The Missing Lost. A 4th CMR Myth?

Back to Regt. History 1916

We dress up statistics to do anything we like, from proving that chocolate is either good or bad for us, to stating that a business is in a seemingly contradictory negative profit situation.

In the course of 4th CMR studies, and largely due to a transcription of the entire Nominal Roll (4,544 men) from the 4th CMR Regimental History onto a spreadsheet, it was easy to see that there was a considerable difference between the actual 4th CMR loss figures of June 2nd, 1916, when compared to those stated in many respected WW1 publications and histories.

Most publications and website references (even this one) rightly point out that June 2nd, 1916, was a black day not only for the 4th CMR, but the 1st and 5th CMRs too. One cannot get away from the fact, when reading the accounts, that the "Battle for Mount Sorrel" was a major incident, with some 5,000 Canadian & British losses and an equal number of German losses over the 14 day battle. Indeed, some have called for it to be called the "3rd Ypres", and the battle currently known as the "3rd Ypres" (Passchendaele) to be changed to the "4th Ypres" (not going happen).

Notwithstanding, one cannot make the figures quoted for 4th CMR losses on June 2nd, 1916, match between the Regimental History's Nominal Roll figures and those stated everywhere else. That the Regimental History has errors is without doubt, but not on the scale to account for this disparity. The History itself quotes "73 men out of 680 answered to their names on June 4th." That does, as the History states, amount to 607 losses, which equates to the "89% casualties" widely quoted in most sources on the subject today.

When one looks at the actual data from the Nominal Roll (and one has to acknowledge that time has now enabled historians to refine figures from the records), 189 men were killed that morning (this figure includes deaths in captivity and up to the end of the action, June 14th), 88 men were wounded, 139 were taken as P.O.W's. With those figures alone, we arrive at an actual loss figure of 416 taken by the action. That is 61% on the basis of the History's 680 men, not 607 men, or 89% losses. Indeed, when taking into account all known 4th CMR burials and commemorations, we can only account for 905 men (or 20% of the final 4,544 who served with the 4th CMR) being lost throughout the entire War.

So what is happening? Are the histories wrong? Well, there would be inaccuracies, but not to this degree. There could be huge problems with the data presented in the Nominal Roll. Errors have been discovered in its pages, but again not anywhere near enough to account for such a glaring difference.

Has a myth been propagated, or is it a question of what figures you are looking at and from what angle? Certainly the latter seems to be the case. One has to remember that in the cold light of analysis today, with the perfect vision hindsight gives us, indeed 73 men may well have responded to their names on June 4th. That can't and won't be disputed. There was ensuing chaos at the time with the battle still raging. Men were scattered all over the immediate countryside in Casualty Clearing Stations, or had been picked up as stragglers by other regiments and had taken unavoidable time to return to their unit. Nobody actually had time to subsequently go back and run the numbers again. The 89% who did not answer to their names on June 4th subsequently became "losses" by death, not by absence, and the figure has subsequently been used down the decades as mortal losses to the regiment.

It is clear then that the term "loss" is key to this matter. It has come to mean death, not absence, and perhaps with that in mind one can read the meaning of the loss figures in a different light.

Numbers produced by the 3rd Canadian Division later in June, 1916, taking into account loss reports from inside and outside the 3rd Division, from the RCR, PPCLI, 1CMR, 2CMR, 4CMR, 5CMR, 5th BN CI, 10th BN CI, 42nd & 49th BNs CI, to name but a few, certainly paint a bleak picture of the overall action known as the "Battle for Mount Sorrel". It is fair to say, however, that no amount of microscopic figure juggling today can take anything away from the fact that there were monumental losses incurred by Canadian, British and German troops over those 14 days, all for less than half a kilometre of Belgian soil. Reasonable estimates settle on there being a total of some 10,000 lost from both sides. Just as an aside, a prestigious Canadian source actually goes as far as stating that the Canadians alone lost nearly 8,500 troops. They state no actual source for this number, and certainly the 3rd Division themselves didn't suggest this figure.

As they say, hats off to them all. A visit to the scene today shows just how strategic the location was. The 4th CMR held the central arena of ground in front of Armagh Wood, near Zillebeke, that the Wüttembergers fought so hard to get, initially won, then lost. Visit it if you can.

Sources used were the 4th CMR Regiment History by S. G. Bennett, The War Diaries, as accessed through the Canadian Library & Archive website (see the Links page), spreadsheet analysis of the Nominal Roll, and the CWGC and MLLP databases.

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