Courage, Sacrifice and Betrayal - The Story of the Victoria Rifles of Canada - 60th Battalion in the First World War is a microcosm of the countless sad, heroic, and everyday experiences of Canadian battalions that fought in the European theatre.
Over 250 battalions were formed to serve as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War I but only 50 battalions actually fought as a unit in the front line trenches. Although originally raised in Montreal, through reinforcement drafts from over thirty different battalions, both Ontario and the Atlantic Provinces had significant representation in the 60th Battalion’s composition. Over 50% of the soldiers were born in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Courage, Sacrifice and Betrayal provides a detailed account of the day-to-day operations of the 60th Battalion and the lives of its many soldiers. Engagements of the battalion include the Ypres Salient at Sanctuary Wood and Hill 60 and in the Somme at the Zollern Graben, and Regina trenches. The battalion also fought at Thelus and La Chaudiere and at Vimy Ridge. It was the 60th Battalion which captured, on day two of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the villages of Vimy and Petit Vimy. These actions are set against the backdrop of the broader Canadian, British, and French combat operations against the Germans and their allies.
The author skillfully brings readers into “the moment of war” through the many long forgotten personal accounts and letters included in the book. These personal recollections include the battalion’s first appearance in the front lines in the Ypres Salient in March 1916 and the Battle for Sanctuary Wood, where the battalion is bombarded in a horrendous artillery barrage in June 1916 suffering over 300 casualties. Personal recollections also include a battalion mortar officer caught in the German attack at Hill 60 in August 1916, a German raid on the Battalion’s front lines in February 1917 and the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917.
Betrayal also looms large in the story of the 60th Battalion. Tragically disbanded after the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Fredrick Arthur de Long Gascoigne — who recruited, trained, and commanded the battalion — reveals this ultimate betrayal by politicians. In attempts to prevent the dismantling of his battalion, Lieutenant Gascoigne met with Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden, 1st Viscount Walter Long Secretary of State for the Colonies and Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng Commanding Officer of the Canadian Corps. Despite his efforts, the 60th Battalion was eventually divided and sent as reinforcements to four other battalions. The Commanding Officer’s anger, frustration and disenchantment with the politicians resonate through his personal accounts and letters.
The author’s grandfather, Sergeant Edward Lewis Pyves (Military Medal), and great uncle, Lance Corporal Stanley Pyves, served with the 60th Battalion along with Private A.Y. Jackson, the future Group of Seven artist. Richard Pyves is one of the many living relatives of the 60th Battalion soldiers, roughly about 100,000 individuals, who reside in Canada and the U.K.
Rich in historical fact, Courage, Sacrifice and Betrayal provides an intimate portrayal of life in the trenches and the destructive emotional impact of war from a soldier’s viewpoint and personal accounts. With the upcoming 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1 and its many scheduled events, Courage, Sacrifice and Betrayal, provides a timely addition to commemorative celebrations.
Courage, Sacrifice and Betrayal is an extremely well researched book about a front line battalion in WWI. Richard Pyves is a published author, Night Madness: A Rear Gunner’s Story of Love, Courage, and Hope in WWII, published by Red Deer Press (ISBN 978-0-88995-464-9).
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