes in the first volume which have been pointed out by persons who were engaged in various actions.
The majority of errors occur in the matter of names, which, in about a dozen cases, have been given inexactly. In some cases it has been possible to make the requisite corrections of initials, rank, or spelling in succeeding editions. I particularly regret the confusion between the two brothers, Sergt. L. G. Newell and Sergt. F. C. C. Newell, both of whom took part in the charge at Langemarke. The first-named, the older brother, died of his wounds after that attack, while the second and younger recovered, returned to the trenches, and won the D.C.M. at Givenchy. With reference to the names of regiments concerned in the Second Battle of Ypres, the King's Own Royal Leinsters have been named by a misprint instead of the King's Own Royal Lancashires, as part of Colonel Geddes' command, on page 56. King Edward's Horse should have the prefix 2nd throughout. I offer my very sincere apologies to both regiments.
As to the position of various units, it is stated on page 74 of Vol. I. that Lieut.-Col. Watson, of the 2nd, was employed with his regiment on a dangerous digging operation to connect a weak point in the line on the night of April 28th, 1915. It should have been added that the entire 1st Brigade took part in this, the 2nd Battalion being on the left, the 3rd in the centre, and the 1st on the right, the 4th Battalion digging in the meanwhile a support trench close in rear. The omission of the description of the part played by the 5th Battalion (Colonel Tuxford) in the Second Battle of Ypres was a serious one, but this is dealt with in the course of the next few pages.
The only serious accusation of inaccuracy in the tactical survey of any situation is preferred by those who maintain that the sketch of the action at Festubert is wrong or misleading. I have communicated with Colonel J. E. Leckie, of the 16th Battalion, who, as a major, took a prominent part in the assault and succeeded to the command of the regiment, when his brother, Brigadier-General R. G. E. Leckie, was promoted to a brigade. He assures me that the sketch of the two positions occupied by the Canadians in their successive attacks is quite accurate, and, in fact, it is so. None the less, it is easy to see how the idea that there was an error originated. In an attempt to secure largeness of scale in the map, the area is unduly limited in its scope. The position from which the Canadians attacked is not given, and the extent to which the Germans were forced back is only just indicated. In consequence, the words "First Canadian Position" might be held to imply that this was the line from which they sallied forth instead of the first position they occupied before they advanced to the final attack on the orchard. It is a misfortune if the plan underestimates the ground won by the 14th and 15th. No further serious errors have been suggested so far as Vol. I. is concerned.
Mistakes will no doubt be discovered in the second volume. They will be found, however, to apply to the misspelling of the names of individuals and to an occasional mistake or doubt as to the precise position of a particular unit on a certain date, and not, I hope, to any main question of the tactics or strategy of battle.
The contemporary historian cannot hope to avoid these errors. He has at his disposal neither the leisure nor the information of the writer of after years. He must take his information as it comes to him and trust that rough justice is done, believing that his honest misjudgments will be cleared up when the full history comes to be written. In the meantime, he may hope to supply material of value for subsequent examination and use. But for this final judgment we may have to wait some years. In the confusion and isolation of a modern battle men are acutely aware of their own experiences, and can have little knowledge of what is passing to the right or left, while the staff behind have the same difficulty in discovering what is happening on their front. In these circumstances, the eye-witnesses themselves often disagree. Even the historians of the past have not infrequently made mistakes and waged with the pen as fierce battles over stricken fields as were ever fought by the opposing hosts with the sword.
There is, of course, one easy way out of these troubles; it is to have no immediate record, but to await the official publications of after time. The Dominion Government has, and I think rightly, declared against this policy. It has been from the start in favour of publicity so long as there was no danger to national interests. It has not concurred in the suppression of the deeds of regiments or individuals, believing that in a democratic country the greatest stimulus to exertion is the knowledge that one is known and approved by one's fellow-citizens. Its eye-witness accounts, therefore, set in many respects the tone for similar publications, and it has adopted the same liberal view in authorising a contemporary story. In another respect, the Dominion Government has been wise. Enormous sums were spent after the American Civil War in collecting the official records. The units had been disbanded and the witnesses scattered to civilian pursuits all over the country, and the inquiry was in consequence laborious and expensive.
The Dominion Government, warned by this example, have taken prompt measures to secure from day to day and week to week full reports of the movements and actions of all units, at a cost which is trifling compared with what it would cost in after years; in this way the framework has been erected for an official narrative. This is a prudent measure which will be endorsed by Canadian students of history, since there is a growing tendency to demand a full and intelligent documentary record of our progress. All the officers of the Canadian Corps have in one respect or another contributed to the collection of these facts, and have done so often in the face of grave danger and complete exhaustion, when they might well have been excused from troubling about such trivialities as to what posterity would think about them. The members of the Record Officer's Staff have been unwearied in collecting all the available material, and this common sense of duty has laid the foundation of our records on a substantial basis of fact.
For all mistakes which occur, and more particularly for the omissions, I, as Record Officer, take full responsibility, for the Record Officer is no more exempt than others from the fog