My grandfather at the Battle of Courcelette 100 years ago

I shared a post from the Tank Museum on Facebook the other day about the 100th anniversary of the first battle in WW1 where tanks were used. On 15th September 1916, after two and a half months on the Somme with the initial offensive having cost over 100,000 British lives, the second major Somme offensive began. Eleven British Divisions would advance along an 11km front between the villages of Flers and Coucelette, and two Canadian Divisions would advance with an objective of capturing the village of Courcelette (or what was left of it). It was the first time that the Canadian Corps had fought in the Battle of the Somme which was to grind on for a further two months into November.


My interest in the Battle of Courcelette is that my grandfather, Josué Emile Dorey, was a Corporal in the 27th Battalion, 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Canadian Division, who with the 3rd Canadian Division had been assigned the objective of capturing Courcelette. My grandfather, from a Jersey (St. Martin) farming family, but not the eldest son and therefore not likely to inherit the family farm, had emigrated to Canada before the War and settled in Manitoba near Winnipeg. Like many men of fighting age, who had arrived in Canada from Britain in earlier generations or more recently, he enlisted in the autumn of 1914 into what was to become the Canadian 2nd Division of some 12,000+ men. The 1st Division had been formed immediately after the outbreak of war from the regulars and reserves of the existing Canadian Army.  Although my grandfather enlisted as a Private soldier, having had experience in the Royal Jersey Militia before he left for Canada, he was made a Corporal before leaving on the troop ships for France.

I have visited the Courcelette battlefield with members of our family, traced the steps of the 27th Battalion as they set off on 15th September and stood in the “Sunken Lane”, full of casualties in the battle, where they captured a number of Germans and subsequently sought shelter from German shell and machine gun fire. The Canadian first wave was virtually annihilated and at times the Canadians were pinned down by withering German fire. Unlike the British divisions which had sent in the limited number of tanks in advance of the troops (which had slowed down the advance as the tanks were very slow and many got stuck or broke down), the handful of tanks following the Canadians did prove to be of some assistance in attacking and dispersing pockets of Germans who had pinned down the Canadians ahead of them.  Although the Canadians successfully captured Courcelette on the 15th, the price was that the 27th Battalion suffered heavily with a total of 394 casualties on that first day (72 killed, 250 wounded and 72 missing). A battalion at full strength, including its headquarters, was just over 1000 men.

Since my last post on this subject, I wondered how many Jersey men like my grandfather had joined the Canadian Army or Navy in WW1. Having looked at the Jersey Roll of Service and Jersey Roll of Honour which the Channel Island Great War Study Group ( ) has complied, it would appear that there were about 450 Jersey men in the Canadian forces, about 4.8% of the total number of all Jersey men and women listed as having served in the First World War. About 120 Jersey men in Canadian Forces are listed as having been killed or died as a consequence of the War, which is about 7.1% of the total named in the Roll of Honour. The higher casualty rate perhaps reflects the fact that the Canadian Corps were the “shock troops” often brought into the line to carry out a difficult job. It looks like 13 Jersey men in the Canadian Divisions lost their lives in the Battle of Courcelette and the subsequent battles which form part of the Battle of the Somme which ended in November 1916.

Of my grandfather’s 27th Battalion, three are listed as having come from Jersey including my grandfather. Although Jerseymen in other Canadian battalions were killed at Courcelette on that first day, it seems that the three of them survived to see the further horrors of the War.

My grandfather was promoted in the field to the rank of Sergeant four days after the battle, presumably as many of the senior NCOs had been casualties. Subsequently he was commissioned and was wounded on a number of occasions, before he was awarded the Military Cross at Passchendaele in November 1917. One of my grandfather’s fellow  27th Battalion Jerseymen died of wounds in October 1917 and the other was killed in action at Passchendaele on the same day as my grandfather won his Military Cross. So that left my grandfather as the sole survivor. He was severely wounded in 1918, but he survived the War and then married my grandmother a little later. It is difficult to imagine things happening like that now.

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Marc Yates

Note: I have used the expression “about” when talking about numbers as the Rolls are work in progress and therefore the numbers may ultimately be found to be different once further research is completed.

The photo is of my grandfather as a Lieutenant with his medal ribbons including the Military Cross. He survived the German Occupation of Jersey in WW2 and died in aged 83 in 1974.