Of Somme, Vimy, Pass­chen­daele and more

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - NEWS - GER­ALD LAUZON

Within the con­text of Re­mem­brance Day, this col­umn fea­tures names of places sig­nif­i­cant to the First World War in or near France’s Pas-de-Calais re­gion linked to the city of Calais.

Calais is sit­u­ated at the east­ern end of the wa­ter­way which sep­a­rates north­ern France from south­ern Eng­land. In Bri­tain, the wa­ter­way is called The English Chan­nel; in France, it is La Manche — a term ba­si­cally mean­ing “sleeve” which, from sim­i­lar­ity to such an arm-cov­er­ing (wider along the up­per arm and nar­row­ing at the wrist), was ap­plied to the wa­ter­way for its be­ing wider at the At­lantic end and nar­row­ing be­fore form­ing part of the North Sea where the 33 kms be­tween Calais and Dover of­fer the short­est dis­tance be­tween the two coasts. In Bri­tain, that nar­row­ing is called the Strait of Dover; in France, it is le Pas de Calais (“Pas” here mean­ing “pas­sage”).

At the start of the war, Ger­man forces went through south­ern Bel­gium to at­tack France whose mil­i­tary re­sponded to the threat while their Bri­tish al­lies set up bases across the Chan­nel at Dunkirk, Calais, and Boulogne from where they would con­front the en­emy along the Somme River near the south end of Pas-de-Calais. Brief de­tails and place name back­grounds are noted be­low for three WWI bat­tles.

1. The Bat­tle of the Somme River be­tween mid-July and mid Novem­ber 1916: note­wor­thy for hav­ing the great­est num­ber of ca­su­al­ties for a one-site con­fronta­tion (Al­lies - about 600,000; Ger­mans - about 500,000) which took place along a 26km front from which the Al­lies ad­vanced ap­prox­i­mately 10km un­til the en­emy man­aged to hold their ground. Somme - “Tran­quil” (of Celtic ba­sis for the river’s mostly gen­tle flow), Dunkirk - “Ter­rain of dunes (sand­bars) with a church,” Calais - from an an­cient Celtic tribe called Caleti as “Peo­ple from a wedge or cor­ner of land,” Dover – from Celtic mean­ing “wa­ter,” Boulogne – named to re­flect Italy’s Bologna pre­sum­ably from trav­els of the “Boii” (pro­nounced “Bo-ee-ee”) tribe once rec­og­nized as cat­tle (“bovine”) herders.

2. The Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge be­tween April 9 and 12, 1917: note­wor­thy for the suc­cess mainly in­volv­ing four Cana­dian Di­vi­sions with good plan­ning and work done at night on the ter­rain for favourable day-of-at­tack con­di­tions to dis­lodge the en­emy from an el­e­va­tion with an ad­van­ta­geous view over sur­round­ing ter­ri­tory. “Vimy ” - from an an­cient set­tle­ment called “Viniar­cum” (strate­gic place).

3. Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele Ridge (aka Third Bat­tle of Ypres): a four­month stale­mate across a ter­rain of mud and deep wa­ter­holes with de­ci­sive ac­tion, de­scribed as “the mud­di­est and blood­i­est of the whole war,” oc­cur­ring in late Oc­to­ber 1917 from a se­ries of suc­cess­ful Al­lied as­saults in­volv­ing Cana­di­ans at the cost of 275,000 ca­su­al­ties. Pass­chen­daele – from “Pasco” as a tribal leader’s name with “dale” (val­ley), Ypres – from “Yeper­lee” for a lo­cal river as “near elm trees.”


A hand­out pic­ture from the Royal Air Force Mu­seum shows the wreck of the Ger­man World War II Dornier Do17 plane be­ing raised to the sur­face of a ship at Good­win Sands, Kent, at the mouth of the English Chan­nel (or as it is known in France, La Manche), on June 10, 2013.

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