Private, Service Number 730705

Early Life

Herbert Edward Erbach was born April 12th, 1890 in Wilmot Township and at the time of his attestation, he was living in Baden, Ontario. He was the son of William Henry and Charlotte Erbach. His trade was ‘salesman’ and he was not married. When he enlisted at Baden, on the 28th of March, 1916, he was 26 years old, stood 5 feet 9 3/4 inches tall, and registered as Lutheran. His complexion was ‘fair’, his eyes were blue, his hair was brown. He indicated that he had an operation scar for a hernia, but was still declared “fit” to serve in the 111th (South Waterloo) O.S. Battalion, C.E.F. [Overseas Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force]

Early Service

His pay records show that during August 1916, he was absent from duty and was demoted from Provisional Lance Corporal back to Private, and forfeited a day’s pay. I haven’t found when he was promoted provisionally to Lance Corporal.

He embarked at Halifax on September 26, 1916, and sailed on the S.S. Tuscania, arriving at Liverpool, England on October 8th, 1916. That day he was transferred from the 111th to the 17th Reserve Battalion and placed at E. Sandling station. He was officially taken ‘on strength’ with the 17th Battalion the next day, October 9th. For some reason, he was transferred back to the 111th Battalion on October 18th, [This date must be a clerical error as the sequential order of dates is not logical.] while still stationed at E. Sandling. On October 13th [?] he was transferred to the 75th Battalion at W. Sandling station.

He was immediately sent to France and arrived at Havre on December 6th. He left to join his unit on December 7th, and was taken ‘on strength’, and joined his unit on December 12th, 1916 – in the field. [His exact company is not specified, unfortunately]

Combat Service – events prior to his death

Pte. Herbert Erbach was in the 75th Battalion as it moved into position for a coordinated attack of several Battalions at Vimy Ridge. This battle lasted from April 9th to April 12th, 1917. He was killed on the first day of battle, April 9th.

Using Operation Orders and the War Diary of the 75th Battalion I will summarize what was happening in the 75th Battalion in the days leading up to and including the time of Pte. Erbach’s death in the field of battle. The documents are attached below.

The Commanding officer of the 75th Battalion in April 1917 was Lieut. Col. C.B. Worsnop. On April 2nd, the 75th was relieved by the 87th Battalion so that the 75th could get a rest before reforming for battle. [Operation Order No. 38]

On April 5th the Battalion was back on duty at St Lawrence Camp and its orders were given in Operation Order No. 39: The Battalion’s Intention was for “B” Company to proceed to and occupy “Music Hall ” between Wortley and New Boyeau. The rest of the Battalion moved from ST. LAWRENCE HUTS to BERTHONVAL Sector to move into their final assembly trenches. Its route was to travel the Main road to Villers Au Bois, Cabaret trench, Berthonval Wood, Wortley and then to “Music Hall”.

Operation Order #40 outlined the Objective as, “To capture the BEER line establishing strongpoints (2) at the junction of BEANO and BEER and at the junction of BASIN and BEER. Outposts will be pushed out to (2 points) on BANFF Trench, Outposts (2) on BEANO and (1) on BASIN. The Order’s Intention was, “The Brigade will attack on its frontage with two battalions – the 87th on the left and the 102nd on the right. Their particular task being to take and consolidate the line coloured yellow including dotted line. The 75th and 54th will take second objective coloured red. The 75th will keep in connection with the 75th on their left by means of connecting files only.”

Order #40 then describes how the various platoons are to advance as the barrages occur. [Mortars were fired from behind the lines of infantry, over their heads, and onto the enemy lines. The landing spots of the mortars started close to the advancing infantry lines and then moved farther and farther away toward and into the enemy. As the barrage moved farther, infantrymen had to advance with it – not too slowly as the enemy could regroup and not too fast as they would get hit with their own bombs.] In fact Order #40 states, “…each lift will be approximately 100 yards. The waves will keep up as close to the barrage line as possible and immediately behind the 87th Battalion. At 6-7 [barrage lifts] the waves [of infantry] will form from waves to lines of sections in columns and on at 32 to75 [barrage lifts] will again deploy into waves and be prepared to push their attack home.”

Order #40 then describes the Formation. “The 75th Battalion will assemble at rear of 87th Battalion in four waves in assembly trenches and will follow as close as possible to the leading battalion wheeling into line of small columns again deploying in waves during the 43 minutes the barrage is resting. They will follow the barrage immediately it lifts.” The rest of the Order outlines, Strongpoints, Outposts, Aeroplane Contact, Liaison, Equipment, Communication, Evacuations, Headquarters. [Headquarters was to be in TOTTENHAM TUNNEL. (Nice to be safely snuggled underground?)]

The documents called Special Tasks, issued at 6 PM, describes where each Platoon #1 – 15 was to be

Operation Order #41 was issued on April 7th at 5 PM. B Company is already at the MUSIC HALL line and the rest of the Battalion will move to BERTHONAL and be in place for an 11 AM bivouac on April 8th, where they will issued with necessary supplies (bombs, etc.) for operation. At 6 PM a hot meal will be served. At 8 PM on April 8th Companies A, C, D, and HQ will move with 200 yards between companies. On reaching VILLERS-Au-BOIS they will advance by platoons keeping the same 200 yards distance to BERTHONVAL WOOD. “There will be no straggling, and be well under control.” All platoons will be in their assembly trenches by 12 midnight of April 8/9.

Movement: “There must be no movement after earliest dawn. Any movement shows that trenches are heavily manned, and the showing of bayonets, etc., will disclose assembly, and bring down a barrage. All ranks must be thoroughly cautioned that their lives depend on silence and cover.”

The 75th Battalion’s War Diary for April 9th reads, “MN 9th. Everything in position for the attack. Bn. Headquarters in TOTTENHAM TUNNEL. 6 p.m. First wounded commence to come in Dressing Station in TOTTENHAM TUNNEL. A strong Point immediately in front of TOTTENHAM trench and OLD BOOT sap was not mopped up, and caused considerable loss by sniping. At 1 p.m. after a stokes gun barrage, Lieut.BRODIE with a party of 12 men started from a point immediately in front of TOTTENHAM trench to bomb down the enemy line to the right. At about 3 p.m. Lieut. BRODIE reported capture forty prisoners, and the enemy front line clear of germans. A considerable party of the enemy still in trenches, in close support of front line, at this point. At 6:30 p.m. the 85th Battalion, under Lieut. Colonel BORDEN after forming up in the old jumping-off trenches, attacked the strong point from the front. They took about 100 prisoners and going through commenced to consolidate the BASSO line with a few outposts as far as the BEER line.”

The 75th Battalion’s War Diary for April 10th reads, “At 3 a.m. Brigadier-General V.D. Odlum called for Liet. Col. C.B. Worsnop at Bn. H.Q. and went forward to make a personal reconnaissance of the position taken. At 8.30 a.m. they returned having established the outposts line in BEER trench connecting up on the right of the 54th Bn. and on the left with the 47th Bn. At 11.30 a.m. with the exception of a few men to garrison BASSO trench, all men pushed forward to consolidate the BEER trench.”

The 75th Battalion’s War Diary for April 10th lists; the names of 7 officers killed, the names of 4 officers missing, the names of 7 officers wounded. It then has the heading, “OTHER RANKS”. Killed 97, wounded 159, missing 59. Private Herbert Edward Erbach was one of the unnamed “other ranks” killed.

Private Herbert Edward Erbach was killed on the field of battle on April 9th, 1917, and is buried at Canadian Cemetery No. 2, Neuville St. Vaast, France, in Plot 2, Row C, Grave 16.[Headstone #240]