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June 06, 2007


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Canadians (along with British of 1st and 3rd Army) went ''over the Top'' at 05:30AM on April 9th, 1917 - the Sun was not up yet, sleet was coming down - definitely not a picture during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

I investigated this picture several years ago, as it was believed to show the ''Van-Doos'', a well-known French-Canadian Regiment going over the top on the Somme. They had taken the small town of Courcelette on Sept 15th 1916 (http://www.somme-1916.com/courcelette.htm) and were launching an attack against Regina Trench at a very odd time: 15:15, October 1st (which makes sense with the photo). My interest rested in the fact that my Grand-father's younger brother received a bullet-wound during that attack - perhaps he was on the picture!

By ordering a copy of the original from the National Archives of Canada, I found out that it was simply ''Canadians soldiers training - Fall 1916''... disappointing but the journey was interesting! No Thumb biting either!

It is part of a series of pictures, some taken from ahead of the soldiers (obviously not possible during real combat situation!) - the Sergeant is not wearing a helmet - some rifles are wrapped with jute around the trigger area - the picture cannot date from earlier in the year as the soldier have Lee-Enfield’s, not the Canadian-made Ross rifle, that got replaced starting in June 1916.

Hope the information helps!

JV - Montreal


I do believe it is his left hand. You can just barely make the outline of his right arm intersecting in front of the rising left hand. The only thing one can conclude from this photo is that we do not have enough information to conclude anything about his pose. He could be thumbing his nose, he could be reacting to gunfire, or he could just be reaching up to adjust his helmet.


simply looks like a hand going up to block the sun or to his helmet to me.


My grandfather was in this picture. My father told me that this picture is a reinactment of going over the top as film back then was not fast enough to capture the action.


It seems very unlikely to me that this soldier thumbed his nose at anyone. I do think it's his left hand up in the air, though.

Terry Cowgill


This is fascinating. Closer examination reveals the soldiers hand looks oddly out of place. The fingers look too thin and the angle unnatural. And what happened to his rifle? Is it falling? I cannot see any indication of his right hand holding it.

The only explanation that makes sense to me is that he has just been surprised (or shot) and has let go of the rifle. His stunned state could explain the unnatural look of his left hand. This is almost bizarre. Thanks for posting it.

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