|Pte. Raymond Edward Smith's headstone, Raillencourt Communal Cemetery Extension|
At the time of Raymond’s arrival, the battalion was deployed in the Somme region of France, where it had participated in an attack on the German line on the day following the Canadian Corps’ September 15th capture of Courcelette. In early October, its soldiers took part in an attack on Kenora and Regina Trenches, two well-fortified defensive positions located on Thiepval Ridge. Following its withdrawal from the line on October 10, the unit made its way northward to sectors near Lens, where its soldiers served throughout the winter of 1916-17.
On the morning of April 9, 1917, the RCR was one of three 7th Brigade units participating in the initial attack on Vimy Ridge. During the advance, Raymond was wounded in the right hand and evacuated to hospital at Boulogne, France, on April 11. The following day, he was invalided to England, where he received treatment for a serious wound to his right thumb. Discharged on June 16, he remained at Camp Bramshott throughout the remainder of the summer and early autumn, finally rejoining the RCR at Rely, France, on November 23, 1917.
Raymond thus missed the opportunity to participate in the Canadian Corps’ successful capture of Passchendaele Ridge, Belgium. The RCR served in sectors near Lens, France, throughout the winter of 1917-18. While the battalion and other Canadian Corps units were placed on alert during the German “Spring Offensive” of late March and April 1918, no attack materialized in the Canadian sector and tours quickly returned to normal.
The unit’s personnel enjoyed a break from the forward area during the month of May, retiring to Lières for a period of rest, training and recreation. In late June, the soldiers returned to the Neuville-Vitasse sector, where they served regular tours throughout the following month. In late July, the battalion made its way south to Saleux, near Amiens, and prepared for their first major combat assignment of the year.
Having successfully withstood the German “Spring Offensive,” Allied commanders commenced planning a major counter-offensive, scheduled to occur east of Amiens in mid-summer. On the morning of August 8, the RCR’s 7th Brigade waited in support while the 9th Brigade launched the initial phase of the attack at 4:20 a.m. Four hours later, three 7th Brigade units—the RCR, 42nd and 49th Battalions—passed through their 3rd Division comrades’ lines and continued the advance, securing its objectives by mid-day.
While the RCR’s soldiers remained in the line until mid-month, its most intense combat occurred on the tour’s first day. Several days later, the unit made its way northward, receiving only a brief rest before returning to the trenches on August 25 for its second combat assignment of the month—an attack on German positions east of Arras. The following morning, the unit once again participated in the attack’s second wave. Despite heavy machine gun and rifle fire, its personnel made steady progress into German-held territory throughout the day.
During the ensuing 48 hours, the RCR’s personnel remained in support positions before withdrawing to billets at Arras in the early hours of August 29. Having survived two major battles in less than a month, Raymond enjoyed several days’ rest before marching through Tilloy to the old British line, approximately three kilometres east of Arras. For the next two and a half weeks, he and his mates conducted salvage operations in the area as the RCR rebuilt its ranks.
Following a week’s training at Berneville, the battalion travelled by bus to Bullecourt, west of Cambrai, and prepared for its third major combat assignment—the Canadian Corps’ attack on Canal du Nord, on the outskirts of the strategic city. In the early morning hours of September 28, the unit’s soldiers advanced to Bourlon Wood, captured only hours previously by other Canadian units, and “jumped off” toward the German line south of Raillencourt at 5:30 a.m.
While the battalion encountered heavy machine gun fire along its right flank, it managed to reach its objective—a section of the German front trench—and secured possession of the area shortly after mid-day, pressing forward into the support trenches as the afternoon progressed. Despite suffering considerable losses, the RCR remained in the line throughout the night and was ordered to resume the advance the following morning.
At 5:30 a.m. September 30, the unit’s personnel moved forward and immediately encountered “intense machine gun fire… from both flanks… as well as frontal [fire].” As the day passed, the soldiers twice attempted to push forward, each time being “checked by cross-fire from both flanks.” The RCR maintained its position along a sunken road throughout the night. At 5:00 a.m. October 1, 9th Brigade units passed through its lines and resumed the attack. Later in the day, the battalion’s remaining personnel retired to camp at Quarry Wood.
The RCR’s advance, while less successful than perhaps desired, managed to capture 54 German machine guns, five anti-tank and field guns, and 130 prisoners, and inflicted an estimated 700 casualties on the enemy. The achievements, however, came at a price. Three Officers were killed, a fourth died of wounds, and 16 others—including its Commanding Officer—were wounded. Among its “other ranks” (OR), 31 soldiers were killed, one died of wounds, 185 were wounded and 53 were missing after three days in the line.
Private Raymond Edward Smith was one of the OR lost in the fighting on the outskirts of Cambrai. While initial reports indicated that he had been “wounded in action,” a subsequent entry in his service file, made by the Burial Officer, reads: “Buried. Now reported killed in action 30-9-18.” Raymond was laid to rest in Raillencourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France.
Raymond’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .