Monday, 20 November 2017

Hammer Blow Struck at Cambrai

Tuesday 20th November 1917

A massive attack has been delivered today, driving towards the town of Cambrai. Readers may remember the 8th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, mentioning that they had seen scores of tanks yesterday and, it is understood, it is these which have spearheaded the attack.

From all we have heard tremendous progress has been made and a breakthrough achieved. Often we at the front hear rumours of impending assaults, but nothing about this, which seems to have taken the enemy similarly by surprise.

As dawn was breaking the fury of a thousand guns pounded the German lines. Six divisions then went forward, along with over four hundred tanks. This huge blow drove like a steam-roller through the defences of the much-vaunted Hindenburg Line and we believe that, in some places, our men have advanced five miles. The villages of le Pave, la Vacquerie, Ribecourt, Marcoing, Havrincourt, and Graincourt have all fallen, though, annoyingly, Bourlon Ridge remains in enemy hands. 20th (Light) Division was about to cross the Escaut MasnieresCanal and attack Masnières but the weight of one of the tanks brought down the bridge it was crossing.

Only our friends the 51st (Highland) Division have encountered serious and stiff opposition. They have been held up attacking the village of Flesquières where, it has been reported, the enemy has been particularly effective at destroying and disabling the tanks. It is unknown whether they have some new weapon which has enabled them to hold up the land dreadnoughts(1). However this may be, old military hands have remarked that Flesquières now seems all but surrounded by the success achieved on both flanks and that the Germans will have to evacuate it or risk surrender.

Such a decisive stroke, it is hoped may finally land the knock-out punch which ruptures the enemy lines and results in widespread cavalry operations in the enemy rear.

We have heard from the adjutant of 8th Bedfords, part of 6th Division, which seized Marcoing and Ribecourt. The story of their day is as follows: they were ready for the attack before five o’clock this morning and just after six the tanks began their advance. Ten minutes later the artillery opened up “with a deafening roar and in blaze of fire”. The Germans were able to put only a feeble barrage into no-man’s land and at 6.35 the first wave of infantry passed over the line of enemy outposts “the Battalion going over well, men lighting pipes and cigarettes on their way” as the adjutant remarked.

By 6.45 the Hindenburg Line was in sight and just after seven, word came back that the Battalion had taken its first objective which was the main Hindenburg Line - front line and support trenches on a frontage of 650 yards running east from the road from Villers-Plouich to Ribecourt. At 7.20 a German officer and six of his men arrived as prisoners at Battalion Headquarters. Just before 8 o’clock B Company under Captain N C F Nixon had captured all its objectives. At ten minutes past eight another 23 prisoners arrived at headquarters which, a few minutes later re-located to the captured German trenches in the Hindenburg Line. Prisoners were now coming in thick and fast and the enemy was undoubtlessly on the run. Eventually five German officers and two hundred other ranks were captured by the Bedfords, including a battalion commander, a medical officer and a staff lieutenant. The Battalion now began to consolidate its position.

About 1.30 pm a pack animal convoy arrived with water and ammunition. As stock was taken it transpired that the 8th Battalion had lost one officer killed and two wounded, ten other ranks killed and 38 wounded or missing. The fine weather of the morning then began to turn to rain. The adjutant finished his report by saying: “A very successful day and all ranks in high spirits quite ready for further action. The tanks did very good work”.

An air of excitement prevails here, behind the lines. There will be many a sleepless night and when fitful sleep comes, it will be with fitful dreams of final victory.

Source: X550/9/1

(1) The Germans here, who knocked out 28 tanks, had trained especially in anti-tank tactics and had experience in fighting against French tanks en-masse in the Nivelle Offensive of Spring 1917. In addition 51st Division’s commanding officer, Major-General George Montague Harper, over-ruled the tactics which the Tank Corps employed elsewhere on the battlefield. It has long been thought that in supplanting these tactics with some of his own invention that Harper materially assisted in the poor performance at Flesquières, though some have now questioned this. He was promoted to command IV Corps in March 1918.

Roll of Honour - 20th November 1917

Killed in Action

5th Battalion
  • Second Lieutenant Hugh Frederick Raleigh AMESBURY, 27, attached 8th Battalion, D Company, son of Major Frederick Cholmondeley Dering Amesbury, Indian Army, and Henrietta Ferris Amesbury; husband of Emma Mary of London; born Gujranwala [India], served with 1st Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force and 2nd Battle of Ypres and on the Somme, wounded at Thiepval, July 1916 (Ribecourt British Cemetery)
  • Second Lieutenant Henry Noel Francis FORGE, 19, attached 8th Battalion, son of Rev John Francis and Anna Louisa Forge of Walmley Vicarage [Warwickshire] (Villers-Plouich Communal Cemetery)

8th Battalion: Battle of Cambrai: successful attack at Highland Ridge near Villers-Plouich
  • 16816 Private Frederick BOURNE, 21, born Deptford [London], son of James and Mary Bourne of 50 Godolphin Road, Shepherd's Bush [London] (Ribecourt British Cemetery)
  • 22792 Private Jack BUCKLE, 21, son of Rebecca Buckle of Chalton (Mogerhanger) (Ribecourt British Cemetery)
  • 40239 Private Sidney Walter DANN, ex-5512 Norfolk Regiment, son of Alfred Dann of 113 Bull Close Road, Norwich [Norfolk], and late Maria Dann (Ribecourt British Cemetery)
  • 40253 Private Sidney FOSTER, 23, ex-5346 Norfolk Regiment, born Norwich [Norfolk], son of M A Matthews of Millers Square, Attleborough [Norfolk] (Ribecourt British Cemetery)
  • 203058 Private Francis Charles FREESTONE, born and resided Wansford [Peterborough] (Villers-Plouich Communal Cemetery)
  • 33801 Private William GROOM, 20, son of Avis Groom of 16 Bower Lane, Eaton Bray (Ribecourt British Cemetery)
  • 19684 Private Alfred James HAMPTON, born Clerkenwell [London], resided Camden Town [London] (Ribecourt British Cemetery)
  • 40495 Private Leonard Augustus MAYNARD, ex-2505 Middlesex Regiment, born Dalston [London], resided Kilburn [London] (Ribecourt British Cemetery)
  • 22599 Private Henry Ernest MORTIMER, 21, son of Henry and Ethel Mortimer of 104 Spring Road, Kempston (Villers-Plouich Communal Cemetery)
  • 33285 Private Leonard PELLETT, 35, ex-19566 Suffolk Regiment, son of Albert and Elizabeth Pellett of Petworth [Sussex], resided Petworth, husband of Rose B M of Rumbold’s Hill, Midhurst [Sussex] (Ribecourt British Cemetery)
  • 25387 Private William James SCOTT, 23, born Leavesden [Hertfordshire], son of Flora Mary Scott of 59 Brighton Road, Watford [Hertfordshire] and late William Scott (Ribecourt British Cemetery)
  • 19673 Lance Corporal William Charles SIMS, born Islington [London], resided Kentish Town [London] (Villers-Plouich Communal Cemetery)
  • 20953 Private George Leslie WOODING, born Bedford, resided Luton (Ribecourt British Cemetery)

Died of Wounds

7th Battalion
  • 40803 Private Thomas WATSON, 29, ex-34353 Leicestershire Regiment, son of Henry and Mary Watson of Bradford [Yorkshire] (Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension)

8th Battalion
  • 33181 Sergeant George Stephen BABBINGTON, 27, son of Harry and Harriet Babbington of Stagsden (Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt)
  • 32935 Private George Henry BAILEY, born Kettering [Northamptonshire], resided Sharnbrook (Cambrai Memorial, Louverval)

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Scores of Tanks

Monday 19th November 1917

The adjutant of the 4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment tells us that Military Medals have been awarded to the following men for gallantry in action:

  • 12282 Sergeant N C Scruby(1);
  • 22008 Sergeant A J Turner;
  • 8179 Corporal J Mason;
  • 30292 Private G Ruggles;
  • 23499 Private G A Holdom;
  • 40629 Private C Cooper
The 8th Battalion are in the trenches at Fifteen Ravine near Gouzeaucourt. In the last hour they have, however, been moving forward to the front line. The adjutant was somewhat terse in his telegram but did mention seeing “scores of tanks”.

Sources: X550/5/3; X550/9/1

(1) Sergeant Norman Scruby MM died on 27th April 1921 aged 34, presumably of wounds

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Yellow Devils on the Move

Sunday 18th November 1917

We have heard today of the doings of the 1st/5th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, part of the expeditionary force in Palestine. Following the victory at Gaza at the beginning of the month, the army has been following the retreating Turks.

The enemy abandoned Gaza on night of 7th/8th November. The Bedfords then had a period of “cleaning and straightening up generally” to quote the adjutant. They moved from the Sheikh Hasan area to a bivouac on cliffs by the sea on 12th.

On 14th they proceeded by route march to Herbieh some miles north-east, on the mediterannean coast. The following day they marched to El-Mejdel just inland from Ashkelon. The next day, permission having been given to visit the village in the morning the Battalion began a march at dusk to Esdud(1), along the railway line to the north east - arriving at 10 pm.

Yesterday the men marched to Yebna, arriving at 4 pm. Today they are due to march to Ayun Kara. They will thus have advanced forty miles. As a postscript we heard this morning that the vital port of Jaffa fell to the army on Friday, though the harbour is not yet safe for ships to unload vital supplies.

The correspondent's very amateurish attempt at a sketch map of Palestine above may give some idea of the Bedfords' route from Gaza to Jaffa.

Source: X550/6/8

(1) These towns are now in Israel and so have Hebrew names - Esdud is Ashdod, Yebna is Yavne, Ayun Kara is Rishon leZion; Jaffa is now part of Tel Aviv.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Tanks in the Wood

Saturday 17th November 1917

Intriguing news has reached us from the 8th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. They are at a beauty spot known as Fifteen Ravine, near Gouzeaucourt having just arrived this evening. Even in the dark they have seen a large number of tanks in the woods around them. To see so many of these metal monsters together must either mean that something is afoot or, as one wag speculated, that they are breeding.

That something is afoot seems unlikely. It is very late in the year to make any major attack. Gouzeaucourt is a few miles south-west of Cambrai and there has been no major offensive operation here - the place being given up by the enemy in their retreat in March this year.

Source: X550/9/1

Roll of Honour - 17th November 1917

Died of Wounds

1st/5th Battalion:
  • 201151 Corporal Robert Richard CHARGE MM, born Southall [Middlesex], resided Paddington [London] (Cairo War Memorial Cemetery)
  • 200864 Corporal Thomas Henry LODGE, 31, son of William and Esther Lodge of Luton (Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery)

Thursday, 16 November 2017


Lewis Gun by Balcer on Wikipedia

Friday 16th November 1917

Salvage is important. That has been the word from British Expeditionary Force General Headquarters. Salvage means retrieving such items as weapons, ammunition and steel helmets from battlefields so that they can be re-used. This puts less stress on the factories at home and round the Empire which are running at full steam to produce enough of these items to feed a front which seems to have an inexhaustible appetite for the material of war, just as it does for the men that use it.

The adjutant of the 6th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, tells us that the battalion is in the front line near Hollebeke. Today A Company was shelled by our own heavy guns though, fortunately, no casualties have been reported. The adjutant reports that a great deal of salvage work has been done by the reserve company at Corner House. After so great a battle as the Third Battle of Ypres has been there will, sadly, be many former soldiers in need of burial and equipment in need of salvaging.

Men I have spoken to at the front, not unnaturally, express a preference for salvage duty over burial duty. A number of them have cheerfully requested that this organ of news make known their theory that salvage would be greatly increased by the payment of a bounty - perhaps sixpence for every dozen rifles retrieved, or a shilling for a usable machine-gun.

Source: X550/7/1