The battle for Passchendaele begins

WWI. German prisoners being marched through the ruins of city of Ypres after the Battle of Menin Road
Image: Everett Collection / Shutterstock

In British popular memory 1917 is dominated by one word – Passchendaele. This Belgian village with its strangely evocative name was the last objective of the Third Battle of Ypres, captured by Canadian troops on 6 November. The name became shorthand for a period of nightmarish combat. The Germans were pushed to breaking point in the course of the battle, in which almost imperceptible rises of ground formed vital objectives that consumed thousands of lives. But the exhaustion of British troops, forced to struggle forward through miles of deep, sucking mud created by early autumn downpours, allowed the Germans to cling on.

The battle begun on this day in history in 1917, and it took more than three months of bloody combat. Spearheaded by the British commander in chief, Sir Douglas Haig, the fighting saw some 310,000 British and 260,000 German casualties, one of the most costly offensives of World War I. The battle, which failed to create any substantial breakthrough or change momentum on the Western Front, has become an epitome of the wasteful and futile nature of trench warfare which saw so many people killed.