Courtrai (Kortrik)
 
(The battle honour ‘Lys’ awarded to the Regiment is more properly described as an offensive consisting of a series of battles. ‘Lys’, although a battle Honour, is not displayed on the Colours; instead the individual battle fought by the Regiment as part of this offensive –  Courtrai – are visible on the Colours. Similarly, the battle site where the Regiment was awarded its sole Victoria Cross, Keiberg Ridge, does not appear on the Colours. Instead the ‘invisible’ Battle Honour, “Kemmel’ must suffice. The naming of battles and the award of battle honours is often an arbitrary process.)
 
Dawn, 14 October, 1918: the Regiment was in position to begin their attack, strung out along the rail line on the northern outskirts of Ledeghem. There were no trenches here from which to jump off. The objective of their division, the 9th, was to advance to the rail line running north of Courtrai, about 7 kilometres east of Ledeghem. This was beyond field artillery support unless the guns could keep up with the infantry.
 
The attack began well. Supporting artillery was just 200 yards behind the start line, and heavy machine guns fired over the heads of the advancing troops. Off to a quick start, 3 machine gun pillboxes holding 15-20 enemy each, were outflanked and silenced. Heavy smoke from friendly artillery blinded further enemy fire, but it also caused the attack to break up into small groups of Newfoundlanders who could not see much beyond their own feet.
 
The smoke blew away in the wind by mid-morning, leaving the Newfoundlanders exposed while crossing  a deep narrow stream called the Wulfdambeek. Many Regimental casualties were taken, due to the stream being well observed by enemy artillery. Moving another 1000 yards to the east, the Regiment again came under artillery fire, but no support from the British guns was available, the Regiment having left the gunners out of range, and now the German guns were very close.

The Regiment faced the river-canal Lys, about 150 feet wide and no shallower than 6 feet and with steep banks. The enemy was deployed on the east bank. At this time the Regiment was part of the 9th Division, Maj. Gen. Sir Hugh Tudor, commanding.  (General Tudor was destined to eventually retire to St. John’s, and is buried in the Anglican Cemetery).

The plan was for two other battalions to lead the assault crossing the night of 19/20 October, with the Newfoundlanders following in reserve. First, several days were occupied in training and rehearsals, involving crossing waterways by boat, raft, or via narrow foot bridges in single file and fanning out into the bridgehead.

The night attack began at 11 PM on October 19. The lead battalions successfully fought their way across using rafts when the pontoon bridges, built and deployed by the Royal Engineers,  were destroyed by enemy fire.  The Newfoundlanders followed up at 4 AM, but they were forced to wade across on 18 inch duckboards submerged under 2 feet of water. Imagine the difficulty of feeling your way across a plank you could not see, carrying 60 pounds of kit, in the dark, under artillery and rifle fire.

In the morning of 20 October, the Regiment took over the lead and marched into Deerlyck where an ecstatic civilian population gave the men a rapturous welcome. Their next task however, was much less attractive. The Regiment was given orders to advance to Vichte, 3 miles east, and the Ingoyghem-Ooteghem ridge beyond.

The Regiment came under heavy fire after entering Vichte, and took up defensive positions. Their orders were to hold this position regardless of whether their flanks were secure, due to the flanking battalions being held up. Artillery and machine gun fire from the flanks made this position very dangerous. Casualties mounted to the point where there was only one unwounded officer per company.  The Regiment held for 24 hours until  relieved the evening of  21 October.

Courtrai

Crossing the Lys and on into Belgium near Courtrai (courtesy G.W.L. Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander)

Three days later, the Regiment was ordered forward from Harlebeke on the evening of 24 October. They assembled at farms near Vichte. Terribly, an enemy shell found a barn where a whole platoon of D Company were in the process of vacating, and nearly all were killed. The 28th Brigade, of which the Regiment was part, was ordered the next morning to attack the Ingoyghem-Ooteghem ridge, the last barrier before the Scheldt River. The ridge was defended by two crack machine-gun battalions and supporting artillery. Ingoyghem was not taken until mid-afternoon 26 October. The strong defence stymied any attempts to take Ooteghem 1200 yards to the south. That afternoon  the Regiment was ordered to patrol; however, the Regiment was recalled almost immediately, and the as soon as the patrols returned, the Regiment was relieved, going into billets at Bavichove near Harlebeke.

Since 28 September, when leaving Ypres at the River Lys, the Regiment had advanced more than 50 kilometres, and were utterly exhausted. Capt Syd Frost noted that on the night of 25 October, after occupying Vichte, his company fell asleep despite efforts to keep them awake. B Company was down to 46 soldiers. 

There were regrets the Regiment did not make the final objective, the River Scheldt, about 600 yards away from Ingoyghem.

At Bavichove, well behind the lines, a stray shell wounded Pte R. Courage, the last casualty of the war for the Regiment.