“TOO good to last!” There spoke the cheerful pessimism of the “other ranks” when they heard that another move was imminent. For we had begun to assume a certain permanence in our positions on the Oppy front, and to regard them as affording the promise of a quiet winter broken only by a merry Christmas.
But by the beginning of November the field-kitchen, most fertile handmaid of rumour, was busy with strange stories of a journey to the far south. The censor was troubled with letters that made indiscreet reference to ice-cream and barrel-organs. The wise men, with whom the instinct of prophecy never dies, spoke of our transference to the Italian front as a matter of certainty.
Speculation was rife not so much as to our share in the tactical operations to be undertaken there, but rather as to the amount of transport available, the chance of good billets, and the opportunity for leave. For a few days every thought was of Italy. But soon the news of the retreat of the Italian Army was balanced by that of a great advance on the Cambrai front, and we began to realise that we might be destined for battle in a far less distant field.
On November 19th, the 31st Division, who had been holding the line on our left, threw in their reserve brigade to take over our front trenches, while the positions in rear were occupied by troops of the 21st Division, returning from the Ypres Salient. We said good-bye with some regret to the security of the sunken road, to the wooden cities that were growing by the side of the Arras-Lens Road, to the gay haunts of Amiens, and the sixty-five estaminets at Maroeuil. For the next ten days we travelled in a semi-circle, north-west and west and south-west of Arras, until, on November 25th, we crossed the Bapaume-Peronne Road, and then moved due east towards the new battlefield.
The movement of the division was not an easy one for the officers or men. In order to become mobile, the transport of every unit had to be lightened. Surplus stores were dumped at Acq — so generously that twenty two lorries were subsequently employed in removing them to Albert. Cherished plans for Christmas which had involved the purchase of pigs and geese, the erection of a soda-water factory, the assembling of all luxuries which had become necessaries at this time, were all recast by this sudden turn of destiny. Valises were reduced in many cases to 35lbs., spare suits of khaki, and football boots rooted from old hiding-places on the limber; comfort gave way to mobility.
For a week the Division moved almost daily. Motor-omnibuses were only once available, and then but for one brigade; the roads were congested with other troops and transport moving in and out of the battle. As a result the men marched long distances and suffered many hardships. The weather was intensely cold, and the billets where units rested for the night were not always proof against the rain and sleet. For many this was the first glimpse of the country which the enemy had devastated before his retirement in the previous winter. We had seen the indiscriminate wreckage which the fury of the Somme battle had wrought upon woods and grassy slopes; we had endured the clammy mud of the Ypres Salient, where country that could never have been very beautiful was furrowed with trenches, pitted with shell holes, and fouled by the devil’s embroidery of barbed wire. But here we faced a new order of desolation, complete and organised.
Village after village had been wrecked in order that the country might not be habitable for the troops that followed the retreating enemy. The ground was barren, the only landmark a ruin rather larger than the others.
In all these facts there was something to depress the soldier as well as to fatigue his body. But the spirit of the men prevailed. The Territorial is a soldier by choice, but not by taste. He does not like war, and the ways of the Army are not to his fancy. But the Londoner finds an inconsequential happiness in the trifles and details of life, extorting comedy from a rissole and farce from a “little black hat,” so that for the greater part of his day he forgets he is in the Army.
Thus it fell out that though the call to battle was sudden, and the way to it not an easy one, all ranks entered the field with brave and determined spirit. Football was played on the dry ground by Barastre when three days’ hard marching lay behind them and action faced them on the morrow.
The Division left the XIIIth Corps and First Army on November 22nd, and were posted to the XVIIth Corps in the Third Army for two days. They then passed to the IVth Corps for three days, and on November 27th came under orders of the Vth Corps, who were responsible for the operations in Bourlon Wood. The position here was extremely critical.
In order to make the situation clearer, it is necessary to go back a little and trace the events which produced the first battle of Cambrai.
In the spring of 1917 the Germans found their position on the Somme untenable in view of the successes gained by us in the summer of 1916, and they retired to their newly-constructed Hindenburg Line, methodically blowing-up every building and cutting down every fruit-tree in the country they abandoned.
No cultivation had gone on in this devastated area for the past two years, and the country now looked like open chalk downs covered with rough grass.
The Hindenburg Line had been laid out with the greatest of care to utilise all commanding ground, and had been most elaborately fortified with deep dugouts, belts of wire many yards thick, and well-built gun-pits, but in leaving the large Havrincourt Wood, whose front edge was within 1,000 yards of their line, the enemy gave us the chance of collecting a large force completely concealed from observation.
In the spring of 1917, our troops, following up the retiring enemy, found themselves up against this heavily-wired and continuous line of entrenchments which comprised all the high ground west of Cambrai.
After pushing back the enemy into his trench line, little was done all the summer beyond making certain preliminary arrangements of light railways and roads suitable for an attack on a large scale. The sector from Moeuvres, where the Drocourt-Queant switch-line joined the Hindenburg Line through Havrincourt, Trescault, Gonnelieu, and Honnecourt, was left particularly quiet, and the enemy’s whole attention was devoted to the Ypres salient, where battle raged incessantly after July 31st.
Suddenly, on November 20th, without the slightest warning or sign of preparation, we opened an attack on the Hindenburg Line between Hermies and Gonnelieu, supported by an immense mass of tanks which swept through all the belts of wire and over trenches twelve feet deep, so that at the end of the four days we had formed a great salient four miles in depth, reaching to the old Canal de I’Escaut at Marcoing and spreading northwards along the ridge of Bourlon Wood and southwards along the ridge which runs from Bois Lateau to Gonnelieu and looks steeply down to the canal about Banteux.
This newly-won territory is characterised on the north by the wide valley between Flesquieres and Bourlon Wood, but on the south is divided into much narrower and steeper valleys separated by high ridges like the fingers of an outstretched hand pointing towards Cambrai. Gonnelieu and the Bois Lateau crown the most easterly ridge. La Vacquerie the next, which we afterwards called Welsh Ridge, with Gouzeaucourt and Villers Plouich lying in the valley to the west of it; then came Highland Ridge, with Beaucamp behind it, and most westerly of all the ridge from Queen’s Cross to Trescault, behind which lay Gouzeaucourt Wood and the ruined village of Metz-en-Couture, a place of great importance, as all the roads into the salient passed through it.
The enemy had lost valuable ground in Bourlon Wood and village. Its retention by us threatened his line to the north, enabling us to observe and enfilade his trenches as far as Oppy and Gavrelle. From the high ground at Bourlon Wood, too, we had excellent observation of Cambrai and the intervening country, as well as of that to the north towards Douai.
In consequence, attack and counter-attack had followed each other almost without cessation for a week, the village changing hands each day. The casualties on both sides had been heavy; the issue still hung in the balance.
When the Division took over the Bourlon Wood Sector at 10 a.m. on November 29th, the greater part of the wood was still in our hands, the British line running from west to east a mile to the north of the Bapaume-Cambrai Road. We relieved the 62nd Division on the night of November 28th-29th, the three dismounted regiments of cavalry, who were reinforcing them, remaining with us for twenty-four hours.
This relief was not carried out without considerable difficulty, owing to heavy shelling by the enemy, who continually barraged all approaches to Bourlon Wood. The guides were late, but the relieving battalions, led by Lieut.-Colonel Mildren, commanding the 6th Battalion, pushed on without waiting for them and completed the relief at the cost of several casualties.
The 141st Brigade took the right sub-sector, with the 140th Brigade on the left, and the 142nd in reserve in the Hindenburg Line. The 62nd Division, acting under orders from the Corps, insisted on the whole of the 141st Brigade being sent into Bourlon Wood to relieve their brigade. In protest against this Major-General Gorringe urged that to crowd seven battalions (four of 141st Brigade, one of 140th Brigade, and two of dismounted cavalry) and forty-seven machine-guns into the wood, which already contained one battalion of the 59th Division on the right, would only invite excessive casualties without increasing the adequacy of the defence. For a wood in modern warfare is more safely held by rifle and Lewis gun posts, suitably placed on the forward edge of the area under some sort of cover, and machine-guns in depth outside the wood, with a fair field for fire and observation, than by a mass of units struggling in the undergrowth, half-blinded by the gas that clings to every bush.
The protest was overridden, and on the night of November 28th-29th seven battalions were all in position in the wood. The enemy bombarded heavily with gas-shells during the night, and the 141st Brigade suffered many casualties. On the following morning the command of the sector passed to our Division, whose advanced Headquarters were in Havrincourt Chateau, and steps were taken to thin out the troops in Bourlon Wood so that, by the 30th, only four battalions remained there (one of the 140th Brigade and three of the 141st Brigade), with twenty machine-guns, the remainder being sited in depth, in positions whence they could bring effective direct fire on the ground on our left and on both flanks of Bourlon Wood.
The 7th Battalion was lent to the 2nd Division on our left in order to help them to hold their line. Later in the day it was recalled to the assistance of its own brigade, and the 23rd Battalion took its place near the canal, and held the front line for a few hours.
The artillery covering the front held by the 47th Division consisted of the 62nd Divisional Artillery and the 40th Divisional Artillery, and the batteries were all well forward on the ground between Havrincourt and Graincourt. The positions were more suitable to the continuance of the attack than to defence, and if the enemy had been successful in capturing the ridge on which Bourlon Wood stands, and establishing observation posts, the situation of the artillery would have been precarious, as all the gun positions would have been overlooked.
On the right of the 47th Division, the line was held by the 59th (North Midland) Division, commanded by Major-General C.F. Romer, and on our left was the 2nd Division, commanded by Major- General C.E. Pereira.
The 56th (London) Division, which lay beyond the 2nd, was, like the 47th, composed almost entirely of London Territorials. It was formed from the 1st London Territorial Division and included our three battalions — the 13th (Kensingtons), the 14th (London Scottish), and the 16th (Queen’s Westminsters) — which had preceded the 2nd London Division to France, while we had the 6th (City of London Rifles), 7th (Royal Fusiliers), and 8th (Post Office Rifles) which had joined us at St. Albans from the 1st London Division.
On the morning of Friday November 30th, the enemy made a counter-attack in force, directed chiefly against the haunches of the new salient, and he renewed his efforts to recapture the wood. Our troops found themselves in circumstances peculiarly unfavourable for defence. The trenches, when taken over, were barely 4 ft. deep; there was no wire, and few tools. In the sector held by the 24th Battalion, there were no trenches at all. The support trenches were not continuous; the trees obscured the situation; the gas hung in the thick undergrowth. Efforts had been made during the twenty-four hours of our occupation to get wire set out in front, and the trenches fire-stepped and dug to 6 ft. in depth. The enemy had shelled heavily during the night, but the guns rested before dawn, breaking out again about 8.30 a.m. into a heavy bombardment of our lines from Moeuvres, in the west, to Fontaine Notre Dame, in the east. Meanwhile, Bourlon Wood was treated to an intense gas-shell bombardment.
Our artillery replied with equal violence of fire, and the duel continued till ten o’clock, when the enemy were observed to be advancing in two waves over the crest of the hill 2,000 yards to the east of Moeuvres. At the same time the enemy was occupying the village of Moeuvres and threatening the exposed left flank of the 6th Battalion. Three hostile balloons were seen in position over Bourlon village throughout the day, and aeroplanes flew unchecked along our lines directing the fire of the enemy upon our positions. The front line of the battalions on the left was continuously harassed by the enfilading fire of a field-gun from Bourlon village on the right, and a small man-handled gun on the left.
Heavy casualties resulted among the defending troops. The enemy continued to advance in waves from Quarry Wood in a southerly direction, but their advance was checked for a while by the accurate fire of our artillery and machine-guns. The latter were arranged in batteries of four, thus facilitating control, and giving a heavy volume of fire with a maximum of surprise. The enemy advancing were thus enfiladed from positions north of the sugar factory, and the attack driven westward. Soon after midday the enemy were seen retreating in disorder over the crest of the hill. It was agreed by all observers of this stage of the battle that it was the disposition of our machine-guns which saved our line. The two batteries on the left of Bourlon Wood fired westward and enfiladed the advancing enemy, while the frontal fire of the three batteries near the sugar factory, and a fourth battery on the left, caught each wave as it appeared over the crest of the hill.
About 2 p.m. the enemy assaulted again after a heavy bombardment of our lines on the west of Bourlon Wood. The right flank of the 2nd Division, on the left of our 6th Battalion, gave ground at the same time, and the enemy drove in a wedge between our left flank and the right of the 2nd Division.
A gap formed between the 6th Battalion and the 15th Battalion, and the enemy forced our left flank to a position a few hundred yards in rear. Lieut.-Colonel Mildren, commanding the 6th Battalion, thereupon counter-attacked with his reserve company, reinforced by all the runners, signallers, and orderlies at Battalion Headquarters, and restored the line.
At 5 p.m. another counter-attack was made by two companies of the 8th Battalion, together with the remnant of the 6th Battalion, and a line was established on higher ground, which was held without incident that night. The 15th Battalion had, however, been forced to yield a little ground. Lieut.-Colonel Segrave formed up A Company, reinforced it with all his headquarters personnel, and led a counter-attack, regaining a considerable part of the lost ground. When dusk came communication with the troops on the left was re-established, and a quiet night ensued.
Meanwhile, attacks against the 141st Brigade on the right were launched by the enemy, but were broken up before they reached our trenches by our Lewis gun and rifle fire, supported by the artillery and machine-guns. The hostile bombardment which preceded them was very severe, and the 19th Battalion suffered many casualties from gas, their strength being ultimately reduced to 9 officers and 61 other ranks.
(“During the afternoon a strong hostile attack was made upon the 141st Brigade, on the right of the 47th Division. For some days the German artillery had been steadily pouring gas shell into Bourlon Wood, until the thick undergrowth was full of gas. Many casualties were caused to our troops, and gas masks had to be worn continuously for many hours. None the less, when the enemy attacked, he was again hurled back with heavy loss. A distinctive feature of the defence was the gallantry of the Lewis gunners, who, when the attack was seen to be beginning, ran out with the guns in front of our line, and from positions of advantage in the open mowed down the advancing German infantry.” — From “The Story of a Great Fight,” issued by the General Staff, February, 1918.)
While our troops were holding Bourlon Wood against such odds, the enemy had broken through to the south of us and captured the village of Gouzeaucourt. They approached at one time to within a mile of our refilling point, east of Metz-en-Couture. The Divisional Train received orders to cease issuing supplies and to withdraw to Neuville Bourjonval, where Rear Divisional Headquarters were established. Advanced Divisional Headquarters were in Havrincourt Park.
It was a hard day for the 47th Division. More than eighteen months had passed since we had been on our defence. We were fighting in unknown country which we had had little opportunity to reconnoitre, and communications were extremely difficult, the S.O.S. being at times the only signal that did not fail. Our casualties were heavy:
6th Battalion: 13 officers and 369 other ranks.
15th Battalion: 11 officers and 288 other ranks.
141st Brigade: 69 officers and 1,939 other ranks.
It was subsequently ascertained from prisoners that the enemy had intended to attack simultaneously from the north and from the east, and so drive us from the Bourlon Salient. In some quarters it was maintained that the main attack was the one from the north which our troops faced, and that the attack from the east, though more successful on the issue, was originally intended as a feint to distract our troops from the main operation in Bourlon Wood. Whatever the relative strength and importance of the two attacks may have been, the one from the east did not meet with so stout a resistance, and the enemy advanced as far as Gouzeaucourt very quickly, capturing men and guns in large numbers, and menacing our communications in the rear.
But the honour of the London troops was worthily upheld. Ground was only yielded under extreme pressure, counter-attacks were immediate, determined, and successful. Those who suffered from the intense fire and the suffocating gas will look back upon the day with horror not unmixed with pride.
In thanking the 47th Division for the “magnificent defence of the important position entrusted to them,” Sir Douglas Haig wrote: —
“Though exposed throughout the day to the repeated assaults of superior forces, they beat off all attacks with the heaviest losses to the enemy, and by their gallant and steady conduct contributed very largely to the security of the Divisions engaged on the whole front of attack.”
The line on the north and north-west of Bourlon Wood could not be regarded as a permanent position. There was higher ground in front of us still to be regained. From defence we must turn to attack.
The 140th Brigade was ordered to retake the original line held before the attack on November 30th. Two companies of the 8th Battalion on the right, and two companies of the 7th Battalion on the left, advanced at 8.10 p.m. on the evening of December 2nd under cover of artillery fire. Simultaneously the 2nd Division on our left advanced their light flank. The 7th Battalion experienced some opposition in the form of heavy machine-gun fire, and sustained heavy casualties. The 8th Battalion were more fortunate, encountering no organised line of enemy resistance, but fighting with small parties in shell holes. Both battalions reached their objectives, consolidated, and held them, thus restoring the line as first taken over by the Division. In this advance of 300 to 400 yards, 52 prisoners and 18 machine-guns were taken. Officially described as a “minor operation,” colloquially dismissed as “a good show,” it was in reality an effort at a time when troops were tired, which reflected great credit and produced valuable results.
(The following message from the Army Commander, dated December 3rd, 1917, was forwarded by Lieut.-General Tanshawe the same day:
“G.O.C., V. A.C.
Will you please convey to the G.O.C., 47th Division, my very best congratulations on their excellent achievement last night.
This operation was of the greatest value to the situation and reflects the greatest credit on those who carried it out.
J. Byng (General).”)
The third task of the Division was the evacuation of Bourlon Wood and the withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. This is not the place in which to discuss at any length the reasons which caused the higher command to favour a withdrawal. It is, however, obvious from a study of the map that our retention of the southern half of Bourlon Wood was likely to prove a very uncertain and expensive proposition. The Hindenburg trenches running north and south, and facing the enemy, offered a far better line of permanent resistance for the winter. A withdrawal from one position to another, however obvious the advantages it may offer, demands two necessary factors — a considerable amount of detailed staff work, and a very real confidence in the moral of the men.
It was decided that our Division should withdraw, with the 2nd Division on our left, and the 59th Division on our right during the night of December 4th-5th from the wood to the Hindenburg support line, a total distance of nearly 5,000 yards. The 142nd Brigade had taken over the Bourlon Wood Sector on December 3rd, so upon them fell the main burden of withdrawal. To the 140th Brigade was allotted the task of providing an outpost line between Graincourt and La Justice, which was to be held for twenty-four hours in order to cover the withdrawal of the 142nd Brigade and to allow them time for the consolidation of their new positions.
The 4th R.W.F. were responsible for establishing and garrisoning four strong posts in front of the Hindenburg Line at places marked “S.P.” on the map. A brigade of the 62nd Division came forward and held this section of the Hindenburg Line while our troops were retiring from the wood, as a precautionary measure against any attempt of the enemy, should they learn of our withdrawal beforehand, to hasten its progress. The withdrawal involved the moving back of all the batteries behind the Havrincourt-Flesquieres ridge, and this was carried out successfully on the night of December 4th. As soon as the withdrawal was completed, the 40th Divisional Artillery was relieved by the 77th Army Brigade, R.F.A. The 62nd Divisional Artillery was not relieved by our own gunners until December nth.
At 11 p.m. on the 4th, the battalions of the 142nd Brigade began to withdraw, leaving in each case two or four platoons to hold an outpost line through the wood. They reached their new position in the Hindenburg Line without incident, the enemy apparently having no idea that we were in process of withdrawal. The platoons left behind in the wood fired Verey lights and rifles at normal intervals, and assisted a body of Royal Engineers in the destruction of dugouts, derelict tanks, and useful material which could not be carried back. Signallers recovered the cables as far as possible, and elsewhere cut them and insulated the ends, to hinder their use for overhearing.
So far as time allowed, contrivances to delay and injure the enemy in his re-occupation of the wood were set in position, and trip-wires hidden in the undergrowth. At 4 a.m. these small bodies of infantry evacuated the wood and rejoined their units in the new line without loss. The last to quit the wood were the Engineers, who destroyed such of the enemy guns as had not been salved, and rendered uninhabitable the catacombs in Graincourt.
More would have been done in the way of destruction if greater notice could have been given. But the Division only received orders to evacuate on the morning of December 4th, and the orders only reached battalions at 4 p.m. on the same day for a withdrawal to be effected seven hours later.
Throughout November 30th and the following days our field ambulances carried out the evacuation of the wounded under great difficulties, but with unwearying gallantry and marked success. The 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers especially distinguished themselves by carrying up ammunition through the gas-infected area, working hard all night in improving the line and carrying back all wounded who remained in the aid-posts and advanced dressing-stations in Bourlon Wood at dawn.
By 4.30 a.m. there were no British troops left in the wood. Before 10 a.m. it was again occupied by the enemy. At dawn on December 5th, the 142nd Brigade were holding the main line, the R.W.F. occupying the four strong points 1,000 yards in front of them, while the 15th Battalion held covering positions to the west and east of Graincourt. The strong points were to be a permanent feature of the defence, but the positions of the 15th Battalion were only temporary, and the order for their evacuation was received on the night of December 5th-6th.
The 15th Battalion was only 200 strong at this time, and still suffering from the effects of gas poisoning, but in as much as the 141st Brigade was practically out of action, and the 140th Brigade seriously weakened, they were the only troops available for the holding of the Graincourt-La Justice Line. They were insufficient to garrison the village of Graincourt, as well as the high ground on both sides of it, and were therefore posted on the higher ground to cover the flanks of neighbouring divisions. A and B Companies, on the left of the village, received the order to retire and did so at 5.30 p.m. During the day the enemy had made several attempts to enter Graincourt, but they were beaten back by machine-gun fire, and our positions on the left were maintained. A certain number of Germans did filter through to the village, which was then bombarded by our guns with good effect.
On the right, however, the position grew more serious as the day advanced.
At dawn on the 5th, Sec-Lieutenant Aylmore had taken a Lewis gun and team to a position marked “L.G.” on the map, to cover the withdrawal of C and D Companies. Unfortunately, before the order to withdraw reached the companies, the outposts of the division on our right had been driven back, and the enemy began to envelope the right of the 15th Battalion. They had received a warning order beforehand that if after the night of December 5th-6th it was impossible to hold their position, they were to withdraw to the southernmost of the four strong points. When the enemy faced them in front and rear they cut their way through with great spirit, Sec-Lieutenant Lacey giving the order “make for the sun.”
It was now about 4 p.m., and the sun guided them at length to the strong point. But before they reached there they fought hard against an enemy that pressed on all sides at once. Sec-Lieutenant Lacey was brought in wounded. Sec-Lieut. King was last seen tending a wounded sergeant. He and Major Warne, Captain Burtt, Sec. -Lieutenant Potts, and Sec-Lieutenant Houslop were all fighting in the rear of the withdrawal, and were captured by the enemy. Sec-Lieutenant Chambers, of the 140th Machine-gun Company, and his team were also wounded and captured after doing brave work with their gun.
It had been impossible to communicate what was happening to Sec-Lieutenant Aylmore and his gun team in their isolated position. They also had been surrounded by a force of 150 to 200 Germans. After firing the gun for some time they were enveloped and compelled to retire. On their way they encountered several parties of the enemy and used their one gun with effect. They surprised some of the enemy in the act of digging, and fired on them. The Germans attacked with shovels and wounded one of the team in the back. On they went, an officer, three men, a wounded man, and a gun, fighting all the way, arriving at last at the same strong point.
So ended the withdrawal, the last stage being as full of daring and incident as anything in the whole chapter of the Cambrai battle. The 15th Battalion suffered heavily, but they could recall no episode in France or Belgium so full of fire and spirit as this refusal of their troops on the outpost line to surrender to an enemy that had already surrounded them.
The four strong posts were handed over by the R.W.F. to parties of the 142nd Brigade on December 5th, and were held without incident till the 9th. On the early morning of that day, the enemy made a determined attack on Post No. 2, which was garrisoned by Captain A.W. Durrant (23rd London) and ninety men. The enemy assembled 400 strong in a trench 200 yards in front of our post, and soon after 7 a.m. attacked across the open. They were beaten off by rifle fire. Other tactics were tried. Taking advantage of cover offered by the sunken road and disused trenches, they bombed their way forward and gained a footing in the south of the post. The garrison countered and drove them out, re-establishing their communication with the 21st Battalion on the right by 8.30 a.m.
But at 9 a.m. the enemy again succeeded in bombing their way into the post, this time bringing a light machine-gun with them. A wedge was driven into the small garrison, and Captain Durrant was left with only thirty men in the centre of the post, the remainder of his company being forced to join the 21st Battalion on their right. The machine-gun prevented the arrival of reinforcements; the S.O.S. signal received no answer. At 11 a.m. an attempt was made by the enemy to reach the centre of the post. Captain Durrant shortened his line, concentrated his thirty men, and held up the attack. Two hours later the 21st Battalion counterattacked, but insufficiency of troops and the hostile machine- guns rendered the effort fruitless. The artillery behind us began to bombard the post, and Captain Durrant was compelled to retire. He and his little force crawled back under the wire and, by dusk, were in the comparative safety of our trenches. His pluck in holding to his post so long, and his judgment in retiring at the last possible moment, were subsequently marked by conferring on him the D.S.O.
These three phases of our share in the Battle of Cambrai — a stout defence, a successful attack, and a skilful withdrawal — formed a complete test of the powers and morale of the Division. In this narrative no judgment can be attempted of the conduct of affairs by the Higher Commands. Posterity will doubtless find someone to blame for that costly acquisition and retention of ground from which withdrawal was found to be necessary but a few days later. We may rest assured that the 47th Division has no need to defend its share in the operations. Orders to do difficult things at short notice were received and obeyed. We lost no ground that we did not retake. A special message of congratulation and thanks was received from the Commander-in-Chief, and in forwarding it to the units of the Division, the Divisional Commander added these words:
“England, and London especially, may well be proud of you.”
The Division was considerably below full strength when it entered the battle, and during the operations the casualties were enormous.