Follow us:


Monday September 24, 2018


A young man from the Gasp Peninsula witnesses the atrocities of battle.

Arthur-Joseph Lapointe was from the small village of Rivière Blanche in the Gaspé Peninsula. Although Canada's wartime recruitment efforts failed miserably in Quebec, Lapointe decided to sign up to fight in the First World War.

His parents, like many French Canadians, opposed Canada's role in the war and they were against their son's enlistment. Of Lapointe's 10 brothers and sisters, only Alphonse went to the train station to see him off.

"The train will be leaving soon, and I know that I will probably never again see my brother, who stands before me. An officers voice calls out. It is time to leave. My God, what a sacrifice. I never thought it would be so difficult,"

Arthur-Joseph Lapointe joined the Quebec 22nd Regiment in France. The regiment made a name for itself when it captured a German-held town called Courcelette at the bloody battle of the Somme in 1916. A year later, the Regiment, now joined by Lapointe, faced another infamous battle at a small Belgium town of Passchendaele.

Lapointe described the aftermath at Passchendaele.

"Everywhere was an air of desolation. Not a house was to be seen, as far as the horizon. Only the bare, terribly scarred plain, over which a cataclysm seemed to have passed. It was as if life could never return to these killing fields. In a flooded trench, corpses of Germans, their stomachs grotesquely bloated, floated in slushy water. Here and there were bodies buried in the mud with only an arm or a leg showing above the surface. Macabre faces appeared, blackened by their long stay on the ground. Everywhere I looked, all I could see was corpses covered in a shroud of mud." 

The Battle of Passchendaele was one of the worst slaughters of World War I. During the summer and fall of 1917, Allied troops fought through endless rains and across fields of deep mud to capture the small town. Over half a million men were killed or wounded on both sides -, 15,654 were Canadian. Nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to Canadians for exceptional bravery in battle. The morale of the troops was shaken by slaughter at Passchendaele.

Out of two million soldiers, France had close to 40,000 deserters. In the fall of 1917, Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain ordered 49 of them to be executed to set an example. The Canadian force executed 25 soldiers accused of desertion, including five men from Lapointe's regiment. Arthur-Joseph Lapointe described one execution:

"We entered a huge courtyard surrounded by a stone wall. The condemned man appeared all of a sudden in between two policemen. As he walked past us, he threw us such a sad glance that I was moved to tears. He disappeared behind a large taut canvas, which had been thrown up so we could not see him. Beyond this canvas was the firing squad. All of a sudden, we heard the shots of a fusillade ring out. A command was given and we stood at attention. It was a tragic moment, during which military justice had just been satisfied ... Now, we had to march past the victim. A cruel duty had been imposed on us. The entire rearguard marched past the body of the poor wretch bound to his seat. Blood was splashed on his tunic and his head had fallen on his chest. On his face there remained such an air of resignation that it was as if he were still smiling softly in death."

At the end of the war in 1918, Lapointe returned to his Gaspé home. His father and brother, Alphonse, met him at the train station. They told him that two brothers and three sisters had recently died of the flu epidemic that was raging throughout the world.

Lapointe was devastated by the news. "It is not the return home that I had dreamed of.. it seems to me that my life will always be empty now. My God, if it was to know such suffering upon my return why did I not die at the front, killed by a bullet ?"

Source: BBC

Add comment

Security code