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Century-old artifacts take readers back in time to the battlefields of Europe

Watson diaries impart first-hand accounts of key events of the First World War
April 7, 2017
Image of Maj.-Gen. Sir David Watson from the David Watson Collection. University of Calgary Library and Archives, The Military Museums of Calgary

Image of Maj.-Gen. Sir David Watson from the David Watson Collection. University of Calgary Library and Archives, The Military Museums of Calgary

Maj.-Gen. Sir David Watson, commander of the Fourth Canadian Division during the First World War, led Canadians in several major battles including Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. Watson's century-old diaries are housed in the University of Calgary's Library and Archives at The Military Museums of Calgary. They were recently digitized by Libraries and Cultural Resources and are now accessible online.

Below are some of Watson's personal accounts of the Battles of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.

Battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9 to 12, 1917)

April 9, 1917

One of the most momentous days in Canadian military history… The 4th Canadian Division occupied the left flank of this… attack and we had to take Vimy Ridge and Hill 145. It began at 5:30 a.m. and the bombardment was something terrific…We got through…the Black line objective and then found Germans were coming out of tunnels and dugouts behind us, which made a most difficult task… By dark [we] had Hill 145 and… [the] trench beyond it, and had linked up with 3rd Division on [the] right...Had a very hard day of it and turned in clothes and all for a couple hours sleep at midnight. All the divisions… have taken their objectives and as far as can be learned over 10,000 prisoners and over 40 field guns and several large guns.

April 11, 1917 (day before the attack on the Pimple, a height along Vimy Ridge)

One of the most momentous days for me in this war. I took Michaels and we went… overland up to Zouave Valley then up the hill… and across over old front line… over no-man’s land and into the German lines that we had been looking over for months through periscopes. Then on overland up past Hill 145 where we had the most glorious view of all the country to the east of Vimy. 

April 14, 1917 (two days after the attack on the Pimple)

I left with Ironside at 8 a.m. … up through Souchez and over the duck walk, over the ridge, to the Pimple...We then moved on and through Givenchy…up the sunken road to Cyclist Trench. Saw an aeroplane that had been brought down on the 9th… We got a wounded German and helped him along. He had no food for 5 days and was all in. We came over Hill 145 and saw them collecting our dead and burying them in one large grave there.

Battle of Passchendaele (October 26 to November 6, 1917)

October 26, 1917

A very bad day, raining and cold. We attacked this morning at 5:40 a.m. under a most intense barrage. At 11 o’clock… the 9th brigade of 3rd division on left were back in their original lines. Our attack seems to have gone well and we have all our objectives and got a good number of prisoners. Last night a party of 12 Germans got lost and wondered into our lines, and were promptly made prisoners. At 5 o’clock this afternoon the Germans put over a very heavy counter attack. The big gun fire was very heavy on our whole…front. The… point of our salient on the crest of the Hill road was pushed back a little, but of the rest of the line has held firm. The Germans put a large number of heavy shells into Ypres, making the whole of our day… shake like anything.

David Watson's April 9, 1917 diary is on display Sunday, April 9 until August 25, 2017, at The Military Museums of Calgary in the exhibition War Stories 1917.