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Western Front, 1917.
During the winter of 1916-17 the British took over a further section of the line, principally that which had fallen to the French at the Battle of the Somme. With the completion of this operation the British sector extended from the north of Ypres to the Amiens-Roye road, a distance of about 115 miles. The under mentioned deaths among the staff on service occurred about this time. H. W. Cooper (13th London, Tram.) died on 6th January of wounds received the day before, and F. W. Groombridge (Army Cyclists Corps, Tram.) was killed near Bullecourt on the 26th, Walter Peters (R.A.M.C., Asylums) died of bronchitis at Etaples on the 11th, and Lieut. J. A. Monkhouse (R.A.M.C, Educ.) on the 23rd, of heart trouble following trench fever. During February Frank Bailey (16th Middx., Tram.) was killed near Combles on the 4th, Corporal C. G. Adams (2 /5th London, Pub. Health) died on the 6th of wounds received near Arras on the 2nd, Sergeant S. R. Bencc, M.M. (3rd London, Educ), on the 17th, probably near Neuve Chapelle, C. T. Harris (3rd Coldstream Guards, Parks) on the 22nd near Combles, Lance-Corp. A. R. Hart (7th Middx., Educ.) on the 23rd near Neuve Chapelle, and F. H. H. Taylor (7th Buffs, Educ.) on the 27th. Lieut. J. V. Amos (R.F.A., Parks) died at Bethune on the 13th of illness, and W. J. Power (9th R. Fusiliers, Educ.) on the 17th of appendicitis. Bombadier J. A. George (R.G.A., Asylums), wounded near Arras on 14th February, died in England on 25th January, 1918. G. W. Sapsworth (17th London, Educ.) died at Pope-ringhe on 1st March of wounds received the day before
near Ypres, C. W. Bishop (2nd R. Berks, Tram.) on the 4th near Peronne, Capt. D. F. Goodwin (R.F.A., Arch.) near Rozieres, and H. G. Brice (6th London, Tram.) near Arras on the 7th, E. W. Vince (20th London, Parks) near Dickebusch and C. R. Darkens (13th E. Surrey, Tram.) in the area of the Somme on the 14th, and Ernest Lewis (23rd London, Educ.) near Zillebeke on the 15th.
Capt. A. C. Hancock, M.C., (R.A.M.C, Asylums) was awarded a bar to his M.C. for conspicuous good work in advanced dressing stations, near the Butte de Warlencourt early in 1917, " notably when he successfully conducted evacuation of wounded under heavy shell fire and adverse circumstances. ... By his initiative, personal courage and devotion to duty he was responsible for the able carrying out of wounded through a barrage of shell fire for six days. He was then severely gassed, but persisted in attempting duty until physically incapable."
Fighting in the Valley of the Ancre.
The fighting at the end of 1916 closed with the capture of Beaumont Hamel and Beaucourt in the valley of the Ancre. This advance, if continued, would enable the enemy's strong positions at Serre and Gommecourt, which had repulsed all assaults in 1916, to be attacked in flank or in rear, and it was natural that, in the spring of 1917, the fighting should commence at the same point. During January our position at Beaumont Hamel was extended and consolidated, and on 6th February, Grandcourt, and on the 7th Baillescourt Farm were occupied. A further advance on the 17th up to Petit Miraumont led to the evacuation by the enemy of the defences of Pys, Miraumont and Serre, and on the 25th these places with Warlencourt to the east were occupied. On the 27th Gommecourt fell, followed by Puisieux-au-Mont on the 28th. After a week's delay to enable artillery to be brought up and communications to be put in order, Irles was attacked and captured at dawn on 10th March.
In an attempted advance in February up the valley of the Ancre towards Pys, Capt. J. W. Woods (2nd Yorks L.I., Educ.) " accompanied by six men .. pushed forward in front of his company, thereby effecting the capture of 60 prisoners. Later, he took charge of the right-half battalion and consolidated his position under the most difficult conditions." For this gallantry he was awarded the M.C. For his gallant conduct and devotion to duty on 17th February during operations near Miraumont, Sergeant Thomas Eaves (8th Suff., Tram.) was awarded the M.M.
In this fighting Lieut. L. T. Despicht, M.C. (4th Beds, Educ.) was killed on 11th February, Capt. Leon Simons, M.C, B.Sc. (22nd R. Fusiliers, Educ), Sergeant
Frank Trevett, M.M. (1st Kings Royal Rifles, Tram.), Sergeant E. G. Stanbrough (22nd R. Fusiliers, Arch.) and A. E. Lassetter (nth R. Fusiliers, Educ.) on the 17th in the advance on Miraumont, and Sergeant Frederick Prior (23rd R. Fusiliers, Tram.) on the i8th. Lieut. S. D. Lang, B.A. (2/5th Yorks L.L, Educ), wounded in this neighbourhood on the 20th, died on the 23rd.
For some time it had been suspected that the German withdrawal in the valley of the Ancre would be extended to other parts of their front. A constant watch was maintained, and on 14th March portions of the enemy's lines to the south of Sailly-Saillisel were found to be empty. A general advance between Roye and Arras was ordered for the 17th when Chaulnes and Bapaume were entered; next day Nesle and Peronne fell. The advance continued on succeeding days, but great care had to be exercised so that progress was slow.
It was known that the enemy was falling back upon fortified positions, carefully selected, and possessing ample communications for the movement of troops and supplies. Our men, on the other hand, had to abandon their defences, and to move forward more or less in the open; their communications lay across a desolate region which for four months recently had been the scene of most destructive fighting. Sudden counter-attacks were to be expected at almost any time or any place, and such attacks, if successful, would have far-reaching results. To add to the difficulties, roads and railways had been mined, bridges blown up and stores and farm stocks removed. Shelter of any kind was hard to find, for all buildings, both public and private, including several of great historical or archaeological interest, had been pillaged and destroyed or at least rendered uninhabitable. In some of them, mines with delayed action had been left, which exploded after the arrival of our men and caused many casualties. All this of course was legitimate warfare. Less legitimate, and, indeed, completely opposed to civilised practice, were the poisoning and pollution of wells, which occurred in so many places that the work must have been done under orders. The destruction of the numerous orchards was of no military advantage, but was rather a proof of a petty and spiteful disposition in those who planned the work.
In face of growing resistance the pursuit gradually slackened, and about 8th April our troops were definitely held up on a line which, starting from opposite St Quentin on our right, passed to the east of Epehy, near Havrincourt Wood and Croisilles, to the eastern suburbs of Arras where it joined the original line. The withdrawal extended much farther than this, in fact from Soissons in the south to Arras in the north, a distance of 70 miles, or, allowing for the curves in the line, a battle front of 120 miles. Two-thirds of this was opposite the British, the remainder being opposite the French. The greatest distance through which the line was withdrawn was about 20 miles, this being near Roye; elsewhere, except of course at the extremities, the withdrawal averaged about 15 miles.
Lieut. S. J. F. Philpott, (R.G.A., Educ.) gained the M.C. on 6th April, when a magazine containing cartridges and fuses was set on fire, and the enemy proceeded to shell the spot. With two others he rushed into the blazing mass and extricated boxes of fuses from the fuse store.
Although there was no prolonged resistance during the retreat, there was sharp fighting at various points and Sergeant W. A. Williams (12th Middlx., Stores) was killed on 17th March near Bapaume, H. E. Lawrance (2nd H.A.C., Arch.) near Ecoust St. Mein on the 31st, C, A. Sanderson (R. Inn. Fusiliers, Educ.) on 1st April, George Saunders (8th R. Fusiliers, Tram.) near Arras on the 4th, Corporal W. J. Burford (4th Oxf. and Bucks L J., Educ.) near Ronssoy on the 5th, and Sergeant Bertie Elliott (2/4th Oxford and Bucks L.I., Educ.) near St. Quentin on the 7th.
Battles of Arras, 1917.
For the spring of 1917 the French, now under General Nivelle in succession to General Joffre, had planned in the Champagne area north-west of Rheims an ambitious scheme of attack from which great results were expected. To ensure concerted action the British army was to some extent placed under the orders of General Nivelle, and it was arranged that it should attract the enemy's reserves by opening an offensive to the east of Arras. The enemy had obtained an inkling of what was proposed and the retreat, just referred to, between Soissons and Arras was carried out partly with the intention of dislocating the Allies' plans. Fortunately the withdrawal near Arras was slight and the British plans were hardly interfered with.
Arras, as the principal city in the British sector of the front and also as the French city which, after Rheims, sustained most damage from the war, merits a brief description. It is situated on the river Scarpe, a canalised stream flowing through a marshy valley and from this point eastwards navigable for barges. The surrounding country is much like the Somme country — bare sloping uplands, the chief points in which are Vimy Ridge on the north with a height of 475 feet and Monchy-le-Preux to the south-east with a height of 350 feet. Arras had been an important place for over 2,000 years for, in the time of Julius Caesar, it was the capital of the Atrebates from whom, like the surrounding province of Artois, it derived its name, and in the 6th century it became the seat of a bishopric. After various vicissitudes in the Hundred Years' War between England and France, it passed into the power of the Spaniards but was taken from them by the French in 1640. In the Middle Ages it gave its name of " arras " to the special kind of tapestry for the manufacture of which it was noted.
Overlooked by the enemy from the high ground to the north-east and south-east, and closely hemmed in on three sides by trenches dug through several of the suburbs, it suffered terribly from the war. The early 16th-century Hotel de Ville, regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings in northern France, was completely destroyed. The Grande-Place and the Petite-Place, surrounded by gabled houses dating from the 17th century or earlier, with charming arcades, were wrecked. The cathedral became a roofless ruin, piled with debris to a height of ten or twenty feet. Extensive areas near the station and in the middle of the city were so damaged as to be uninhabitable.
As at the Somme our preparations included the construction of many miles of ordinary and narrow gauge railways, the formation of new roads, the provision of accommodation and water for tens of thousands of troops, and the accumulation of immense quantities of guns, ammunition and supplies. In the chalk under the city were immense catacombs dating from very early times. These were linked up into one system, lit by electricity, and connected with the trenches. A few days before the attack large bodies of troops, brought up to the city under cover of darkness, were concealed in these catacombs with the result that at the opening of the assault the British were in much greater strength than the Germans expected.
The front attacked extended for fifteen miles, from Croisilles in the south to the northern end of the Vimy Ridge. For most of this distance the enemy's defences consisted of three separate trench systems forming a highly organised belt, and to deal with these a heavy bombardment was necessary. This commenced three weeks before the date fixed for the assault and gradually increased in intensity, while from time to time extensive discharges of gas were made. The assault was launched in a storm of sleet and wind at 5.30 on the morning of Easter Monday, 9th April, and, differing from the opening of the Battle of the Somme nine months earlier, was everywhere successful. By 7.20 the first objective had been captured and by noon most of the second, while before the end of the day wide gaps had been forced in the enemy's third system.
Counting from the south, that is from the right of the advance, the troops responsible for these excellent results were the 30th Division at St. Martin-sur-Cojeul, the 56th at Neuville Vitasse, the 14th at Telegraph Hill, the 3rd and the 12th along the Arras-Cambrai road followed by the 37th towards Orange Hill, the 15th at Railway Triangle and Feuchy, the 9th at Blangy followed by the 4th at Fampoux, the 34th at Point du Jour and the 51st further north. Tanks co-operated in the capture of Tilloy and Railway Triangle. The attack on Vimy Ridge was brilliantly carried out by the Canadian Corps of four Canadian divisions.
In spite of heavy falls of snow and rain the success was extended on the 10th by the capture of Orange Hill and the summit of Vimy Ridge, on the 11th by the capture of Monchy and by an attempt on Bulle-court and on the 12th by the capture of Heninel and Wancourt in the south, and two hills known as the Pimple and the Bois-en-Hache in the valley of the Souchez south-west of Lens. During the next few days the enemy vacated many of his trenches to the south, west and north of Lens, and these were promptly occupied.
Altogether the fighting between 9th and 16th April yielded the most important results achieved by us up to that time. The front was advanced an average of four miles on a length of fifteen. The gains included about 8,500 yards, near the Scarpe, of the Hindenburg line, a system of trenches which had been very strongly constructed in positions specially suitable for defence.
Moreover the British position was much improved by the seizure of high ground by which it had previously been dominated. The prisoners numbered 13,000 and over 200 guns were captured.
In the fighting near Gavrelle on the 24th, Corporal A. C. Batchelor (10th R. Fusiliers, Comp.), before communication by signal could be established and when nearly all the officers had become casualties, maintained touch between battalion headquarters and the front line, and in doing so he thrice made his way through very heavy fire and returned with valuable information. For this gallantry he was awarded the M.M.
Those who lost their lives in the first eight days of the battle included Herbert Stagnell (13th Kings Royal Rifles, Stores) killed near Feuchy, G. E, Downham (1st Rifle Brigade., Pub. Cont.) north of Fampoux, Sergeant W. E. Newton (R.G.A., Parks) near Arras, and Lance-Corp. Benjamin Rotenberg (Wilts Yeo., Educ.) on Vimy Ridge, all on 9th April. On the 10th Lance-Corp. A. G. Greenwood (8th Middx., Educ.) was killed to the east of Neuville Vitasse and C. H. Plummer (10th R, Fusiliers, Tram.) near Monchy, and on the 11th Capt. B. T. Bryant (5th Line, Educ). B, A. Savage (11th Middx., Parks.) wounded on the 9th, and A. E. Newton (3rd London, Educ.) on the 12th, died on the 12th and 13th respectively. On the 14th Sergeant A. G. Chick (Educ.) and Corporal C. J. Brunning (Tram.) of the 9th Londons, and James Scowcroft (Educ.) and Lance-Corp. Arthur Bradbury (Solr.) of the 16th Londons, were killed between Heninel and Cherisy.
Continuation of the Battle.
In the ordinary way the battle would now have been broken off and the bulk of our men transferred to the neighbourhood of Ypres in preparation for the fighting which will be described later. The French offensive, however, near Rheims had been held up by the bad weather and it was therefore desirable to continue to engage the enemy at Arras. Accordingly on 23rd April a fresh assault was opened between Croisilles and Gavrelle and also near Lens. The 30th and 50th Divisions advanced near Cherisy, the 15th took, but lost, Guemappe, the 29th advanced to the east of Monchy, the 51st was heavily engaged at Roeux, the 63rd captured Gavrelle, and the 5th was successful in a minor operation south-west of Lens. Guemappe was retaken by us next day
On the 28th the attack was renewed on a front of eight miles north of Monchy, when the 12th Division was successful between Monchy and the Scarpe, the 2nd near Oppy and the Canadians at Arleux. On 3rd May in an attack extending from Bullecourt to Fresnoy ground was gained at each of these places, at the former by the Australians and at the latter by the Canadians. The Australians, being open to attack on three sides, were hard pressed, but in spite of many counter-attacks held their ground for two weeks until the advance of troops on each flank relieved the pressure.
On 5th May the French captured the Chemin-des-Dames, to the east of Soissons, and, General Petain having now succeeded General Nivelle, it was agreed
that the main effort of the British should be shifted from Arras northward to the neighbourhood of Ypres. The attention of the enemy continued to be engaged, but now various feints were employed for the purpose. One of the most amusing consisted of a heavy bombardment of the German lines followed by the appearance in No Man's Land of numerous troops and tanks.
These were all dummies manipulated by ropes but they effectually deceived the enemy, for in a subsequent communique he claimed that the attack had been annihilated. There was still serious fighting, however, and on the 8th our men gained a footing in Bulle-court, but did not capture the whole until ten days later. On the 8th Fresnoy was lost but Roeux and the adjoining chemical works, which had been continually changing hands for over a month, were, between the 12th and the 14th, finally captured and held. Between 20th May and 16th June possession was gradually obtained of a sector of the enemy's line from Bullecourt to the west of Fontaine-lez-Croisilles. On 14th June the crest of Orange Hill to the east of Monchy was captured by a surprise attack. Many fierce counter-attacks followed but, although advanced posts changed hands frequently, the main line, which gave important facilities for observation, remained permanently in our possession.
In the second phase of the battle the line was advanced only about a mile, but 8,000 prisoners were captured, with 57 guns, bringing the total gains up to 21,000 prisoners and 257 guns, in addition to many machine-guns and trench mortars and immense quantities of war material. About twelve miles of the Hindenburg line or of systems allied to it were captured. Our total casualties amounted to 196, 110.
Captain A. C. Hancock, M.C. and bar (R.A.M.C, Asylums) received a second bar to his M.C. when " he established his advanced dressing station in a village, although it was under very heavy shell fire. He attended and evacuated a very large number of wounded, working all night, finally going out himself along the front to see if there were any left." In the fighting at Oppy Lieut, (afterwards Captain) F. G. Bull (23rd R. Fusiliers, Clerk) was awarded a bar to his M.C, " for his conspicuous gallantry ... as battalion signalling officer when, in spite of continuous heavy shelling and constant moves over difficult ground, he maintained communications." Capt. A. A. Riley (7th Middx., Comp.) received the M.C. for his conspicuous gallantry near Monchy on 3rd May when " an assault having failed, and most of his officers being casualties, he collected and re-organised all the men he could find and formed a strong front against counter-attacks by occupying and linking up a line of shell-holes. After his battalion was relieved he remained behind to guide the stretcher-bearers to the wounded, thereby saving many lives." On the same date near the river Cojeul Co. Sergt-Maj. E. J. P. Dainty (2nd London, Educ.) won the D.C.M., " for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in consolidating and defending a position which had become almost untenable through flanking and frontal fire. His total indifference to danger restored the situation at a very critical moment when no officers were on the spot."
The M.M. was awarded to R. Bristow (R.A.M.C, Educ), for attending to wounded men during a four days' continuous attack by the British, to J. Etherington (6th R. W. Rents, Asylums) when " in charge of a bombing section . . , with the help of his comrades he put enemy's machine gun out of action and held the trench until reinforcements arrived," and to Lance-Corp. W. W. Cracknell (1st Bord., Comp.) who, on 19th/20th May at Monchy " carried messages ... all night through the heaviest barrages. At one time, when things were critical, he carried a message through a terrific machine-gun fire and, . . . though wounded, carried on and delivered the message. . . . When his officer was knocked out he acted as N.C.O., and by his great courage, coolness and tireless energy was invaluable to his company commander." Staff-Sergeant D, Keenan (R.A.M.C. Asylums) and Bombr. W. T. Mills (R.F.A., L.F.B.) won the M.M. for gallantry in action.
In the later fighting Corporal H. J. Hollins (9th E. Surr., Tram.) was killed near Lens on 17th April, and William Johnston (R.G.A., Educ.) near Arras on the 19th, W. G. Udall (R.E., Educ.) wounded in this sector on the 20th, died on the 22nd. On the 23rd Lieut. R. D. Wills, M.M. (5th Bord., Arch.), was killed near Wancourt, G. E. F. Gray (19th Manch., Parks) near Monchy, and C. T. Barker (R.N. Div., Parks) near Gavrelle, and on the 24th Victor Williams (2nd R. Fusiliers, Asylums) near Monchy, while on the 28th P. J. Martin (7th R. Fusiliers, Parks) died of wounds received two days before in the Gavrelle sector. On the 29th Lieut. M. E. Wardley (22nd R. Fusiliers, Educ.) and H. R Ponton, A.R.LB.A. (17th R. Fusiliers, Arch.) were killed near Oppy or Gavrelle and on the 30th A. H. Brownsword (R.G.A., Estates and Val.) died of wounds received at Vimy Ridge on the 21st.
On 1st May T. W. Burton (7th E. Surr., Tram.) was killed near Monchy, on the 2nd Percy Chorley (R.E., Educ.) near Guemappe, on the 3rd Corporal
R. R. Summers, B.A. (2nd H.A.C., Educ.) near Bulle-court, Sergeant George Harland (5th London, Educ), Sergeant W. G. White (12th Middx., Trams.) and L. H. Pert (8th Rifle Brigade, Educ), all near Cherisy, T. V. Thorpe (6th Buffs, Educ) near Monchy, Lieut. G. W. Coombes (1st R, Lane, Comp.) and A. S. T. Wright (2nd Essex, Tram.) near Roeux, and Sergeant J. R. Pardew (8th R. Fusiliers, Tram.), J. G. Keyworth (8th E. Surr., Tram.), S. T. Wakeford (9th London, Educ), and H. C. J. Clifton (R.G.A., Pub. Cont.), all in the Arras sector. Corporal A. C. Batchelor, M.M. (10th R. Fusiliers, Comp.) wounded near Gavrelle on 24th April died on 4th May, and C. W. Almeroth (1st R. Berks., Tram.) wounded at Oppy on 29th April died a prisoner of war on 5th May.
E. A. Wright (1st London, Tram.), Lance. -Corp. H. F. C. Jones (2/5th London, Educ.) and A. J. Bain (Stores) and Sergeant S. J. Wale (Educ) both of the 2/6th Londons, were killed near Bullecourt on 13th, 16th and 21st May respectively, and on the i8th Lieut. S. C. Tremeer (7th Beds, Educ.) died of wounds received near Cherisy on the 3rd. On the 20th F. N. Brooker (6th Buffs, Parks) died of wounds received near Arras, Lance-Corp. W. H. Hamer
(2nd R. Fusiliers, Educ.) was killed on the 21st at Monchy, Bomdr. A. C. Colbome (R.F.A., Tram.) on the 24th near Arras, L. J. Friday (R.A.M.C, Asylums) on the 25th, and on the 27th P. T. Williams (12th London, Tram.) died of wounds received the day before. Sergeant T. W. Bedwell (i6th Middx., Tram.) was killed on the 31st.
On 15th June Lieut. S. M. Williams (2/4th London, Educ.) was missing, probably near Bullecourt, on the i6th Frederick Spencley (Ch. Engr.) and Corporal J. L. Hancock (Educ), both of the 2 /2nd Londons, were killed between Croisilles and Ecoust St. Mein, and S. L. Fasham (2 /4th London, Tram.) at Bullecourt, and on the 17th Lance-Corp. Fred Holloway (2/5th London, Educ.) was killed near Bullecourt. Lieut. G. D. Turk (1st Essex, Comp.) died a prisoner of war on the 23rd of wounds received near Monchy on 14th April.
Battle of Messines, 1917.
It has been explained how during the first Battles of Ypres the Germans pressed the British back from the Messines-Wytschaete ridge, the highest ground near the city, and how they were thus able to overlook and, in places, to enfilade the British lines to the south and south-east of Ypres and to the north-east of Armentieres.
The enemy's position here, already of great natural strength, had been so well fortified that it might have been regarded as impregnable. One system of trenches skirted the western foot of the ridge, a second, to the west of Messines and Wytschaete, defended the crest, and a third, to the east of Oost-taverne, protected the eastern part of the ridge. In addition, numerous woods, hamlets and farmhouses had been converted with great skill and industry into strong points which would form centres for rallying or defence.
The usual preparations for bringing forward troops, guns, ammunition and stores were of course much impeded by the fact that the enemy had direct observation over our movements. These labours had also to be supplemented by the construction of a series of mines. In all twenty-four were formed, nineteen of which were used for the assault. The enemy, aware of his danger, tried to avert it by means of counter-mines, and at Hill 60 and the Bluff in particular underground fighting continued for months. In spite of this and of difficulties from springs and streams which were liable to flood the work, over 8,000 yards of gallery were driven and one million pounds of explosive were stored therein.
At 3.10 am. on 7th June the nineteen mines were exploded, one at Spanbroekmolen forming a crater 140 yards across and another, near Hill 60, taking up with it a whole company of Wurtembergers. Simultaneously the final bombardment opened and the attack was launched on a front of ten miles from the north of Ploegsteert Wood to a point just north of Hill 60. The front system offered practically no resistance and by noon the Anzac Corps on the right had captured Messines, the 36th and 16th Divisions had captured Wytschaete, the 41st had reached a formidable position in a sunken road known as the Dammstrasse, and the 47th had fought its way from the Bluff along the Ypres-Comines canal. The infantry made such rapid progress that, over the broken ground, the artillery and tanks could hardly keep pace with them, and when, early in the afternoon, the Oosttaverne line was reached they halted there to enable a new assault to be organised. This was as successful as the former, and by the evening the whole line was in our hands. A violent counter-attack on the 8th was repulsed at all points. The progress on the right caused the Germans to the north of the river Lys to vacate their trenches which were promptly occupied. Also on the 14th we made a slight advance along most of the line reached on the 7th, but thereafter no further efforts were made to exploit the success.
By this victory a standing menace to two sections of our line was removed, the enemy was deprived of a commanding position on the defence of which he had lavished much skill and labour, his lines were pierced to a depth in some parts of three miles, and in addition to many killed and wounded he lost 7,200 prisoners. Much material and stores, including 67 guns, were captured. Our total casualties were about 16,000.
The effect of the initial success was not marred, as at the Somme, at Arras, and later in the year at Passchendaele, by long and costly attempts to carry on the action without effective artillery preparation and ample supplies of all kinds. Mr. John Buchan in his History (vol. xx. p. 71) says of this brilliant engagement that it will rank " with Nivelle's two victories at Verdun, in the winter of 1916, as a perfect instance of the success of the limited objective."
Lieut. W. J. Field (1st R. Fusiliers, Educ.) in the attack on the 7th opposite the Dammstrasse "... showed great promptness and good leadership in capturing two machine-guns. . . . He also captured many prisoners and by his determination and resource many casualties were avoided." He was awarded the M.C. G. F. Bell (14th Northumberland Fusiliers, Asylums) received the M.M. for bravery under heavy fire when, though wounded, he brought in a wounded officer and kept up constant communications for three days and two nights.
On the 7th, the opening day of the battle, the Council lost only two of its staff, Harry Amos (Tramways) and H. S. Zoller (Education), both of the 21st Londons, who were killed in the advance along the Ypres-Comines canal. Lieut. E. N. Makeham (13th Middx., Clerk) who was wounded and missing on the 10th, died a prisoner of war on an unknown date. Sergeant J. E. Hughes (12th R. Fusiliers, Pub. H.) was killed, probably in this part, on the 16th, as his division, the 24th, was in reserve behind St. Eloi on the 9th.
The following incident is worthy of mention. Towards the end of June, in preparation for the third Battle of Ypres, the British took over from the French a short sector of the front extending from the Belgian coast to the south of Nieuport. The part near the coast was defended by breastworks in the sand dunes, and, being intersected by several canals and approached from the rear only by floating bridges, did not form a satisfactory position. The enemy, realising this and suspecting an attack along the coast, took the initiative, and on 10th July opened an intense bombardment which flattened out the breastworks and destroyed all the bridges. It is said that as many as 182 batteries were available for this, while only 13 were ready for the defence,- An attack in great strength then followed which so completely overwhelmed the 1st Northamptons and the 2nd Kings Royal Rifles, which were holding the line, that out of the two battallions, numbering perhaps from 1,200 to 1,500 men, only 74 escaped by swimming the Yser in rear.
H. H. Chaplin (Kings Royal Rifles, Asylums) was awarded the M.M. for bravery shown in this engagement.
Battles of Ypres, 1917.
It will be remembered that in the first Battle of Ypres the enemy captured ground to the south of the city, and, in the second ground to the north and east which completely commanded the defences. The enemy was superior in numbers and in gun-power and, as it was not possible to regain the lost positions, it was suggested more than once that the place should be abandoned, and that a new line which could be defended more easily and with fewer losses should be taken up on higher ground to the west. This was not agreed to and so, for well over two years, our men continued, at the price of heavy casualties, to hold on to their inferior positions. Early in 1917 it was decided to commence operations in the summer for freeing the salient and for dealing with the submarine peril by capturing the Passchendaele ridge from which long range guns could fire upon the enemy's submarine bases at Bruges, Zeebrugge and Ostend. This plan had to be subordinated to the French offensive, and to meet their wishes the fighting at Arras was prolonged into the early part of the summer. As it was not possible for our forces to conduct at the same time two offensives on a large scale, this led to the work at Ypres being postponed. However, in June, the fighting at Arras died down and by the capture of the Messines ridge the way was, to some extent, cleared for the proposed attack further north. The preparations for this were more than usually difficult, for, as the commander-in-chief wrote in his despatch, "on no previous occasion . . . had the whole of the ground from which we had to attack been so completely exposed to the enemy's observation."
All preliminaries having been at length completed, the opening of the attack was fixed for 25th July, but a few days before that date the Germans withdrew many of their batteries to safer positions. The attack was therefore postponed while these new positions were being identified by the airmen and dealt with by the artillery, and a succession of cloudy days led to a further postponement until the 31st, On the 27th the enemy's trenches near the Yser canal were found to be empty, so that this formidable obstacle was at once crossed and the position occupied by the French to the north of Boesinghe and by the Guards Division to the east.
The main battle may be conveniently divided into five phases corresponding with our chief attacks as follows: (i) 31st July to 15th August, (2) 16th August to 19th September, (3) 20th September to 3rd October, (4) 4th to 25th October, and (5) 26th October to the early part of November.
First Phase, 31st July to 15th August.
The battle opened on 31st July with an attack on a front of fifteen miles between the river Lys to the south and Steenstraat on the north, the main attack being directed upon the sector, seven and a half miles wide, from the Zillebeke-Zandvoorde road to Boesinghe.
On the right, where the attack was not pressed, only the enemy's front line was captured, but on the northern half of the advance both his first and second systems were taken. In detail, the 24th Division captured part of Shrewsbury Forest, the 30th Sanctuary Wood, the 8th Hooge and Bellewaarde ridge, the 15th Frezenberg, the 55th and 39th St. Julien, the 51st land to the north-west of that village, and the 38th Pilckem.
Two French divisions on our left were equally successful, advancing to the Steenbeek and capturing Bixschoote, and all these gains were held against numerous counter-attacks. Our men took over 6,000 prisoners and 25 guns.
During the afternoon rain began to fall and continued with hardly a break for four days. This put an end to all reconnaissance by aeroplane, and it also turned the low-lying shell-torn area over which we had just advanced into a morass. Movement through this was possible only along well-defined tracks which soon became marks for the enemy artillery. On the enemy's side the ground was as yet comparatively undamaged, and he was therefore able with comparative freedom to re-organise his defences, and to bring up reinforcements and supplies.
During the preliminary operations Corp. A. G. Buck (R.F.A., Ch. Engr.) won the M.M., for conspicuous gallantry near Armentieres on 28th/29th July, when at great personal risk, and although suffering from the effects of gas, he remained at work repairing telephone lines which were repeatedly cut by shell fire. Sergeant J. Orrin (R.E., Housing) gained the M.M. on 30th/31st July, when an emplacement for firing projectors for oil bombs was heavily shelled. Although the officer in charge was killed, Sergeant Orrin carried on with his work, and by his bravery and example encouraged all other ranks who were engaged with him. On many previous occasions he had performed excellent service under adverse conditions.
On 31st July A. I. Brown (18th Kings Royal Rifles. Tram.) was killed near Hollebeke, Lieut. W. J. Field, M.C. (1st R. Fusiliers, Educ.) near Clonmel Copse to the north of Shrewsbury Forest, Co. Sergeant-Maj. PL P. McAlister (2nd Rifle Brigade, Educ.) near Verlorenhoek, and Lance-Corp. J. L Cohen (2nd Wilts., Educ.) and W. B. Lewis (12th R. Fusiliers, Tram.) at places unknown. M. W. Churchill (12th R. Fusiliers, Tram.) was killed between 31st July -and 3rd August, George Penfold (R.G.A., Asylums) was killed near Zillebeke on 4th August, Lance-Corp. A. E. Bennett (12th E. Surrey, Asylums) on the 5th, John White (R. Irish Rif., Ch. Engr.) near Frezenberg on the 6th, Victor Bown (R.F.A., Asylums) on the loth, and Corporal J. F. Patterson (M.G.C., Tram.) near Zillebeke on the 14th. W. J. Colverd (R.F.A., Tram.) died on the 16th of wounds received the day before. W. E. Goddard (R.F.A., Tram.) died on the 29th of wounds received on the 5th.
Second Phase, 16th August to 19th September.
On 16th August the attack was resumed on a line forming roughly a quadrant of a circle from the Menin road round through St. Julien to the French north-west of Langemarck. The enemy in the southern part of this sector had adopted a new method of defence, and, instead of manning a series of trenches, he divided his troops among numerous " pill-boxes " very strongly built of reinforced concrete. These were distributed in depth and, being stoutly defended with machine-guns, formed a serious obstacle. From the Menin road through Frezenberg to St. Julien little progress was made by the 8th and 56th Divisions, but to the north-west of the latter village we were more successful, the 11th and 48th Divisions getting a footing in the third trench system, and the 20th and 29th Divisions capturing Wijdendrift and Lange-marck. On our left the French were also successful as far north as Drie Grachten. Thirty guns were taken and over 2,100 prisoners. The weather again broke up and, as no big attack was practicable in so water-logged a country, the rest of the month was devoted to local operations against various strong points.
Lieut. H. W. Fisher (R.F.A., Educ.) won the M.C. near Polygon Wood on 17th August when "he was in charge of an observation party attached to an assaulting battalion. He followed the infantry closely in the attack, and twice went to the most forward position under heavy fire and brought back information of the utmost value." Co, Sergeant-Maj. J. C. Cairns (Oxford and Bucks L.I., Educ.) was awarded the D.C.M. on 22nd August and Co. Sergeant-Maj. W. A. Humphreys (R.E., Educ.) the M.M. about this time, but no details are available. In the fighting at Westhoek the latter gained a bar to his M.M.
The 16th of August was a day of heavy casualties among the staff. W. J. Relf (1st R. Dub. Fusiliers, Tram.) F. C. Brook (8th R. Dub. Fusiliers, Asylums) Sergeant E. C. Brown (R.H.A., Parks) and Corp. G. A. J. Clarkson (7th Yorks L.L, Tram.) were killed in the salient at various places unknown, Sergeant Ernest Swanson (5th London, Educ.) at Glencorse Wood, C. P. Norby (13th R. Irish Rif., Tram.), G. K. Lenney (13th R. Irish Rif., Parks) and Lance-Corp. H. W. Baker (12th R. Irish Rif., Parks) at the Frezenberg ridge, Alfred Chaney (2nd R. Dub. Fusiliers, Parks) at the Hannebeek and A. J. Madden (8th Northd. Fusiliers, Tram.) and W. J. Skipp (8th Northd. Fusiliers, Tram.) between St. JuHen and Poelcappelle.
H. T. J. Kenyon (R.A.M.C, Educ.) was killed on the 17th, F. T. Townsend (2nd Middx., Asylums) wounded that day near the Hannebeek, died on the 18th, Corp. George Brooker (20th London, Educ.) on the night of 20th/21st, Lieut. Wilham Hornsby (6th Somers. L.I., Educ.) at Glencorse Wood on the 21st, Patrick Fitzgerald (7th Worc, Asylums) on the 26th. W. J. Potter (18th Kings Royal Rifles, Educ.) was killed on 19th September near Shrewsbury Forest.
Third Phase, 20th September to 3rd October.
Early in September the weather improved and enabled the artillery and other preparations for another attack to proceed. This was launched, after a night of rain, in a mist on the morning of 20th September on a front of eight miles between the Comines canal on the south and the Ypres-Staden railway on the north. Few points which can be identified on a sketch map were included in the objectives, so here it must suffice to say that at all parts the advance to an average depth of 1,000 yards was successful, the victorious divisions, counting from the south, being the 19th, 39th, 4th and 23rd between the canal and the Menin road, the Australian Corps between the Menin road and the Ypres-Roulers railway (in which sector they captured Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood and gained a footing in Polygon Wood) and the 9th, 55th, 58th, 51st, and 20th between the Ypres-Roulers and Ypres-Staden railways.
The high ground, crossed by the Menin road, which had so long formed the object of very fierce fighting now passed into our possession. In addition, over 3,000 prisoners and a number of guns were taken. Numerous counter-attacks followed which, though gaining local successes, were eventually beaten off.
On the 26th the advance was resumed on a front of six miles from the Menin road northwards to the north-east of St. Julien. The Australians captured Polygon Wood, the 3rd Division Zonnebeke and the 59th and 58th Divisions a series of positions to the east and north-east of St. Juhen. The prisoners numbered 1,600.
Lieut, (afterwards Capt.) R. A. Nicholl (R.E., Educ.) was awarded the M.C. about this time for his gallantry in laying " a pipe-line forward under incessant shell fire. It was due to his energy and encouragement that the Hue was completed in time for operations."
O.M. and Hon. Lt. F. Poole (R.A.M.C, Asylums) won the M.C. " He remained at the advanced collecting station for several days organising the rationing of the wounded, and daily visited the relay posts and regimental aid posts. During heavy shelling he helped to withdraw the wounded, and lives were saved by his action and example." Sergeant E. A. Rose (R.E., Educ.) was awarded the D.C.M. for exceptional gallantry and devotion to duty between March and September. " On September 18th and 19th he worked day and night under incessant fire to put through a buried cable route to the front line."
On 20th September Lieut. H. P. Oates (5th King's Liverpool, Educ.) and T. H. Tigg (R.A.M.C, Tram.) were killed near the Menin road, Co. Sergt-Maj. W. H. Carr (2/6th London, Educ.) near St. Julien and F. W. A. Smith (12th R. Suss., Educ.) at some place unknown, Co. Sgt.-Maj. L. Dimond (2 /5th London, Educ), wounded near St. Julien, and Lieut. S. P. Siebert (16th Rifle Brigade, Educ), wounded near the Menin road, died on the 21st, and on the same day were killed Charles Miller (12th E. Surrey, Tram.), Lance-Corp. L. H. Hymans (13th London, Educ.) and Sergeant T. W. Turner (R.F.A., Tram.). Lieut. E. T. Winbush, B.Sc (R.F.A., Educ), was killed on the 24th east of Zillebeke, H. G. Joyce (1st R.W. Surrey, Asylums), on the 25th near the Menin road. On the 26th Lieut. H, C. Hattam, F.R.H.S. (4th Suffolk, Educ). was killed near Inverness Copse, and Harry Birch (14th Hampshire, Asylums) near the Menin road, Lance-Corp. S. E. Helyar (2 /6th S. Staffs, Educ.) on the 27th near Polygon Wood and Lieut. James Wrigley (R.G.A., Educ.) on the 29th. F. W. Kceler (13th Kings Royal Rifles, Tram.) was killed on 1st October near the Menin road, and on the 2nd, Corp. E. R. Jolly (4th E. Surrey, Educ.) near Polygon Wood and Lieut. D. J. Wilhams (M.G.C., Educ.) near Polderhoek.
Fourth Phase, 4th to 25th October.
The weather had now cleared again and it was decided to make a further advance between the Menin road and the Ypres-Staden railway. Before the advance began, however, the weather broke once more, and on the night of the 3rd/4th the troops assembled for the assault in a storm of wind and rain. Not-withstanding these conditions the attack next morning was successful, the 5th Division capturing Polderhoek, the 21st Reutel, the Australians Broodseinde, the New Zealanders Gravenstafel, and the 11th and 4th parts of Poelcappelle. The prisoners amounted to more than 5,000 and, as the enemy was preparing an attack and had moved up large forces into the battle area, great numbers of his troops came under our fire and suffered heavy casualties; in fact, Ludendorff speaks of the German losses as " enormous."
Rain continued to fall for several days, but on the 9th the assault was resumed, the right flank of the advance being at Zonnebeke, The Australians and some English troops made progress towards Passchendaele, the 11th Division at Poelcappelle and the 4th and 29th along the Ypres-Staden railway, while the Guards reached the southern outskirts of Houthulst Forest. Persistent rain put an end to further operations except for slight advances on very Hmited frontages.
On 22nd October the 18th and 34th Divisions gained important posts east of Poelcappelle and the 35th with the French secured a footing in Houthulst Forest.
During this fighting the M.M. was won by H. Johnston (Beds, Asylums) at Hooge, and by Sergt, J. A. Lingwood (H.A.C., L.F.B.) but no details are available.
On 4th October, Co. Sergeant-Maj. H. C. Robson (3/4th R.W. Surr., Educ.) was killed near Brood-seinde and Capt. A. C. Dancer, M.C. (5th Dorset, Educ.) near Poelcappelle, on the 5th Co. Sergeant-Maj. H. S. Hodges (3/10th Middx., Educ.) near Poel-cappelle, on the 7th Lieut. C. J. Chamberlain (1st Rif. Bde,, Educ.) near Poelcappelle, on the 9th J. G. Davis (2nd Irish Gds., Educ.) and Lieut. Cecil Prophet (2/5th E, Lanes, Compr.), on the 10th Lance-Corp. George Ayles (M.G.C., Educ.) and Arthur Vale (R.F.A., Tram.), on the 12th Sergeant Thomas Eaves, M.M., (8th Suff., Tram.) north of Poelcappelle, on the 14th Sergeant James Wynn (R.F.A., Tram.) and Bombr. G. W. Key (R.F.A., Asylums), on the 15th Co. Q.M.S. E. R, Johnson (7th Kings Royal Rifles, Asylums) and Harry Parks (2nd Grenadier Guards, Tram.) near Houthulst Forest. C. J. Lee (8th Manchester, Asylums), wounded on the 10th, and J. J. Gihoy (R.A.M.C, Tram.), wounded on the 14th, both died on the 19th. Edward Cox (R.F.A., Parks) was killed on the 21st, George Gaunt (R.E., Asylums) near Zillebeke on the 23rd, and William Clark (R.F.A., Ch. Engr.) on the 24th.
Fifth Phase, 26th October to early November.
Words are hardly adequate to describe the state of the battlefield at this time. The continual shell fire and the almost continual rain had reduced the country for several miles on our side of the line to one immense swamp. Only the lips of the craters divided one shell hole from another, and all were filled with mud. In many places, where peaceful agriculture had flourished for centuries, there remained not one sign of the useful activities of mankind; not a vestige could be seen of crops or of orchards or of pasture lands ; houses and villages had been entirely blotted out; roads could be traced only by the stumps of trees which once had formed pleasant avenues along their sides; the woods had been levelled and the fragments of their trees used for gun-pits or to form tracks across the waste. Away from the roads and the duck-board tracks movement was hardly possible. At each step men sank to the knee or the thigh, not a few stumbled into the shell holes and, encumbered with their rifle, ammunition and equipment, were drowned. Scores of tanks were engulfed in the mud.
In such conditions it is not surprising that the word Passchendaele came to be used by many, and these were not all civilians, as a symbol of waste and useless suffering. But in battles and campaigns, as in all other human affairs, it is not always the immediate object which must be regarded, and in the Passchendaele operations other considerations, several of which could not then be made public, had to be taken into account. In the main these centred in the fact that it was essential for the Allies to maintain the initiative and at all costs to prevent the enemy from moving troops to other fronts. The other Allies were faced with important crises, and could not give much assistance. The failure of the French offensive in Champagne was succeeded in May and June by serious mutinies in their army. This, in the opinion of Gen. Gouraud, was the most critical period of the war. 2 The Russian revolution in March was followed by the rapid decay of discipline, so that by July the Russian armies had ceased to be a fighting force. In the latter part of October the Italians were defeated at Caporetto with the loss of 200,000 prisoners and 2,000 guns. The Americans who had entered the war in April, 1917, were still training the troops who were to fight for them. Of all the Allies, therefore, only the British were capable at the time of engaging the enemy's attention, and it was specially necessary for them to do this because plans were afoot for the surprise attack at Cambrai from which great results were expected.
The battle therefore had to proceed, and on 26th October, in a downpour of rain which lasted all day, the Canadians advanced along the Ravebeek towards Passchendaele. On their left the R. Naval and the 58th Divisions were successful to the east and north of Poelcappelle. The 5th and 7th Divisions captured Gheluvelt which had been lost three years before, but their rifles, choked with mud during the advance, were useless and they had to withdraw. On the 30th the attack was continued, when the Canadians reached the outskirts of Passchendaele and the R. Naval and 58th Divisions made what little progress was possible across the swamps on the lower ground to the north-west. On 6th November the Canadians rushed the village and high ground to the north and north-west, and on the 10th, having consolidated their gains, made a further advance to the north.
The capture of this high ground marks the close of the battle which, except for the short intervals enforced by the weather or by the need of preparing for the separate phases of the attack, had been carried on continuously for more than three months. In this gigantic conflict some 45 British divisions " by the exercise," in the words of the commander-in-chief, " of courage, determination and endurance to a degree which has never been surpassed in war," defeated 78 German divisions with the loss of 24,065 prisoners, 74 guns and over 1,000 machine-guns, etc.
On a front of ten miles and in face of every kind of difficulty they advanced to a depth varying from one to nearly six miles, and by wresting from the enemy practically all the high land near the city freed our communications through Ypres from the dangers which had so long threatened them. But these gains were made at a terrible cost, for our casualties, including the comparatively slight losses at Cambrai, are said to have been 454,463.
Capt. P. F. Watts (4th Beds, Educ.) was awarded the M.C. for conspicuous gallantry in the advance on Passchendaele on 30th October when he re-organised and consolidated a line of posts after all other officers in his sector had become casualties. Petty Officer W. Jarman (R. Nav. Div., Ch. Engr.) was awarded the M.M. for his gallantry in the same neighbourhood, when during a heavy counter-attack he defended with a machine-gun a trench which had been abandoned by other troops. Lance-Corp. T. J. Gunter (RE., Oxf. and Bucks L.I., Educ.) won the M.M. for his gallantry in action at Houthulst Forest during the early part of November, and Sergeant H. E. Hayward (R.F.A., Asylums) for bravery in action in front of Ypres.
Lieut. W. J. Reed (8th Devons, Educ), wounded near Gheluvelt on 26th October, died two days later as a prisoner of war, W. D. Shea (2/28th London, Educ.) and H. N Field (4th Beds, Arch.) were killed on the 30th near Passchendaele, and Provost-Sergeant W. J. Laird in the same neighbourhood on 4th November, J. H. Counter, M.M. (1st Devons, Ch. Engr.), near Polderhoek on the 6th, and Bombr. Henry Lilburn (R.F.A., Tram.) near Passchendaele on the 8th.
In the Battle of Arras and in the fighting which followed it much ground was gained near Lens. Towards the middle of August, in order to prevent the enemy from concentrating all his attention on resisting our advance from Ypres, the assault was renewed to the north-west of the town. On the 15th the Canadians, attacking on a front of about 2 1/2 miles, captured Hill 70, which had been won but lost again in the Battle of Loos, the mining suburbs of Cite Ste. Elizabeth, Cite St. Emile and Cite St. Laurent, the whole of Bois Rase and the western half of Bois Hugo which had also figured in the earlier battle. Six days later they closed in upon the town from the west and south west.
Battle of Cambrai.
It was well known that, in order to withstand the advance at Ypres, the enemy had withdrawn troops from other portions of the front, and a surprise attack was therefore planned on a part of the defences thus weakened. The sector near Cambrai, where several important roads and railways converged, was selected for the attempt. In order to increase the surprise, it was decided not to prelude the attack by a long bombardment, but to rely upon tanks for smashing the enemy's wire and for dealing with his strong posts and machine-guns. Our line here, opposite the Hindenburg line, ran, roughly, south-east and north-west. Facing it across a slight dip was the Flesquieres ridge defended by the Hindenburg support line, and behind that again was another dip, the high ground on the further side of which was crowned by Bourlon Wood.
Some 400 tanks were assembled with great secrecy just behind the line between Gonnelieu and Hermies, chiefly in Havrincourt Wood, and at 6.20 on the morning of 20th November the attack was opened. Although there was no rain the sky was cloudy, and the enemy's chances of observation were diminished by the smoke barrage which preceded the tanks. At the same time, to add to his confusion and to prevent him from moving reinforcements to the part actually threatened, subsidiary attacks were launched east of Epehy and between Bullecourt and Fontaine - lez - Croisilles and demonstrations were made with smoke, gas and artillery on most of the British front south of the Scarpe. Of these subsidiary attacks it will be sufficient to say that at Bullecourt the 3rd and 16th Divisions captured and held a very strong sector of trenches, and took 700 prisoners.
The main attack on a front of six miles was brilliantly successful. The 12th Division, on the right, moving along the Bonavis ridge, captured Lateau Wood, the 20th La Vacquerie and Welsh Ridge, the 6th Ribecourt, the 51st pushed forward as far as Flesquieres, the 62nd captured Havrincourt, Graincourt and Anneux and the 36th trenches to the west of the Canal du Nord. The 51st Division was held up at Flesquieres, where a number of tanks were knocked out, as mentioned by the commander-in-chief, " by a German artillery officer who, remaining alone at his battery, served a field-gun single-handed until killed at his gun." The 29th Division passing between the 20th and 6th Divisions, seized Masnieres and Marcoing, thus securing bridgeheads over the Canal de I'Escaut (Scheldt Canal), which in this part formed the chief defence of Cambrai. At Masnieres the bridge had been damaged and unfortunately it broke down under the weight of the first tank which attempted to cross it.
This left only one bridge for the advancing troops and the accident, with the check at Flesquieres, went far towards limiting the success of the day's fighting. Early on the 21st Flesquieres fell, the 51st Division pressing forward reached the southern outskirts of Bourlon Wood and, with the help of other troops, captured Cantaing and Fontaine-notre-Dame. The latter was lost next day, but as some set-off the 56th Division stormed a strong point known as Tadpole Copse, on the left of our advance.
Owing to the comparatively few troops available it was originally proposed not to continue the advance after forty-eight hours, but when that period had elapsed the enemy was still holding Fontaine and Bourlon Wood. As these completely commanded our position north of Flesquieres it was essential either that they should be stormed or that, giving up some of our gains, we should retire to the Flesquieres ridge.
The capture of Bourlon Wood would seriously threaten the enemy's line to the north if, indeed, it did not make it quite untenable, and with so great a prize within reach it was decided to press on. On the 23rd therefore the 51st Division made another attempt, which eventually failed, on Fontaine, while the 40th captured Bourlon Wood and part of the village beyond. During the next few days these two villages changed hands several times, but by about the 30th the enemy appeared to have a firm hold of the villages while we had an equally firm hold of the wood.
By that date the ten days' fighting had yielded 10,500 prisoners, half of whom were taken on the first day, 142 guns and over 400 machine-guns, etc., with great quantities of ammunition, stores and material. The enemy's elaborate trenches were penetrated to a depth of 4 1/2 miles, as great a distance as was gained in more than three months' fighting on the Somme or at Ypres.
Towards the end of November it was clear that the enemy intended to counter-attack on an ambitious scale. This opened on the 30th, the main attack being from the north between Bourlon Wood and Tadpole Copse, but it was preceded by a subsidiary attack westwards upon our line to the south of Masnieres.
The hollows and folds usual in chalk country enabled the enemy, assisted by a ground mist, to assemble, without attracting notice, large bodies of infantry. After a short bombardment, numbers of low-flying aeroplanes rained machine-gun fire upon our trenches, and immediately afterwards the attack was launched. The left of the 55th Division was driven in and the enemy, making great progress up 22 Ravine and across the northern end of Bonavis Ridge, was able to take the 12th and 20th Divisions in flank and rear. Villers Guislain, Gonnelieu and Bonavis soon fell, and the enemy even reached Gouzeaucourt, but was gallantly driven out by the Guards Division which, on its way to rest billets after heavy fighting at Fontaine and Bourlon, was hurried into the conflict.
In the main assault further north the 29th Division at Masnieres, the 47th at Fontaine, the 2nd at Bourlon, and the 56th at Moeuvres and Tadpole Copse beat off numerous attacks with very heavy losses. Here and there posts were overwhelmed or driven back by superior numbers, but any important points were regained by counter-attacks and the line was everywhere maintained.
On 1st December the Guards retook Gonnelieu and Gauche Wood and even reached Villers Guislain, but next day our troops were forced out of Gonnelieu,
During these two days many attacks in this sector and in the Bourlon sector were driven off, but on the 3rd the Germans succeeded in capturing La Vacquerie.
Owing to the Germans' success at Villers Guislain our position at Masnieres and Bourlon now formed a dangerous salient. Troops were not available for another offensive on a large scale, and it was therefore decided to contract the line by withdrawing to the northern slopes of the Flesquieres ridge and to make the necessary adjustments further south. The withdrawal was commenced on the night of 4th /5th December and was completed by the 7th without molestation. The net result of the fighting since 20th November was an advance of about 2 1/2 miles and the capture in addition to the prisoners, guns, material, etc., already mentioned, of 12,000 yards of the enemy's front line, a rather shorter length of the Hindenburg and Hindenburg support lines and the villages of Ribecourt, Flesquieres and Havrincourt.
On the other hand we lost an unimportant section of line near Gonnelieu with 6,000 prisoners and 100 guns.
On 30th November J. C. Buckley (R.A.M.C, Educ.) won the M.M. for attending single-handed to the wounded under heavy shell fire, although he himself was at the time severely wounded. At Tadpole Copse on 2nd December Corporal (afterwards Sergeant) C. A. Dearing, B.Sc. (5th London, Educ.) earned the M.M. " Under intense bombardment, he worked in the open repairing lines and keeping communication between the front line and battalion H.Q. Regardless of danger he carried out this work throughout the day, and after the battalion was relieved he remained behind for several hours, again repairing the lines in order to hand over communications to the relieving battalion,"
In later fighting at this part Lieut. F. N. Stone (21st London, Educ.) won the M.C. on 9th December when the enemy attacked an adjoining battalion and he " led a counter attack to relieve the pressure. Though he was met by a superior force of the enemy, he drove them back with great courage and skill and held on to the ground gained until the line was re-established." On the same date at Graincourt Lieut, A. D. Barnes (23rd London, Educ.) won the M.C. " for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in an advanced post which was repeatedly attacked by the enemy. Time after time they obtained a footing in it only to be driven out. He went about calmly encouraging the men and organising counter-attacks, and was fighting continuously for six hours,"
These striking results were obtained at a low cost in casualties, and on 20th November, the opening day of the attack, only two of the Council's staff were killed, namely, Lance-Corp. S. F. Howard (nth Rifle Brigade, Stores) to the southward of Masnieres and R. H. Barker (R.W. Surr., Tram.). Sergeant R. A. Wood (16th London, Educ.) at Tadpole Copse, and Arthur Ireland (15th R. Irish Rif., Parks) possibly near Bullecourt, were killed on the 22nd, I. C. Rixon (R.F.A,, Tram,) on the 23rd, Lieut, F, G. Wheatcroft (13th E. Surr., Educ) on the 25th near Bourlon. On 30th Nov. or 1st Dec. Sergeant Charles Brown, M.M. (4th Grenadier Guards, Parks) was killed at Gonnelieu, William Griffiths (16th R. Fusiliers, Trams.) near Masnieres, Lance-Corp. W. A. Legg (15th London, Educ.) near Bourlon, and Lieut. J. W. Johnson, B.Sc. (Educ.) and Lance-Corp. W, P. Brill (Asylums), both of the 8th Middlesex, near Tadpole Copse. Thomas Thomas (15th London, Est. and Valn.) died on 2nd December of wounds received near Fontaine on 29th November, and Lance-Corp. S. F. Long (23rd London, Tram.) on the 9th of wounds received some days before.
About this time Major F. W. Jackson (R.A.S.C, Educ.) was awarded the D.S.O. for the general excellence of his work, and Major V. L. Connolly (R.A.M.C, Asylums) the M.C. for gallantry in action.
Apart from the decorations awarded in the course of the set engagements at Arras, Ypres and Cambrai, E. Campion (R.A.M.C, Educ.) earned the M.M. for
courageous conduct during an enemy air raid at Bandaghem, and Sub-Lieut. F. C. Stacey (R. Nav. Div., Pub. Health) the M.C. for gallantry in action at Welsh Ridge, near Cambrai, on 30th December.
The general casualties during the spring and the latter half of the year included Sergeant S. M. C. Bonfield (R.E., Educ.) killed by a gas explosion on 6th April, Capt. J. W. Woods, M.C. (2nd Yorks. L.L, Educ.) in an attack upon Fayet near St. Quentin on the 14th, C. W. Law (R.G.A., Parks) south of Vermelles on the 25th, and Capt. J. L. Warry, A.R.LB.A. (2/8th Notts and Derby, Arch.) on the 27th.
Arthur Crawley (R.E., Educ.) was killed on 4th May near Neuve Chapelle, W. H. Smith (R.F.A., Trams.) on the 9th, probably to the north of Lens, H. T. Page (H.A.C., Educ.) on the 11th, W. M. Timpson (R.A.M.C, Educ.) near Ypres on the 12th, A. C Steadman (2/3rd London, Tram.) on the 13th, and Frank Diamond (Norfolks, Asylums) on the 19th. On the 23rd Lieut. R. W. W. Vaughan, M.B., B.S. (R.A.M.C, Asylums) was killed at some place unknown.
T. E. Dyer (12th Kings Royal Rifles, Tram.) was killed on 1st June, Corp. F. Barnes (R.F.A., Educ.) on the 4th, and on the same day G. W. Parker (R.G.A., Trams.)
near Ypres. On the 17th Corp. H. H. Haynes (L.N. Lanes, Educ.) died of wounds received the day before near Ypres. On the 23rd E. V. Ament (1st Rifle Brigade, Trams.) was killed, and on the 25th H. E. Woolley (R.F.A., Trams.) died of wounds received on 31st May near Messines. On the 27th Lieut. Arthur Richards (1st Mon., Solr.) died of wounds received the same day near Lievin, Sergeant Herbert Thorn, D.C.M. (17th R. Fusiliers, Educ.) also died on this day of wounds received in April, possibly near Arras. James Pearson (R.F.A., Trams.) was killed on the 30th near Ypres.
On 1st July Lieut. W. H. Davis (2nd Notts and Derby, Educ.) was killed near Lens, Sgt. C. H. Pardee (15th London, Tram.) on the 3rd/4th near Ypres, Lieut. Wilfred Bishop (nth Bord., Educ.) on the 5th near the coast, Sgt. A. J. Bright (20th London, Educ.) on the 6th near Messines, and on the same day Corp. W. J. May (R.E., Educ.) died of wounds received on the 3rd near Ypres. On the 7th Corp. H. D. Turner (R.F.A., Asylums) was killed near the Menin road, Ypres, and Lieut. Harry Warren (15th Hampshire, Educ.) near Hill 60, W. G. Daniel (1st E. Surrry, Asylums) on the 18th, John Kelly (15th London, Educ.) on the 19th to the south-east of Ypres, William Clifford (R.G.A., Asylums) and Harry Tysoe (R.E., Tram.) on the 20th, H. C. Guy (Gren. Gds., Educ.) on the 23rd near Ypres, and L. A. Davis (12th R. Suss., Educ.) and Leonard Groves (15th London, Educ.) on the 24th also near Ypres. Lieut. J. R. Carne (12th R. Suss., Educ.) wounded that day died on the 25th, A. W. Scarf (2nd H.A.C., Comp.) on the 26th near Bullecourt, Lance-Corp. Cornelius Duggan (14th Rifle Brigade, Tram.) on the 28th, and H. C. Kelsey (R.F.A., Tram.) on the 29th near Ypres.
Sergeant W. Channel (M.G.C., Asylums) died on 6th August of wounds received near Armentieres, Batt.- Sergeant-Maj. J. G. Thomas (R.G.A., Educ.) on the 11th near Bethune, and Lance-Corp. F. S. Scott (12th Kings Royal Rifles, Tram.) on the 18th, Henry Webb (18th Kings Royal Rifles, Tram.) was killed, probably on 19th September, Capt. H. H. E. Ferguson (14th Highland L.I., Educ.), wounded to the south-west of Cambrai on the night of the 22nd/23rd, died on the 23rd. Harry Ediker (2/6th Notts and Derby, Educ.) was killed on the 26th, probably near Arras.
E, G. Thomas (R.F.A., Tram ) was killed on 2nd October, and R. E, Kemp (7th Beds, Arch.) on the 30th at places unknown, and on the 28th W. P. Whitfield (2/5th R. Lancaster, Educ.) died near Poperingbe, of wounds received near Ypres on the 26th. F. W. Hutson (R.F.A., Educ.) died on 3rd November as the result of an accident in the Ypres salient, Co. Sergeant-Maj. E. J. P. Dainty, D.C.M. (2nd London, Educ.) was killed on 8th November in an accident near Lebucquiere to the east of Bapaume, Herbert Page (R.F.A., Ch. Engr.) on the 12th near the Menin road, and on the 21st George Young (11th Rifle Brigade, Stores) died of wounds received on the 8th near Gouzeaucourt. W. J. Smithers (2nd Middx., Asylums) was killed on the 28th at some place unknown, and on the same date C. W. Tagg (Labour Corps, Parks) died at Boulogne of pneumonia.
F. J. Keane (2nd Rifle Brigade, Clerk) was killed on 2nd December near Passchendaele, Lieut. W. A. Wilkinson, B.Sc. (R.F.A., Educ.) on the same date at some place unknown, Lieut. R. E. Simmons (R.G.A., Educ.) on the 5th north of Ypres, George Pavitt (R.F.A., Tram.) on the 13th near Cambrai, H. C. Brazil (8th Kings Royal Rifles, Tram.) on the 26th near Passchendaele, and H. E. Leighton (7th Kings Royal Rifles, Tram.) on the same date and probably at the same place, and Corporal C. V. Golle (28th London, Ch. Engr.) on the 27th near Cambrai.