16th August 1917

In August 1917 the worst place on earth to be a human being was the Ypres Salient. Due to two weeks of rain and many weeks of shelling, the low lying ground east of Ypres had become a morass of porridge-like mud, the with no shelter or protection.

And yet men of the 36th Ulster, 16th Irish and many other units were tasked to advance across this ground and take territory from the defending German army.

One of those men was Sgt John Adams of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers. John Adams was our grandfather.

He was a Lewis gunner, in a team of 5 men supporting a light machine gun, providing much needed mobile firepower. His was an assault role, intended to provide covering fire in support of the advance against concrete strongpoints around Gallipoli Farm.

Harry Patch, the oldest surviving WW1 veteran, also served as a Lewis gunner on 16th August and described his experiences in 2007.

The attack failed miserably. It started at 0445 and by mid-morning the attackers were back where they started. Nick Metcalfe describes the situation in more detail.

‘The Boche had beaten us, and the slaughter terrific.’

The 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers suffered terrible casualties, 20 out of 23 officers were killed or wounded. 60% (421 out of 640) of the men were casualties, with 151 (24%) killed. The battalion only remained because of a merger with the North Irish Horse.

From 100 years distance, it is almost impossible to appreciate the horror of Passchendaele. In wearing a Passchendaele 100 poppy today, I am reflecting on the experiences of my Granda and how it shaped the rest of his life.