102nd Bn Tac Sign102 Bn Gif102nd Bn Tac SignBC COAT OF ARMS 1906102nd Bn Tac Sign102 Bn Gif102nd Bn Tac Sign
The Story of the 102nd Canadian Infantry Battalion
From BC to Baisieux by Sgt Leonard McLeod Gould HQ 102nd Canadians WW1


  

 CHAPTER XI.

Neuville Vitasse-Second Battle of Arras-A Fortnight in Reserve-Second Battle of Cambrai.

WE ONLY remained one night in Berneville, and on August 29th the Battalion, including the Transport Lines, which had been brigaded, moved up to a trench system on the outskirts of the ruined village of Neuville Vitasse. The day was very warm, and the unaccustomed packs weighed heavy on the nine-mile march, which took us over the same old shell-shocked style of country with which we had been so well acquainted, but which we had failed to see down south.

Our new camp was situated in the middle of a trench system which had been at one time part of the Hun Front Line, but it had been disused for a long time and was in an appalling state of neglect and dirt. After settling down we were informed that we should take part, in big operations which were planned for the immediate future, the object of which would be the breaking of the famous Hindenburg Switch Line, also known as the Drocourt-Queant Line and the Wotan Line, an immensely strong series of defensive positions lying west of the Canal du Nord and straddling the main Arras-Cambrai road. At this point Lieut.-Colonel Lister left us to go into hospital, sick, and the command of the Battalion fell to Major E. J. Ryan, who conducted the Battalion's operations in what is generally known as the Second Battle of Arras. Major F. J. Gary, M.C., who had just returned from a Senior Officers' Course in England, acted as Second-in-Command.

Capt. S. H. Okell, M.C., was still our Adjutant, and the four Company Commanders were Capt. J. A. Mann, Capt. J. G. Knight, MC., Capt. T. R. Griffith, M.C., and Lieut, J. R. Wilson, commanding "A," "B," "C" and "D" Coys. respectively.

At 8.30 p.m. on the evening of Sept. 1st the Battalion fell in and marched off to the First Assembly Point in Vis-en-Artois. It was a bright starlight night, and the roads were packed with traffic of all kinds. Enemy planes were very active, and on the way we were held up by a blazing ammunition lorry which had been fired by a bomb and was shooting off the contents of its dangerous load in every direction. The approach to our Assembly Point was difficult in the extreme, lying on the other side of a rolling expanse which was thickly fenced with our own barbed wire; in the starlight it was difficult to keep to the winding trails which led through the barriers, and the whole surface of the ground was deeply furrowed with disused trenches. By 1.00 o'clock the following morning, however, we reached cur destination, an extensive sand-pit which afforded excellent cover from the shells which began to drop around us immediately on our arrival. Here we slept until gas shells falling in our midst at 4.45 a.m. compelled our unwilling arousal and the furtive fingering of the ever-objectionable gas mask. It was a chilly dawn, and we were heartily thankful for the tot of rum which was served out just as the barrage broke out at 5.00 am., the signal for the First Canadian Division to "go over." Directly in front of the 11th Brigade was the 12th, to whom had been allotted the task of actually breaking through the main line of defence; behind the 12th Brigade, on our own immediate front, was the 87th Bn., who were to pass through the former east of the Drocourt-Queant Line, and through whom we were to leap-frog after they had captured Ecourt St. Quentin, our own objective, being first laid down as Oisy-le-Verger, on the east bank of the Canal du Nord, though this programme was subsequently modified.

The barrage was extraordinarily intense, and one hour after its commencement we moved forward, maintaining a distance of 1,000 yards from the 87th Bn. Within half-an-hour we passed into a zone of continuous barrage fire put over by the Hun to catch the supporting units. The terrain in this district is undulating, and the descending slopes were pitilessly swept by a hail of shell and machine gun fire, causing comparatively heavy casualties. It was at this point that Major J. F. Gary, M.C., fell mortally wounded by a shell; another claimed six of the Headquarters batmen and cooks, killing one outright, fatally wounding a second and seriously wounding the remaining four. It was a long tramp under such conditions to Drocourt Trench, which had been the jumping-off place for the 87th, and where we were due to remain until such time as we were to go forward to take our share in the active work ahead, the Companies taking shelter in Dury Road. Shortly after noon "C" Coy. moved forward, keeping in touch with the 87th, but on reaching the crest of the opposite hill Lieut, C. W. McDermid, the Scout Officer, and the four Battalion Scouts who were maintaining connection with the 87th, were wounded and were unable to report progress; at the same time Capt. T. R. Griffith, the Company Commander, became a casualty, and before Major Walwyn, upon whom the command then devolved, was aware either that his leader was wounded or that the connecting link with the forward Battalion had been broken, "C" Coy. found itself up in the Front Line, fighting side by side with the 87th, who had been held up by a very vigorous opposition, resistance being concentrated chiefly in the vicinity of the Dury Windmill, which stands out as a landmark in the neighbourhood. When the Higher Command learned that the forward battalions were engaged in heavy fighting, orders were sent to Major Walwyn to withdraw "C" Coy. into Support, where it rightly belonged, and the other three companies, which were cautiously moving forward, were ordered to take up defensive positions in the Drocourt-Queant Line, after which "C" Coy. was brought back into Brigade Reserve. At 3.30 a.m. on Sept. 3rd we were sent forward to relieve the 72nd Bn. astride the Arras-Cambrai Road, a very difficult operation, as the night was intensely dark and the guides which were to have been detailed to meet our Companies were not forthcoming; but the relief was successfully effected, and at 7:30 a.m. we were ordered forward to locate the enemy, who was reported to be withdrawing. Our route now lay due east, parallel with the Arras-Cambrai Road, along which were dotted the frequent bodies of men, mules and horses, whilst in the middle of the road lay the wreckage of more than one armoured car, testifying to the destructive fire which the enemy had maintained on this main artery of communication. The Companies moved forward in the order ,"A," "B" and "D," the three leap-frogging each other, the last named to pass through up to the banks of the Canal. Very little opposition was encountered during the early stages of this advance, but after "D" had leap-frogged, the men were subjected to very heavy fire, 'B’ Coy. took up defensive positions and dug-in against the storm of machine-gun bullets, but "D" pushed on to the bank of the Canal. During this advance we were continually in touch with the 54th Bn, on our left and the 8th, 10th and 31st Bns. on our right. By nightfall the position was as. follows: "D" Coy. was holding the Front Line on the right; "B" Coy. had moved up on the left and was holding the line on that flank in direct communication with the 54th, "C" Coy. was in Support and "A" in Reserve, Headquarters was established in a system of dug-outs adjoining the Arras-Cambrai Road.

At dusk battle patrols were sent forward to ascertain the state of the bridges across the Canal and to report on the feasibility of forcing a passage. This was a very hazardous and difficult task, as the ground west of the Canal was continuously swept with machine gun fire; but the patrols managed to scout along the whole of the bank and sent back a report that all the bridges were down; later the enemy was definitely located as holding Lock Wood, a copse west of the Canal and just-north of the Arras-Cambrai Road; this was in "D" Coy's area, and to this company was allotted the duty of clearing the wood. The attack was carried out in the face of very heavy machine-gun fire and the difficulties of the assault were increased by the nature of the ground, which was marshy and, little better than a swamp; the men had to cross over this unfavourable surface in the open and sustained a hot fire, not only from the wood which was their immediate objective, but from the high ground east of the Canal. The assault was, however, successfully delivered, and the enemy was driven from the wood, but "D" Coy. suffered heavily in casualties. After the loss of the wood the enemy retaliated by a fierce barrage along the whole Battalion frontage, and in addition mercilessly, pounded our Support area. It was now obvious that a passage of the Canal was impracticable without the active co-operation of heavy artillery, which was still too far in the rear, owing to the rapid nature of our advance, to be available. "D" Coy., numbering but a remnant of its fighting strength, was relieved by the 27th Bn. on the night of the 4th, and "B" Coy., which had not suffered so severely, side-slipped further to the left and pushed closer to the Canal, sending out battle patrols and scouts once more to confirm the report that all bridges were down and that passage was impossible, as the enemy was holding the eastern bank in strength. On the morning of the 5th patrols were again sent out, this time to ascertain whether there was any truth in the report that the enemy was retiring from his side of the bank; considerable sniping and machine-gun firing proved conclusively that the answer was in the negative. During the remainder of the day the Battalion lay dug-in, and though considerable shelling and sniping was indulged in by the enemy no serious casualties were incurred. The same night we were relieved by the 49th Bn, and returned by road to Neuville Vitasse; this necessitated a long 8-mile march along a route which was continually peppered with bombs and shells, and imposed an enormous strain on troops who had been carrying on the hardest kind of fighting for four days. Our casualties for the 2nd Battle of Arras were as follows: Killed or Died of Wounds Major F. J. Gary, M.C., and 42 Other Ranks; Wounded-Capt. S. H. Okell (at duty), Capt. T. R. Griffith, M.C., Lieuts. C. W. McDermid, H. D. McClenahan, T. W. Peers, J. S. Lamrock, J. Palmer (at duty), A. M. Morrison, A. D. Duncan and 145 Other Ranks. Three Other Ranks who were at the time attached from the Battalion to the 11th Brigade were also killed in action, including Pte. R. S. Ketcheson, a Battalion Runner and one of the finest boys in the most popular section of the unit, a modern incarnation of Juvenal's immortal "ingenui vultus puer ingenuique pudoris."

On our arrival at Neuville Vitasse we stayed quiet all day, making little attempt to improve the general lay-out of the camp or to put the dug-outs in good shape, as we fully expected move orders that night or early the following day, but none came, and it was gradually borne in on us that we had to make our dwelling-place once more in the wilderness. Work was accordingly started on camp improvement, and a terrific thunderstorm which struck us on the 7th and flooded all the dug-outs made this work the more imperative. Forthwith the area became tunnelled with serviceable dug-outs and dotted with iron sheet huts; a small quantity of bivouacs were also available for use. The Transport Lines at this time were all brigaded about half a mile to our rear. The adaptability of the modern Army, and particularly of the Canadian Corps, was never better illustrated than in the area which we now occupied. To our left lay Corps Headquarters which presented all the features of a model village with an electric lighting plant installed. Naturally there were no regular baths in the vicinity; but a few kilometres away, at Heninel, lay a couple of small ponds, they might almost have been styled puddles, but the Engineers were called upon to exercise their ingenuity, and by the use of several large tarpaulins they converted these wayside puddles into very serviceable baths, with three sprinklers doing good work and accommodating as many as 150 men in an hour. This improvised bath-house was an infinitely better one than the majority of those erected under more favourable conditions. On the 14th of the month a big Decoration Parade for the 11th Brigade was held in the 54th area, and medals were awarded to their recipients by the Corps Commander, who, in a speech after the parade, told us that we should have at least one more big battle that year. Thereafter, during our stay in Neuville Vitasse, preparations were made for the impending offensive, which was to launch the third smashing blow delivered by the Corps to the Hun, and which is styled the Second Battle of Cambrai. 

On the 17th Lieut.-Colonel Lister reported back for duty and resumed command of the Battalion, going forward two days later to reconnoitre the ground over, which we should soon be operating, and on the evening of the 25th we fell in and marched to our, staging area near Bullecourt. It may here be remarked that nothing changes so quickly as an army vocabulary. A new word appears from no one knows where and is adopted for a season on every possible occasion. During the recent push the word "element" had appeared, and for the whole of that tour it was to be in the fashion to speak of "elements of the Bosche"; now we came across "staging area"; previously we had been content to speak of "assembly points"; a philologist might well be able to date the progress‚ of the war by careful reference to the use of words and expressions. Same words had a long life, such as "odd," introduced by Capt. Okell when he first became Adjutant; -food became the "odd bite"; a written message, "the odd chit"; sleep was "the odd wink," and so on; but "elements" died a quick death, though Major Ryan made desperate efforts to rehabilitate it when he returned from leave after the Cambrai affair. Whether or not the change of name had anything to do with it may be open to doubt, but the fact remains that we had the greatest difficulty in locating our proper place near Bullecourt; we were supposed to be taking over lines occupied by the 42nd Bn., but on our arrival we found that the 78th had got in ahead of us, and we had eventually to make what shift we could in the open; it was then midnight and very dark, but the weather, though cold, was fine. Throughout the whole of the next day, the 26th, we lay quiet, and at 10.30 we fell in and moved off towards our next halting-place, Inchy-en-Artois, but we were held back by the presence--of-troops ahead, and made a detour up into the Hindenburg Support trenches for a couple of hours' rest; it was not a happy move; the trenches were almost impassable owing to the slippery mud and darkness, and what rest we obtained was more than counterbalanced by the fatigue sustained in reaching the dug-outs. Here we stayed till 2.30 a.m. on Sept. 27th, moving forward then to the trenches in Inchy-en-Artois, where we awaited the barrage, which was timed for 5.20. Once more we were robbed of the privilege of being the first troops to follow the barrage. In a surprise attack of this kind the leading troops have a double advantage; they have the honour and glory of actually storming the line and taking most prisoners, and at the same time they are usually ensconced in the enemy's trenches by the time the answering barrage begins to fall; moreover, this barrage is always largely directed over their heads, being designed to catch the supporting battalions coming up behind; this is what we suffered from so severely on Sept. 2nd. Again, by the time the supporting troops have passed through the original storming parties add are ready to deliver their attack on their own objective the element of surprise has been lost, and the positions against which their assaults are directed are by this time strongly defended. On this occasion the 10th Brigade was in the lead, and it was our duty to pass through them in due course and carry the attack forward to Bourlon Wood, which was our final objective for that portion of the operation. On our left was the 87th Battalion, through whom the 54th were to pass when the main attack on Bourlon Wood was to be delivered. The 47th King's Liverpool Regiment was on our right.

At 5.20 a.m. an intense barrage broke out, and at 6.00 a.m. we moved off from Inchy-en-Attois, maintaining close touch with the 10th Brigade in front. As soon as the latter had taken their objectives, "A" and "B" Coys., under-Capt. I. C. R. Atkin, M.C., and Lieut. R. V. Leese respectively, went forward on the right and left, and succeeded in capturing their objectives, the enemy positions which lay in front' of the main object of attack, Bourlon Wood; this was left for "C" and "D" Coys., under Lieuts. V. Z. Manning and J. R. Wilson, M.C., but when the latter commenced to advance they found that the Imperials on the right were not up, and that their right flank was consequently exposed to a full tempest of heavy artillery and machine gun fire. In spite of this they pushed their way forward until within about 100 yards of their objective, where they halted for cover in the shelter of a sunken road and of a line of trenches from which they had successfully ousted the Hun. It was at this time that an unparalleled misfortune overtook the Battalion; Headquarters had advanced behind the companies and had been established in a German pill-box on the top of a small eminence, whence a good view of the operations on the opposite slope leading up to Bourlon Wood could be obtained; hardly had the Colonel taken up his quarters there when, at about 9.30 a.m., a shell landed right in the opening of the doorway and severely wounded both Colonel Listen and. Capt. Okell, the Adjutant, at the same time killing outright Lieut, S. G. Moore, D.C.M., the Signalling Officer, who was standing outside, and three Runners from other Battalions who were awaiting replies to their messages. This was a double catastrophe indeed, as there was nobody by this time left in the Battalion to take the Colonel's place; the companies had all suffered heavily in casualties, and not a senior officer was available. In this emergency Lieut. C. H. Packman, the Battalion Lewis Gun Officer, sent off a message to Brigade detailing the disaster which had occurred, and the Brigadier responded by appointing Lieut.-Col. Thompson, D.S.O., of the 124th Bn., who was acting in command of the 75th in. our Support, to take over the temporary command of the 102nd. This officer immediately moved up two companies of the 75th into positions round the 102nd Bn. headquarters. As soon as the news of what had happened reached the Transport Lines Lieut. W. W. Dunlop, M.C., who, as Assistant Adjutant, had been left behind, came right up to the Front Line and took over the duties of Adjutant, which he continued to carry out with conspicuous success until the day of demobilization.

In the meantime the Hun was pounding our positions with every kind of missile. To the rear of Headquarters was a large Forward Dressing Station; though its non-combatant profession was conspicuously advertised by a big Red Cross flag the enemy systematically bombarded it, and it was here that we lost poor "Bobby" Duncan, our Medical Sergeant, who was struck by a machine-gun bullet whilst he was ministering to the wounded, and succumbed later to his injuries. The work of the Red Cross men in this exposed position was beyond all praise, and our own Medical Officer, Capt. H. Dunlop, MC., and Capt. C. A. Fallon, Chaplain, greatly distinguished themselves by their devoted service amongst the wounded.

Every effort was now made to get the Imperials up on the right, and an extensive "shoot" was put over at about 4.00 p.m., but this was unsuccessful in its object; the Imperials were unable to force their way through, and the two leading companies of the 102nd, who had by this time had a certain amount of rest, though under heavy fire all the time, were ordered to push the attack home on Bourlon Wood and then to form a defensive flank facing south to protect the right flank of the rest of the Brigade. After a great effort this was done; the western and southern portion of the wood was captured and measures taken to prevent any counter-attack from the Hun by way of the southern extremity. Later in the evening the 54th were detailed to capture Fontaine-Notre-Dame, a village lying in the wood itself, and "D" Coy. were ordered to co-operate in this operation. On the way this company was met by a fierce counter-attack which the men succeeded in driving back, but they themselves were unable to advance any further, Bourlon Wood was to all intents and purposes captured, but it had not yet been "mopped up"; that is to say, the Hun had not been entirely driven out; consequently orders came in later that night stating that on the morning of the 28th the Third Division would continue the attack, leap-frogging the 11th Brigade, and that when this operation started at daybreak Bourlon Wood was to be wholly cleared of the enemy; to assist in this work the CO. sent forward a Company of the 75th, and the wood was "mopped up."

At noon on the 28th, orders were received that the Brigade would concentrate about the Quarry near Bourlon Village and that Major J.B. Bailey, Second-in-Command of the 54th, who had been an "original" officer of the 102nd Bn,, would take temporary command of the latter unit, leaving Colonel Thompson free to return to the 75th. The Battalion accordingly moved to the new area under Major Bailey's command, the kitchens were brought up and the men made comfortable for the night. The first part of the 2nd Battle of Cambrai was over; fighting was still raging ahead of us, and we were destined to continue our share in the bloody fray before we finally came out of the line, but for the moment we were at liberty to rest and take stock of the casualties. These, alas, were very heavy, as the following list will show: Killed or Died of Wounds-Lieuts. A. M. Brighton, S. G. Moore, W. Henry, T. McClatchey, J. R. Brown, F. R. Harker-Thomas and 55 Other Ranks; Wounded-Lieut.-Col. F. Lister, Capt. S. H. Okell, Capt. I. C. R. Atkin, Lieuts. R. V. Leese, 0. Massey, E. H. Murphy, G. W. Archibald, and 151 Other Ranks. Missing, 3 Other Ranks. Our captures included 257 prisoners, 15 pieces of artillery and 18 machine guns. We had successfully taken our objectives and we had inflicted exceedingly heavy casualties on the enemy.

During the night a bombing attack was delivered by enemy planes on the Transport Lines of the whole Brigade, which were greatly crowded in a limited area; this attack resulted in several casualties, though the 102nd Battalion was fortunate in losing only animals and no men. Before dawn orders were received detailing the second phase of the Cambrai operation, and at 7.30 a.m. on the 29th we fell in and moved forward in support of the 12th Brigade, taking up our position round the Farme des Lilles, where we were to await the developments of the attack on our front. On this occasion the whole Corps movement was delayed by the failure of the Imperials on the extreme left of the First Division, who in their turn were on the left of the Fourth, to keep up with our advance, consequently we were not called upon to advance further that day, but at 4:30 on the morning of the 30th we fell in once more and moved forward to take part in an attack which was to be delivered by the 11th Brigade against the Hun positions south of Sancourt, Blecourt and Bantigny, after which we were to swing to the right towards the bridge-head at Eswars. It was very dark when we moved off, and we suffered casualties "en route" from shell fire before we took up our position as Reserve Battalion west of the Cambrai-Douai Road, moving forward half-an-hour later in support of the 87th, crossing the road in good order but under a heavy barrage. Headquarters were also moved up well to the fore east of the road. but at this juncture there was a halt, as the attack in front had been held up. After a conference in which the Brigadier, Major Bailey and the OC. 87th Bn. took part it was decided to pull back the 102nd to the west of the road, where it was to take up a defensive position as Reserve Battalion; this was done and the men dug themselves in, as it was by now evident that the Hun was attacking in strength and that the day's work would not lie in reaching the objectives originally planned, but in staying this attack. All day the enemy spent his forces in vain, After a personal reconnaissance the Brigadier gave orders that the attack would be delivered on the morning of the 1st October, and that this time the 102nd would lead the attack, with the 87th leap-frogging them when the objectives had been taken. Accordingly, at 5.00 on the morning of the 1st, "A" Coy. on the right and "C" Coy. on the left went forward to take the first objective; this was strongly held, but by skilful manoeuvring and heroic fighting the two companies captured their position and sent back a number of prisoners, whereupon "B" Coy. leap-frogged and fought its way through the second objective; this company suffered heavily, but by 10.00 the men had stormed the Hun position and had settled down to withstand the fierce counter-attacks which were already being massed against them and were pouring over from the direction of Bantigny over the ridge to the north; moreover, Blecourt had not yet been cleared of enemy machine gunners who were considerably hampering our movements, At this - point our artillery was called upon to concentrate on the enemy reinforcements and upon the machine gun emplacements in Blecourt, and we were also instrumental in giving valuable information to batteries belonging to the First and Second Divisions, But the fortunes of the day were in hazard, and "D" Company was brought up to form a flank facing Blecourt, when the company Lewis gunners did wonderful execution on the enemy massing round that village. Still the position was dangerous; the right flank of the Brigade was in the air, as the units on the right had fallen back; but, if we were nearly exhausted, so was the Hun - while he could yet put up a good defensive fight he had had almost enough, and it was decided to build up a strong defence along the positions which had been won, so that a well-consolidated line could be handed over to the 5th Brigade. This was done, and on the evening of the 1st we were relieved by the 28th Bn. and made our way back to the Transport Lines on the outskirts of Bourlon Village. In this second phase of the battle we captured 443 prisoners, one gun and 32 machine guns. Our casualties were: Killed or Died of Wounds-Lieuts. H. Banks, P. R. Pae and 31 Other Ranks; Wounded-Lieuts. J. S. Lamrock, V. Z. Manning, W. E. Crothers, G. Vancorbac, M.C.,.J. S. Rankin, D. Davidson (at duty), and 135 Other Ranks; Missing 3 Other Ranks.

It was during the fighting from September 27th to October 1st that Lieut. Graham Thomson Lyall won the only Victoria Cross awarded to the 102nd Battalion for a series of brilliant achievements carried out on September 27th and October 1st, during the course of which he was personally instrumental in the capture of 3 Officers, 182 Other Ranks; 26 Machine Guns and 1 Field Gun.

(Body)

 

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Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 

Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Images The Author The VC Uncle Bob 29th Battalion Links

BATTLE HONOURS

"SOMME, 1916", "Ancre Heights", "Ancre, 1916", "ARRAS, 1917, 18", "VIMY, 1917", "Hill 70", ", 1917", "PASSCHENDAELE", "AMIENS", "Scarpe, 1918", "Drocourt-Queant", "HINDENBURG LINE", "CANAL du NORD", "VALENCIENNES", "France and Flanders, 1916-18".

Be sure and visit the 102nd Battalion`s Sister Unit - the 54th Kootenay Battalion

Visit the 21st Battalion from Eastern Ontario

In Memory of LEONARD MUNROE, Lance Corporal, 634116, 21st Bn., Canadian Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regt.), who died on, Saturday, 3rd November 1917. Age 22. Son of Peter Munroe and his wife Ellen McDermid, of Maxville, Ontario, resting at PASSCHENDAELE NEW BRITISH CEMETERY, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, Grave Reference, IX. E. 11., all Canada in Khaki  pictures courtesy of Leonard Munroe' s descendant Maj Don MacLean, Canadian Armed Forces.