Winter 1917 for 161st Battalion

Battalion Events – Winter 1917
The battalion moved from Dibgate to West Sandling and onto Witley Camp in Surrey County, near Milford, England. This is where the 161st Huron Battalion remained. Plans were afoot for establishment of a 5th Canadian Division and this called for a concentration of troops at Witley Camp, Surrey County.

At one point, it was believed that the 161st Hurons would become one of four battalions forming one of three brigades of The 5th Canadian Division. (LWC). That did not come to pass.

The battalion may have remained stationed at Witley Camp, but the men from Huron County, who trained together both in Canada and in England, were moved in small groups to reinforce Canadian battalions at the war front.

When the men of the 161st Battalion landed in England in November 1916, the Canadian infantry were engaged in the Battle of the Somme. The Canadian troops took the Regina Trench on November 11, 1916. The Somme offensive cost the Canadians 25,000 casualties. In total, the Allied force suffered 623,907 casualties. The offensive left the Canadian battalions starving for troops. The 161st Huron Battalion was one of many newly landed battalions feeding the front and its depleted battalions with manpower.

Throughout the winter of 1917, 161st Huron Battalion men were ‘struck off strength,’ a military term for ‘transferred out’ of the Battalion and ‘taken on strength’ by battalion in the battlefield. Training was over and rumours of a spring offensive began to wend its way through the troops.

Start of Official 161st Battalion Diary

The contents of the diary of the 161st Huron Battalion’s activities, which was kept by the head of the Battalion, is available starting in February 1, 1917, courtesy of the Library and Archives of Canada. This diary provides a very basic overview of the 161st Battalion’s daily activities as a reserve battalion.

Official 161st Battalion Diary – February 1, 1917

Location: Witley Camp, North Surrey

8am Strength: 25 officers, 496 other ranks.

Reformed the Battalion from the system used in the Shorncliffe area and which is applicable to Reserve Battalion, to four (4) company basis. Quarters were allotted by Companies and the Cadre of Instructors for the several schools detailed. Schools were formed in Musketry, Drill, Bombing, Engineering and P.T. and B.F. Owing to lack of instructors no Anti-Gas or Lewis Gun training was carried on.

1:30pm Battalion attached to 14th Canadian Infantry Battalion, 5th Canadian Division. Training was carried on under the school system.