Over 4,000 Canadian soldiers perished in the Battle of Passchendaele, but a century on, many Canadians don’t even know which war the battle was a part of.
That’s one of the findings of a new Ipsos poll, conducted for the Vimy Foundation, which set out to gauge Canadians’ awareness of two major First World War battles that mark their centenary this year: Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.
For the poll, 1,001 Canadians were given a list of six wars and asked to identify which one was associated with the Battle of Passchendaele, which drew to a close 100 years ago today. Only 35 per cent correctly picked out the First World War.
Eleven per cent chose one of the five wrong options — the War of 1812, Second World War, Korean War, Vietnam War and Afghan War — while just over half of the respondents said they didn’t know.
Millennials (people aged 18 to 34) fared particularly poorly, with only 27 per cent getting it right. That’s just slightly better than pure chance.
However, older respondents didn’t fare spectacularly well either, with 32 per cent of Gen Xers and 44 per cent of baby boomers able to identify that Passchendaele was fought during the First World War.
Canadians were better when it came to their knowledge of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, with 36 per cent of millennials, 46 per cent of Gen Xers and 60 per cent of baby boomers correctly picking the First World War.
WATCH: 100th anniversary of Battle of Passchendaele marked by Canadians
Canadian troops arrived in Passchendaele on Oct. 26, 1917, to relieve the battered Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) forces, who had already been fighting there for nearly three months, according to Veterans Affairs.
On Nov. 6, the Canadian troops and their British counterparts launched an assault to capture the village of Passchendaele. German forces were finally cleared from the area a few days later.
But the victory came at a great cost, with over 4,000 Canadian soldiers losing their lives and nearly 12,000 wounded. Nine Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross for their displays of bravery at Passchendaele.
But the poll suggests Canadians’ collective memory of Passchendaele is in danger of eroding.
“We have a promise that we made 100 years ago after these battles were fought and won that we would never forget, and what some of these findings are showing is that we are starting to forget,” the Vimy Foundation’s executive director Jeremy Diamond told Global News.
“There are no veterans left to tell these stories anymore … we’re now losing our Second World War veterans so quickly, and in 10 years we’re going to be having the same conversation about how important it is to share their stories.”
Diamond says he hopes the ongoing centennial commemorations will help boost knowledge of Passchendaele among Canadians and improve their scores in next year’s edition of the poll.
“We have to figure out new ways to keep the stories alive,” he says.
WATCH: Canadians set to mark 100 years since victory at Passchendaele
Bruce Leeming of Combermere, Ont., is hoping to do just that.
Leeming, whose grandfather fought at Passchendaele before going on to serve during the Second World War, is working on a series of books about the stories of First World War soldiers.
“Most soldiers who saw hell in war did not talk about war at all,” Leeming told Global News from Belgium, where he was preparing to take in the torchlight ceremony at the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial. “But what I have learned for many years from many in my family who served is that war is not the answer.
“Both my grandfathers served and five great-uncles — three killed in action — my father, father-in-law, stepfather and three uncles,” Leeming said. “So I better do something.”