Two days after WW1 started Sir Sam Hughes, the Canadian Minster of Militia and Defence called Richard back into active service and rewarded him for past services and heroism with a promotion to Brig. General. He was given command of the 3rd Brigade, a portion of what was then the 1st Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His 2nd in command would be Sir Sam's son... Lt. Colonel Garnet Hughes.
Soon the troops were off to England and wintering there while getting extra training and a general shake-up before heading to France in February 1915. By mid April they would be in Belgium and in the area of Ypres. It would be here that General Turner would face his crucial first test. One not to determine his bravery or ability to command a regiment, but as a commander on the battlefield of a much larger entity of troops. A brigade with several thousand men.
And the test would be a tough one!
The military term salient describes a very dangerous situation where the enemy has a point or intrusion that is in advance of the rest of its troops. In the image to the left the enemy point is near a place called Poelcappelle near the top of the image.
The heavy line is the enemy line, Germans on one side and Allies on the other. If the Allies were to break through the line and positioned themselves around St Julien, to the southwest of Poelcappelle, then picture it. The Allies, now in enemy territory have an enemy on three sides of them.
By closing off the forth side, the Allies are now in a most dangerous situation as the enemy need simply use artillery to continually shell those inside, use their MG nests and infantry and slowing closing the loop till the enemy is destroyed or captured. That is the gist of a Salient.
Over a month there were several battles in the immediate area of this salient.. Just to the left of St Julien is an area of overgrowth known as Kitchener's Wood and in this immediate area it would be two of Turner's regiments that would be ordered to fill a gap some 4 miles long in the allied line. It was gassed surprising the French. Many were instantly killed by the fumes while others had to flea to safety.
The Germans had hauled over 5,730 cylinders of chlorine to the battle field. Each weighing 90 pounds, had to be hauled a further 4 miles to the front. When called for, they had to be opened by hand causing many of the enemy to die from inhalation at the very source. The chlorine gas, was the first faced by the Canadians and the first successful use by the enemy, though not the first use in warfare. It is heavier than air. It would therefore be carried along in the winds and when settling would follow the ground and down into the low points... the trenches. Men therein had to dive out to avoid it.. and in so doing came into the direct line of fire of machine guns waiting for them.
Turner relied on his subordinates to do proper investigation of the area before charging in, but this was not done. When the men charged they were charging into not only gas but machine gun nests less than 200 yards away. By day's end 80% of the 2 regiments were decimated. In the process, reports sent up to Turner's command were erroneous, not detected as such, and forwarded on to Turner's bosses.
Turner was later punished by being pulled from his command. It was hoped at the front that he's end up somewhere on a desk job but this was not to be. He had major pull and support back in Canada, and pressures resulted in his being move to a new command... that of a WHOLE DIVISION... and with yet another promotion to Major General. By June of 1915 Britain would further reward him with the Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). By September he would accompany his new 2nd Division to France.
By early March Turner was ordered back to Belgium with his troops to provide back-up to a British operation about to take place at St Eloi. (Bottom centre of map.) The British had placed over 31,000 pounds of dynamite in tunnels below the German lines and on 26 March they lit the fuse. The blast could be heard in England. Bodies and machinery and area landmarks were all blow about 50 meters in the air. But other tunnels not targeted also had their sides crushed in or destroyed. Drainage ditches throughout the area were destroyed and with one flick of the switch many massive craters were created, and as quickly became filled or waste deep in water and other debris.
But the entire area remained under heavy enemy fire on and off again for several weeks. The geography was so badly rearranged that many...including the commanders below Turner, himself and even his superior were getting confused when talking about actions and one crater that was previously known by another number etc. In fact it was so bad that at one point allies even fired their artillery on their fellow soldiers killing hundreds. All the craters looked alike and many didn't even know anymore exactly WHERE they were.
Weeks would go by and new commanders were sent in to sort out the mess. Turner and his immediate boss and possibly others were pushed aside.
But like recent history for Turner, he would again survive major criticism. Finally given a desk job, he became the commander of all Canadian Forces in Britain. Still later he would be named as the Chief Military Advisor to the Canadian government. Six months later, in June of 1917 Major General Turner was awarded Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St George (KCMG) and the same month was yet again promoted, this time to Lieutenant General.
In mid May 1918 Richard Turner became Chief of General Staff, Overseas Military Forces of Canada. Then would come the Croix de Guerre with Palm and the Legion of Honor from France and finally from Russian Turner was awarded Then Order of the White Eagle with Sword.
After the war General Turner returned to Canada and resumed his business interest, but now at Montreal. He would pass away at age 90... in 1961.
General Turner was born on 25 July 1871. That was 142 years ago last Thursday