This is an extraordinary winter in Canada, where even on the west coast there have been weeks of freezing weather. In Europe, the cold and snow is reaching as far south as the Mediterranean.
One hundred years ago, the winter of 1916-17 was bitter and persistent into the spring. Troops had struggled through the Battle of the Somme. It was a terrible time for the millions of men hunkered down in trenches, dugouts, and–the lucky ones–winter billets.
In “Stand to Your Horses” author Sam Williams describes how the Canadian Cavalry Brigade stood to during the Battle of the Somme but the breakthrough that would allow the cavalry room to attack never occurred. As winter closed in the Canadian cavalry returned to billets in the area of Bethencourt. Some leave was had, with Williams managing three days in Paris.
All was not carefree R and R, however. A “Pioneer Battalion” was detached to work digging trenches and stringing wire. As Williams put it,
“This period was marred by almost constant rains and mud-rain-mud-rain and more mud was our constant situation. The bright spot about it was that the rain soaked ground to a certain extent minimized the dangers from shell fire.”
Soon after came numerous snowstorms and freezing temperatures. As a British NCO described it later, “The coldest winter was 1916-17. The winter was so cold that I felt like crying…”