The Battle of Cambrai - World War One

- Second Lieutenant George Russell Hutchinson
- Private John Wright [Lancaster]
- Private Clarence Fleming
- Lance Corporal Thomas Craven Coverley
- Flying Officer William Hugh Coverley
- Private John Henry Clark
- Lance Corporal Douglas Horton

Unlike the battle scarred Arras sector to the north, the Cambrai sector of Northern France had seen very little of the war until November 1917 and had consisted of downland and open fields interspersed with woods and copses, and more importantly, firm and dry ground. Securely ensconced behind the Hindenburg Line, by November 1917 the German held city of Cambrai, [renowned for the manufacture of a fine linen known as ‘Cambric’], had become one of the most important railheads and headquarters towns in the north.

In front of the town had lain the immensely strong fortifications of the Hindenburg Line. Some five miles deep and comprising of six lines [including the as yet unfinished workings of the Canal Du Nord], of deep anti tank trenches, each protected by its own forest of heavy gauge barbed wire tens of yards thick and concrete machine gun posts, along with a multitude of underground bunkers, the fortifications in the sector of the so called ‘Siegfried Stellung’, or Hindenburg Line, guarding Cambrai had been considered the strongest of the whole eighteen mile line. Not for nothing had the Germans christened the area ‘the Flanders Sanatorium’, the place where they had sent their infantry exhausted by the fighting at Third Wipers to recuperate.

The seeds of the operation at Cambrai had been sown by Lieutenant Colonel John Fuller the Chief of Staff of the infant Tank Corps during June 1917. Dismayed by the Tank Corps thus far dismal performance Fuller had devised an ingenious plan to show once and for all what his beloved tanks could really do given the right circumstances such as surprise, and more importantly dry ground. Fuller’s original plan had merely been on the scale of a raid, and had suggested that the terrain between Cambrai and St Quentin had been ideal for a sudden but brief attack by tanks, which could crush the German wire, allow the infantry through to widen the breach, and then let the cavalry exploit eastwards into open country. Fuller had discussed his scheme with the Tank Corps Commander, Brigadier General Hugh Elles who had eventually approved and submitted the plan to Haig’s Headquarters, where the idea had been mooted around for a while before it had been shelved, the top brass electing to concentrate all their efforts in the forthcoming Third Wipers.

Fuller had revised his plan during August 1917. By this time his simple lightening raid had developed into a larger scale operation whereby a mass of tanks would make a ‘raid on Cambrai to spread ‘alarm and despondency’ after smashing their way through the Hindenburg Line before making a rapid return to base, the overall operation taking no longer than eight hours.

The Cambrai sector of the Western Front at this time had been held by the British Third Army. Commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Julian ‘Bungo’ Byng, Third Army had been responsible for the defence oaf some forty miles of the front and had consisted of five Army Corps. Byng had also been looking at the chances of an offensive in the area of Cambrai, and liking the idea of the involvement of a large force of tanks in his envisaged operation, had found favour with Fuller’s plan, and had submitted his own battle plan to G.H.Q. during August, proposing his attack could begin somewhere in September. These plans had also initially been shelved on the grounds that the British Armies could not cope with two operations at the same time. However, by September it had become blatantly obvious that the operations at Ypres had begun to literally flounder due to the continuous bad weather and impossible conditions. Haig, by this time badly needing a successful operation elsewhere in order to draw off the German reserves in Flanders, and also raise the spirits of a British Government and nation sickened by the dreadful losses in Flanders had begun to reconsider the possibilities of the Cambrai operation. despite a preference for more limited objectives, and fears regarding the lack of troops available for the assault had finally, on the 13TH of October, authorised Byng to start planning his attack, albeit with Haig reserving the right to close the operation down after 48 hours if it had shown no signs of success. ‘Z Day’ had been fixed for Dawn on Tuesday the 20TH of November. By this time Fuller’s ‘limited’ plan of operations had gone out of the window, the assault was no longer to be merely a tank raid, it was now to be a full-scale attack aimed at securing a breakthrough.

Basically Byng had planned for an initial breakthrough by seven divisions of infantry and three brigades of tanks towards, and around the town of Cambrai on a frontage of around 10,000 yards between the Canals De l’Escaut and Du Nord. The first objective had been the capture of the village of Flesquieres and the ridge bearing the same name, which overlooks the Hindenburg Line to the south west of Cambrai. From there the attack would swing to the north across the Bapaume - Cambrai road, to take Bourlon Ridge. Once all these objectives had been achieved the Cavalry Corps were to sweep through the newly created gap to the south and east of Cambrai, in effect to surround the city, whilst a combined force of infantry, tanks, and cavalry had rounded up the Germans trapped in the so called Cambrai ‘pocket’, before advancing north and eastwards towards the town of Valenciennes.

Byng’s plan for battle had been audacious and highly innovative. Not only for the use of massed tank and aircraft formations, but also for the lack of a preliminary bombardment, which in the past had inevitably alerted the enemy to a forthcoming assault. At Cambrai the one thousand or so supporting artillery pieces would not open fire until Zero Hour when they would concentrate their fire on the enemy’s positions and destroy them with a newly adopted ‘jumping barrage’, whereby the guns would move in a series of fairly big ‘lifts’, each of a few hundred yards onto the next German position, and counter battery firing against enemy artillery would only begin once the tanks and infantry had started to move forward. In addition to the six divisions of infantry [another two would be in support and a further three held in reserve], over four hundred of the new Mark 1V tanks, and 1,000 artillery pieces to be used in the Cambrai operation, no less than fourteen Squadrons of aircraft from the Royal Flying Corps 1ST Brigade would take part for observation and ground attack.

By the beginning of November preparations for the forthcoming operation had been far advanced. The main difficulty that had been encountered had been the accumulation of over four hundred tanks. In a Corps barely a year old, at the time of the initial planning the Tank Corps had not possessed this number of machines, the largest concentration of tanks ever to be seen. However, The number required had eventually been scraped together from numerous workshops, army supply depots, and docks. Some had come direct from the manufacturers in England, whilst others had been sent to the front from the Tank Corps Training Depot at Bovington, Dorset. A few of the tanks used at Cambrai had already been blooded in the ill fated tank operations of the Somme and Third Wipers, their scars hastily patched up and raring to at last show their mettle.

Another logistical nightmare had been the amount of stores that had had to be transported to the front. The tanks alone had needed over 165,000 gallons of petrol and 75,000 pounds of grease, 500,000 rounds of ammunition for their six pounder [57mm] guns together with over five million rounds of machine gun ammunition. In addition the artillery had been supplied with over five thousand tons of shells, ranging from the 4.5 inch required by the howitzers, to the 18pounders of the field guns [a trifling amount compared to Third Wipers, where the British artillery had expended over 465,000 tons of ammunition costing a staggering £84,000,000 pounds].

The final approval for the operation had been issued by General Headquarters on the 13TH of November, two days later the tanks had begun to clank their way to the front under the cover of darkness. With their commanders walking in front the tanks drivers had steered their extremely noisy petrol fume filled monsters between the two strips of white tape laid on the ground towards various ‘laying up point’s behind the front, the noise of their engines being drowned by machine gun fire. Of these nocturnal, and often dangerous operations one of the tank commanders [F.R.J. Jefford M.B.E.] had later recorded…

‘The tank commanders went out on foot under cover of darkness and laid white tapes through the maze of trenches to the points behind the front line. The tanks reduced speed so that the engines were just ticking over by the time the starting point was reached. It was a dangerous operation for the commanders, who had to walk in front of their tanks to guide the drivers. The greatest hazard was barbed wire; for if the commander got caught in this the chances were that he would be crushed down by his own tank. In fact, we lost several officers in this way before the battle started’…

By the night of the eighteenth the tanks had been hidden, under trees and in the ruins of houses. When they had all been in their positions and covered in camouflage netting their crews had been sent out with brooms and shovels to obliterate any trace of tank tracks. The whole operation had been considered as a complete success, the tanks and various petrol dumps had been so well concealed that many units in the vicinity had never known they were there.

The tanks had remained concealed until the fall of darkness the following evening, when, at 5pm, the tankmen had started up their machines to drive out of their hiding places to begin their four miles approach march to the front line. Once again the commanders had led the way on foot, many opting to guide their drivers with the glow from a lit cigarette. The drive had taken seven agonising hours at an average speed of around half a mile per hour. By midnight the tanks had reached their various start points for the morrow, where, after greasing the rollers of their steeds many of the tank crews had ‘turned in’ to in an attempt to catch a few hours of sleep before the off.

Facing the British had been the German Second Army under General Georg von der Marwitz. This army had been part of the Army Group commanded by Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, and had consisted of six divisions of infantry divided into two corps, or groups, the Arras and Caudry Groups. Second Army had been aware for some time of the impending British operation and had reinforced a number of units, especially those around the village of Havrincourt, with men brought directly from Flanders. However, the thought of masses of tanks, or anything else fort that matter, being able to ford the wide anti tank trenches of the Hindenburg Line had been thought of as utterly preposterous, and had disregarded the warnings.

By 5am everyone and everything had been in their allotted positions. At this time the British infantry had begun to cut through the British wire in readiness for the off, this had been seen by the Germans who had responded with the launching of numerous rockets and Very lights together with a fusillade of rifle and mortar fire. This had soon been taken up by the artillery, which had opened a terrific bombardment on the British positions. For a while it had seemed that the game was up, however, thirty minutes after it had begun, the firing had stopped as sharply as it had begun.

Tuesday the twentieth of November had dawned very slowly, grey and overcast. The attackers would later recall how the shapes of woods and trees had begun to emerge out of the fine ground mist together with the view of a rolling expanse of matted grass broken with patches of browned thistles and cow parsley, turning to a brownish green in colour. Partridges had spluttered into flight, whilst crows, intermixed with skylarks had begun to wheel noisily overhead. Of the enemy there had been no sign, in fact, there had only been the sight of the dense expanses of rusting barded wire to spoil an otherwise peaceful scene.

At 6am the tank crews had begun to get into their machines. By this time the gunners and drivers had been wearing various items of body armour, including armour plated face masks with slotted eye holes and chain mail veils hanging down to cover their mouths and lower faces. These had been their only protection against the tiny particles of red hot metal and paint that would fly around inside the tank once heavy machine gun fire had begun to pepper the outside walls of the vehicle. Once inside the men had been in a world of their own…

’Nothing could be seen outside, nothing could be heard, while inside one half shaded lamp gave an eerie, murky glimmer in the stygian gloom. The walls represented the limits of one’s world and the crew of eight—and the three carrier pigeons—the population. One was completely isolated. Existence depended on the driving skill of the driver and the wits of the officer. Tanks on the left and tanks on the right might be seen through the tiny peepholes in the armour plate, but they existed merely as other worlds. Once we started there was no co-operation between the tanks, no tactics, no external command—only the objectives we had been given and the method of attack we had been taught during training’…[1]

By ten past six the front row of tanks, most carrying on their noses huge tightly bound bundles of brushwood known as ‘fascines’ which would be dropped into the deep enemy trenches to make a bridge, had begun to move forward to the start line. In the centre of the formation had been ‘H’ Battalion. Amongst it’s machines had been one named ‘Hilda’ and it had been in this tank that the Commander of the Tank Corps, Brigadier General Hugh Elles himself, had taken the unprecedented step of taking up residence to advance into no mans land at the head of his force carrying the distinctive brown, red, and green pendant of the fledgling Tank Corps [designed by Elles and Fuller, the colours of the Tank Corps symbolise mud, fighting spirit, and fields for good going].

At precisely twenty minuets past six the engines of the tanks, until the merely purring, had broken into a loud roar as they had approached the British front line. A witness to their advance had later testified.

‘We heard the sound of tank engines warming up. The first glimpse of dawn was beginning as we stood waiting for the big bang that would erupt behind us at the end of the countdown. The tanks, looking like giant toads, became visible against the skyline as they approached the top of the slope…[2]

At the same time that the tanks had begun their advance the artillery had begun their bombardment of the enemy’s positions with a mixture of smoke, high explosives, and shrapnel, whilst out of the sky had roared the many Royal Flying Corps aircraft. Buzzing like an angry swarm of Hornets, the biplanes had joined in the battle by spraying the German positions with a deadly hail of machine gun fire. Thus had begun the Battle for Cambrai.

The story of the success of the first day’s operations have been told many times. The infantry had followed in the wake of the tanks and had soon crossed the five hundred yards of no mans land and had made their way with ease through the gaps in the wire created by the steel monsters. By 8am that day the whole of the Hindenburg Line between Havrincourt in the south to the Canal de l’Escaut, to the north had been taken. The once apparently impregnable barbed wire defences of the Hindenburg Line had literally been trampled flat and dragged to a side by the twenty-eight ton tanks like so much matchwood.

Soon the tanks had been ranging to the east attacking the remaining defenders in the communication trenches, strongpoints, and dugouts with their six pounders and machine guns. Hundreds of prisoners were walking back towards the old British line, and tanks and infantry were moving inexorably towards their second objective, the Hindenburg Support Line. By midday the attackers had secured a large part of the support line, advanced over two miles on a six mile front, wiped out three German divisions, and taken many guns and over two thousand prisoners for a cost of around four thousand killed, wounded and missing. However by the end of the end of the day one hundred and seventy nine of the tanks had either been knocked out by enemy action, or disabled by mechanical failure.

The news of the smashing of the Hindenburg Line and the great advance had broken in Britain the following day. On that momentous day, throughout the length and breadth of the country church bells, silenced since the beginning of the war, had been rung in jubilation of the magnificent victory. Of course the news had been emblazoned all the front pages of the nation’s newspapers including ‘The Scarborough Mercury’, which on Friday the 23RD of November had proclaimed;

‘Byng’s Bombshell - Most sensational attack of the war - A lengthy article had followed the proclamation, which in effect had said that the British attack had achieved all it’s objectives [including some which would never be taken], and everything had basically been fine in the kitchen. However, whilst this may, on the whole, have been the case regarding Third Corps operations, the contrary had applied to General Sir Charles Woollcombe’s Fourth Corps, and whilst the newsreaders of Scarborough, and the remainder of Britain had been digesting the largely inaccurate and exaggerated news from the Cambrai front during the evening of the twenty third, over in France, thousands of men belonging to the Corps had been fighting a savage battle for their lives.

Standing in the middle of the British assault, Flesquaires Ridge had been an important German observation position and should have been taken by the 51ST[Highland] Division on the first day. From the outset General George Harper, the C.O. of the Division, had been against the use of tanks, and although he had reluctantly accepted the order to use his Division’s allotted seventy machines he had done so without enthusiasm. Therefore at Zero Hour the attack had gone in as prescribed with the tanks in front, however, unlike all the other British Divisions, the ‘little fella’s’ of the 51ST had been ordered to remain well behind, not close in to the tracks like everyone else.

Inevitably, the essential cooperation between tanks and infantry had been lost, and as a result although the Division had breached the Hindenburg Line with ease, Harper had decided to stick to his original plan and had ordered his men to wait for one hour before pressing on to attack the ridge and village of Flesquires. During that vital hour the Germans had reinforced the positions with artillery, which, lying in ambush, had destroyed eleven machines before the infantry had started forward again.

Harper’s infantry had moved forward again at around 9-30am. Once again they had let their tanks go forward alone, utterly unaware that enemy guns were waiting on the far side of the ridge. As the machines had gone over the hill, exposing their lightly armoured underbellies, these guns had opened fire with the result that in less than thirty minutes twenty seven tanks had been set on fire, destroyed, and abandoned along the ridge, therefore at just after 10am on the first day the assault had been stalled. Heavy machine gun and artillery fire had been sweeping the ridge and the tanks, which could have knocked it out, had been destroyed.

By late afternoon the specially trained anti tank gun battery which had been responsible for the destruction of so many tanks had been knocked out and six machines had managed to enter the village. Nevertheless a lack of coordination between tanks had infantry had ensured no easy victory, and soon these machines had been driven out by heavy fire. The attack had been renewed by the infantry. Going forward without tank support, the Jocks had been decimated during fierce house to house fighting by machine gun fire, the survivors being forced to retire. Severe fighting had continued throughout the remainder of the day, a day where a battalion of German infantry supported by a few gun had succeeded in stopping the advance of a whole British Division together with a brigade of tanks [during that night the Germans had abandoned Flesquieres without a fight. The deserted village had been taken by the 51ST Division early the next day].

On the left of 51ST Division had been General Walter Braithwaite’s 62ND [2ND West Riding] Division. Formed from Second Line West Yorkshire Territorial Army units during 1914, the Division had arrived on the Western Front in January 1917. Badly mauled during operations at Bullecourt during May 1917, the Cambrai ‘push’ had been the unit’s first operation since then and had acquitted themselves admirably during the initial advance. Having reached the village of Havrincourt without too much bother the 62ND had encountered stiff opposition there, especially at the village’s Chateau, where the 2ND/5TH Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment had lost seven officers and a hundred and fifty other ranks. Despite these losses the village had been taken by 10-15 that day, and the formation had swept onwards towards their next objective, the village of Graincourt.

Spearheaded by General Roland Boys Bradford’s [at 25 years of age the holder of a Victoria, and Military Cross, and Britain’s youngest Brigadier General] 186TH Brigade, the Division had met little resistance until the unit, accompanied by a company of tanks and several squadrons of cavalry, had reached the outskirts of the village when a pair of 77 mm field guns positioned at the eastern edge of the village had knocked out six tanks with direct hits. Three more tanks had subsequently arrived from another direction to destroy the offending guns, and enter the virtually undamaged Graincourt with the Yorkshiremen hard on their heels. Following the fall of this village Bradford had ordered some of the infantry and cavalry to advance towards their next objective, the village of Anneux, including the remains of a sugar beet factory standing on the road to Cambrai, a few miles away.

Whilst this had been taking place Bradford had also ordered another patrol, consisting of three tanks, to reconnoitre the nearby Boulon Wood to see what the situation had been there. The patrol had return an hour later to report that they had seen the enemy retreating towards Cambrai, and much more importantly, they had abandoned their positions in the wood and village, leaving them open to whoever wished to take them. By this time, however, Bradford had received orders not to advance any further. Later in the day his cavalry had been held up in front of Anneux by machine gun fire, and that night the young General had ordered his men to withdraw to Graincourt, thus missing the golden opportunity of taking the vital Boulon Ridge and village without spilling blood. It would not happen again.

The Germans had spent the night of the twentieth trying to recover from the effects of a most traumatic day. They had lost the better part of three infantry divisions along with a large number of artillery pieces. At one point during that wet night, the Germans, expecting the arrival of the British at any moment at the gates of Cambrai, had begun to prepare for street fighting. However, by this time the British advance had slowed and had failed to make an exploitation of the situation. Consequently the ever resilient German’s had scraped together a scratch force consisting of every spare man, including cooks, bottle washers, and typists, who could be found to form a defensive line, known as the ‘Cantaing Line’, between the villages of Moeuvres, Cantaing, and Revelon, this they had been told to hold at all costs until the arrival of reinforcement, probably on the 23RD.

The morning of the twenty first of November had been cold, wet and miserable. Tired and hungry after their four miles advance the previous day the men of Third and Fourth Corps had continued with their assault. Whilst Third Corps had concentrated their efforts in the drive towards the Masnieres-Beaurevior line to the east of the villages of Marcoing and Masnieres, Fourth Corps had been ordered to take the all important Boulon Wood, the capture of which by this time had become of ‘paramount importance’.

By 6am that day the Jocks of 51ST Highland had moved into the abandoned Flesquieres and pushed onwards over the ridge towards Cantaing, where they had been greeted by heavy machine gun fire. Once again Harper had insisted that his ‘little fella’s’ attack the village without tank support with the inevitable result that the men of General Buchanan’s 154TH Brigade had been cut to pieces by the veritable hail of machine gun bullets. Thirteen tanks had eventually arrived by midday, which despite two of their number being knocked out almost immediately, had roared into Cantaing at the head at the head of a charge by a squadron of dismounted cavalry [The Queen’s Bay’s]. Fierce street fighting had ensued, nevertheless, by 1-30pm that afternoon the combined force of tanks, cavalry, and infantrymen had captured the village along with four hundred prisoners.

Fourth Corps next objective had been the capture of a village named Fontaine Notre Dame. Barely two miles from the outskirts of Cambrai, eight tanks under the command of Major Pearson had been given the task of pushing onwards to the village during the late afternoon with orders to hold it until the arrival of the infantry. The tank’s advance of four thousand yards had been along a narrow ridge between, on the left, the towering bulk of Boulon Wood [which by this time had been reoccupied in force by the Germans], and La Folie Wood on the right.

Exposed to severe machine gun and artillery fire from three sides from both positions the tanks had nevertheless ran the gauntlet, and Miraculously, despite the intense fire, none of the tanks had been seriously hit. Soon the tanks had been roaring into the village at their top speed of around five miles per hour, with all gun blazing away, the six pounders silencing the numerous enemy machine gun posts, and in addition, two field guns, one situated in the village, and another near Boulon Wood. Men from the Seaforth, and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders [51ST Division] had appeared half an hour later having lost many of their number near the hamlet of La Justice [out of 375 men of the Seaforth only 120 had reached Fontaine, the Argyll’s suffering almost as badly. At dusk the tanks ad returned to Cantaing to refuel and rest their crews leaving the weakened handful of Highlanders to defend the village believing that more men were on their way. There were no reinforcements forthcoming, by this time Harper had ordered his Division to halt where they had stood and to make no further attacks on the Cantaing Line until the 62ND Division had taken Boulon Ridge.

The street fighting at Fontaine had caused heavy casualties amongst the Jocks. By the end of the day the Seaforth and Argyll’s could barely muster two hundred men between them. That night had fortunately been quiet, food had been sent up to the meagre garrison but no desperately needed ammunition. At around 10pm a horse drawn convoy of German wagons had arrived at the village obviously unaware that the British had been there. Surprised to find fallen trees blocking their way the convoy had drawn to a halt, at which point men from the Seaforths had sprang out of the darkness to capture the first wagon in the line.

The other vehicles had managed to make a getaway. Later the same night the battered Argyll’s along with a number of Gordon Highlanders had been withdrawn from the village to take up defensive positions half way down the main road to towards Anneux, leaving the handful of Seaports to guard a perimeter around Fontaine some 3,500 yards in length, an impossible task for the few surviving men. Throughout the remains of the night the Jocks had got what sleep they could for out of the stillness of the night, in the not too distant city of Cambrai, they could the sound of trains arriving with German reinforcements destined intent on continuing the fight the following day.

Meanwhile, the 62ND Division’s assault on Boulon Ridge had been undertaken by ‘Boys’ Bradford’s redoubtable 186TH Brigade. Consisting of four battalions of the Duke of Wellington’s [West Riding] Regiment, the unit, delayed by the non-arrival of twenty tanks had begun its assault at around 10am and despite heavy German resistance, by mid day the formation had captured the village of Anneux. This had been the high point of a rather dismal, and costly, day for Bradford’s men who had, not for the want of trying, failed to achieve the remainder of their objectives. The Brigade had made no further progress that day, and with no possibility of being reinforced, with fall of night Bradford’s weary but valiant men had been withdrawn to Graincourt having captured over a thousand prisoners and thirty eight enemy artillery pieces since the opening day of the offensive. Their place in the line had been taken over by Brigadier General The Viscount Hampden’s 185TH Brigade [also from 62ND Division], albeit with difficulty due to the intense German harassing fire.

Whilst the battered remnants of the Duke of Wellingtons had been making their weary way to the rear, in Third Army’s Headquarters Byng had been receiving reports of the day’s operation from the various units of Third and Fourth Corps, non had made light reading. Poor staff work, plus a delay in getting orders forward following the cutting of telephone lines [usually by the tanks], combined with General Harper’s refusal to fight a modern battle had resulted in a general slowing down of the offensive.

The infantry had rapidly become accustomed to the comforting presence of tanks, even Harper’s ‘little fella’s’ had by this time got used to the idea, and had become increasingly reluctant to advance without them. The cavalry, waiting for the order to advance on Cambrai had still been waiting and had come to be regarded by the infantry as ‘useless frills cluttering up the battlefield’, at least in their mounted role, though some cavalrymen had done sterling service when used as foot soldiers. In fact, since the breaking of the Hindenburg Line two days before, very little had been achieved by Third Corps, and Fourth Corps together with the Cavalry Corps, had only achieved the objectives that they should have taken the day before.

With the approach of the forty eight hour deadline for pulling the plug on the Cambrai operation, Byng had forwarded a report of the day’s happenings to General Headquarters, which had basically told Haig that Fontaine had been captured, but Bourlon Ridge and Moeuvres had remained in German hands, and little progress had been made on Third Corps front against the L’Escaut Canal.

Seeing the dismal results laid before him Haig could have closed the Cambrai operation down at this stage as Fuller had originally intended, and be contented in the knowledge that the ‘raid’ on the Hindenburg Line had struck a serious punch to the confidence of the Germans, who had also lost a large number of men and guns during the assault. Nevertheless, with his reputation at an all time low following the recent debacle at Passchendaele, Haig, still seeking the wonderful victory, which would keep him in his job, had opted to continue the operation.

Following his decision to continue Haig and Byng had conferred on how to carry on with the battle and had drawn up a plan which had called for the closing down of Third Corps offensive, the Corps was now to go on the defensive and hold the line at the Canal de L’ Escaut, whilst Fourth Corps were to concentrate all their efforts in the capture of Bourlon Ridge. In effect, an operation which had once been an advance on a six miles front had become a battle for one objective, a low ridge of French earth rising from the west side of the Bapaume to Cambrai road barely a hundred and fifty feet in height crowned by six hundred acres of thick, now battle scarred woodland. Beyond this natural fortress, on the lower slope of the other side of the ridge had been Bourlon Village.

The operation to capture Bourlon Wood had been renewed on Friday the twenty third of November by the relatively ‘fresh’ 40TH Division, which had replaced the exhausted 62ND Division in the front line by dawn that day. The Division’s attack had begun at around 10-30 am on that wet and windy morning having been preceded by an artillery bombardment on the edge of the wood which had turned into a creeping barrage which had advanced one hundred yards every five minutes once the various unit’s had begun their advance. This assault had initially gone ‘fairly well’, the division capturing most of Bourlon Wood. However, that afternoon the German 3RD Guard Division had mounted a vicious counter attack which had almost resulted in the enemy retaking the hard fought for crest of Boulon Ridge, the attack only just being beaten back by the desperate efforts of men of the South Wales Borderers and Welch Regiment.

By dusk the Welshmen had managed to retake the crest of the ridge. Nevertheless, by the end of the day Bourlon village had still remained in German hands. The utterly expended 40TH Division had eventually been withdrawn from the line during the night of Major General Ponsonby’s 25TH and early hours of the 26TH of November, by this time the formation had lost a hundred and seventy two of its officers along with over three thousand men, the heaviest losses of all the British divisions which had entered the hell of the Boulon Ridge fighting.

Vicious fighting around, and for the village, had continued for the next four days, the final assault on Bourlon being carried out by the ‘refreshed’ 62ND Division on Tuesday the 27TH of November. By this time snow had fallen, however, on the day that the assault had gone in the snow had turned to rain.

Accompanied by nineteen tanks the Division’ 186TH and 187TH Brigades had begun their assault in the wake of a bombardment of the village with shrapnel and high explosives which had begun at 6-30 that morning. On the left, the men of 187TH Brigade’s 2/5TH York and Lancaster’s and 2/5TH King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry had been led towards the ravaged village by eleven tanks and had soon run into strong barbed wire defences which had been untouched by the bombardment. Here the two battalions had been cut to pieces, especially the KOYLI, by a veritable hurricane of machine gun and rifle fire, whilst ten of their tanks had been disabled by shell fire [during the attack five of the nineteen tanks had literally been lost never to be seen again].

On the right of the assault, Bradford’s elite 186TH Brigade had fared little better, the three battalion’s of Duke of Wellington’s being stopped in their tracks by the intense fire having achieved none of their objectives. During that afternoon the Germans had mounted their inevitable counter attack, which had caused all the attacking force to be withdrawn to the high ground in the rear. Once again Briathwaite’s Division had been unable to capture Boulon and could do no more. The Division had eventually been relieved, during a bombardment of gas shells, by the 47TH Division on the 28TH of November. By this time the division had lost one hundred and fifty four officers and three thousand one hundred and seventy eight other ranks. Amongst these appalling casualties had been twenty two years old; Second Lieutenant George Russell Hutchinson.

A Subaltern in the 2ND/8TH [Leeds Rifles] Battalion of the Prince of Wales’s Own [West Yorkshire Regiment], George, known popularly by family and friends as ‘Russell’, had been born in the West Yorkshire city of Leeds at No.11 Royal Park View, Headingly, on the 14TH of June 1895, and had been the only son of Maud Francis [formally Brayshaw], and ‘Auctioneer’ Charles Brown Hutchinson, who at the time of their son’s death had been the proprietors of the Criterion Hotel located on the corner of Scarborough’s North Street and Castle Road [once a favoured watering hole of the author, in 2005 the ‘Cri’ is known as ‘The Castle Tavern’].

Having spent most of his formative years in the polluted atmosphere of Leeds, Russell had arrived in Scarborough with his parents during 1906, to live at No.57 Tennyson Avenue. The Hutchinson’s had remained at this address until 1910, when Charles had opened a fruit and vegetable business at No.79 Victoria Road, the family, by this time joined by daughter Gertrude Lillian [born 1907], living in the rooms above the shop.

A pupil of Scarborough’s Central Board School until the age of thirteen, Russell had left the school at the end of the summer term of 1908 to begin work as a trainee journalist with Scarborough’s daily newspaper ‘The Scarborough Evening News’, which had been, and still is, located at No.19 Aberdeen Walk. Hutchinson had remained in this post until 1912, when at the age of seventeen he had left the town for the Midlands city of Leicester, where he had been taken onto the staff of the city’s ‘Leicester Mercury’ newspaper.

Russell Hutchinson’s military career had begun in the autumn of 1914 when he had enlisted into the army at Leicester with the multitudes of hopeful recruits spoiling for a fight before the war had ended, as most people at the time had falsely believed, before that forthcoming Christmas. George had initially enlisted for the duration of the war into the Army Cyclist Corps and had served for a time as a Private [Service Number 12898] with this unit. However, during November 1914 he had transferred to the newly formed [September] 7TH [Service] Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment [No.11391], which had been a unit of the 110TH Brigade of the 37TH Division.

Following a period of intensive training on Salisbury Plain, by June 1915 Hutchinson and the remainder of 37TH Division had been deemed fit for Foreign Service, and on the twenty fifth of the month the formation had been inspected at Sidbury Hill [Wiltshire] by King George the Fifth. The following month the Division had received orders to proceed to France and by the second of August 1915 Hutchinson had been stationed at Tilques, a town situated to the north west of St Omer. By September 1915 Hutchinson’s Battalion had been in trenches to the north of Fonquevillers [better known to the Tommy's as ‘Funkyvillers’]

Gazetted as a Temporary Second Lieutenant during August 1916, following his ‘passing out’ from Officer Training Hutchinson, wearing a solitary Second Lieutenants ‘pip’ on his sleeve cuff, had returned to Scarborough for a period of leave with his parents, who by this time, had been resident at the Criterion Hotel, his father having recently [July] taken over the Hotel’s licence from Edward Hall Newham, after having worked for the previous two years as a Barman for Mrs Mary A.R. Story [The widow of William Good Story who had passed away ‘very suddenly’ on the 30TH of October 1914 at the age of 53years], the proprietor of Queen Street’s, ‘Castle Hotel’ [demolished during the 1990’s the site of the hotel is in 2005 occupied by a block of maisonettes known as ‘Blackfriars’].

George Hutchinson had joined the 2ND Line Territorial Force’s Leeds Rifles [commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A.H. James] during October 1916 whilst the unit had been carrying out an intensive course of training on Salisbury Plain with the remainder of 62ND Division prior to the formation being sent overseas. The Division, commanded by Major General Walter Braithwaite, had eventually received its orders to proceed to France at the opening of January 1917 and on the fifteenth of February the formation had moved into the front line for the first time, in the waterlogged Ancre Sector of the Somme front [that same day the division had suffered it’s first casualty, when 21years old Leeds born, 2976 Private Charles Edward Ward, belonging to the 2ND/ 7TH West Yorkshire’s had been killed by a sniper’s bullet].

During April 1917 Hutchinson, and the remainder of 62ND Division had taken their places in the offensive at Arras, when they had been thrown into the ‘blood tub’ that had been the so-called First Battle of Bullecourt. Previously untried in battle the formation had been given the impossible task of capturing the village of Bullecourt, an objective which had defied even the battle hardened Australians. Nonetheless, the West Yorkshiremen had been assigned to the taking of the village However, on the day that the unit had expected to begun their assault [11TH of April], the unit’s supporting tanks had not arrived and the division had received a report that the Aussies had taken Bullecourt. This had not agreed with the information being brought back by various reconnaissance patrols that had seen no Australians in the village and had also reported the village’s defences to be intact and that snipers and machine guns had been active, and that to attack would be suicidal. In the end the Division had not made their attack, for which the formation’s Commanding Officer had been severely criticized.

Following the affair in April, the 62ND Division had launched an unsuccessful attack on Bullecourt, once again, with the intention of taking the village on the 3RD of May. Assisted by eight tanks the attack had failed due to what the ‘Official History’ had termed ‘the inability of the infantry to follow the tanks’ [3], and makes no mention of the withering wall of machine gun and shell fire into which the West Yorkshiremen had been forced to advance that day. Extremely fortunate not to be amongst the 116 officers and 2,860 other ranks of 62ND Division reported killed, wounded, or missing during the operations on the third of May, on the fourteen of the month, Hutchinson, had been moved with the remainder of the Division, to Courcelles to refit, train and await reinforcements. Whilst at Courcelles the officers and men had either been billeted in ruined houses or had camped out under canvas and over the ensuing months had carried much hard training. Of this period the West Yorkshire Regiment’s Historian [Wyrall] comments;

‘They had lost heavily at Bullecourt, but they had shown a fine fighting spirit, though their first action had shown [as battalions newly arrived in France and Flanders always showed when they underwent their baptism of fire] that further training was necessary’…[4]

The seemingly endless rounds of training endured by the men of the 62ND Division had come to an end during late June 1917, when the formation had received orders to relieve the 20TH Division in the fairly quiet Noreuil- Lagnicourt sector of the Western Front. Whilst there the various battalions of West Yorkshire infantry had carried out numerous raids on the opposing enemy positions until August when they had once again returned to trench duties in the Bullecourt sector of Northern France, where they had remained until they had been summoned to the battle for Boulon Wood during mid November.

On Friday the thirtieth of November Maud and Charlie Hutchinson had received the dreaded buff coloured official envelope containing a telegram from the West Yorkshire Regiment’s Records Office [located at York’s Fulford Barracks], informing them of a communiqué having been received from the front reporting their beloved son as having been listed as ‘killed in action’ on the 22ND of November 1917. The heart wrenching tidings had eventually been featured in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 7TH of December 1917;

‘Lieutenant Hutchinson reported fallen - Mr Chas Hutchinson, of the Criterion Hotel, Castle Road, received an official telegram on Friday with the intimation that his son, Sec-Lieutenant George Russell Hutchinson, has fallen in action on the 22ND of November.

Hopes are entertained that there may be some mistake, as Lieut. Hutchinson’s parents as well as a friend have letters from him, which are dated by him at the head of the letter November 24TH. Mr. Hutchinson is, in consequence, making further enquiries.

Lieut. Hutchinson began his career as a journalist in the office of this journal, from which he removed to Leicester and there enlisted after the outbreak of war. He was engaged at different times in France on special duty, such as interpreter. In August last he obtained his commission and was drafted to the [West] Yorkshire Regiment, being in Scarborough on leave about that time’….

The uncertainty surrounding the death of George Hutchinson had been settled within a week, as further news of the officer had appeared in the following week’s ‘Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 14TH of December;

‘Lieut. G. R. Hutchinson - When the telegram arrived announcing the death in action of Second Lieutenant George Russell, son of Mr. Hutchinson, Criterion Hotel, Castle Road, it was thought possible that a mistake had occurred as his parents received a letter from him dated two days after that on which his death was reported. Inquiries since instituted, however, do not support the hope, as a letter has now been received from Lieut. [Ernest] Wrightson, of the same regiment, conveying the sad news that Lieutenant Hutchinson was killed by shrapnel. Lieut. Wrightson was with him a few minutes before he met his death’…

Although George Russell is officially recorded as having lost his life on Monday the 26TH of November 1917, his name is not mentioned in the Regimental History, the only officer casualties of the 2/8th West Yorkshire’s at this time, according to Wyrall, had been one killed [twenty years old Second Lieutenant Alan Webster Shann] and two others wounded on the 27th of November. Neither is George’s name mentioned in the Battalion’s ‘War Diary’ entry for the 22ND of the month, therefore, it must be assumed that he had been killed between these dates. [4]

No identifiable remains of Lieutenant Hutchinson had ever been recovered from the Cambrai battlefield and at the end of the war his name had been included on Cambrai Memorial to the Missing. Located in Louveral Military Cemetery, near the small village of Louveral, some sixteen kilometres to the south west of Cambrai, the Memorial contains the names of over seven thousand servicemen belonging the United Kingdom and South Africa, who had lost their lives during the battle and the subsequent fighting in December 1917, who like George, possess ‘no known grave’.

George’s name [and that of Leeds born Lieutenant Shann] is to be found on Panel five of the Memorial.

In Scarborough, apart from the Oliver’s Mount Memorial, George Hutchinson’s name is commemorated on a gravestone in Dean Road Cemetery [Section F, Border, Grave 54], which also contains the name of his Leeds born father and mother. The eldest son of C.H. Hutchinson of Kirkgate Market, Leeds [1919], Charlie Hutchinson had died at the Criterion Hotel during Thursday the 16TH of October 1919 at the age of forty nine years. Following the death of her husband Maud Hutchinson had remained for a time as the proprietor of the Criterion Hotel until the mid 1920’s when she had retired, to live in Scarborough for many years at No.32 Elmville Avenue.

The daughter of George Brayshaw of Beeston Hill, Leeds, Maud Hutchinson had passed away at No1 Prospect Bank, the home of her remaining child, Gertrude Lillian [the wife of Edward Leslie Haldane], almost exactly thirty eight years after her beloved George, on Friday the 18TH of November 1955 at the age of 82 years, her remains had been interred at the site following a service of remembrance at St Columba’s Church during the afternoon of Monday the 21ST of November. The Dean Road memorial also contains the name of Gertrude Elizabeth Brayshaw, Maud Hutchinson’s sister, late of No18 Cleveland Avenue, who had died in a Scarborough Nursing Home on Thursday the sixth of December 1945.

A year after the death of the officer, on Friday the 29TH of November 1918, the following dedication had appeared in the ‘In Memoriam’ section of that afternoon’s edition of ‘The Scarborough Mercury’;

‘In dear and loving memory of Lieutenant G.R. [Russell] Hutchinson 2ND/8TH West Yorkshire Regiment, killed in action 27TH November 1917- Nora’…

Throughout the night of the 21st of November the beleaguered handful of 1ST/4TH Seaforth Highlanders holding the ruins of Fontaine Notre Dame had listened to the sounds of their nearby enemy making preparations to renew their attack the following day. Well aware of being in boxed into a salient, and therefore extremely vulnerable to attack from three sides the Jocks, crouched amongst the ruins of ‘their’ village, although holding little hope of keeping a grip on the village had nevertheless chosen to make a fight of it.

The morning of Thursday the twenty second of November had dawned with mist and a cold wind [it would turn to rain later in the day] at first light the Germans had sent aircraft over the village obviously spotting for the artillery. Soon afterwards the enemy had begun to shell the village and the Highlanders had seen German infantry massing for the attack about a thousand yards away on both sides of the village. By this time the Jocks had fired off numerous rockets requesting fire support, however, none of these had been seen owing to the mist and soon they had been embroiled in a desperate fight for their lives. Outnumbered by more than five to one, the outcome of the battle had been inevitable, nevertheless, the ensuing six hours of ferocious fighting had been a time of extraordinary gallantry on the part of the Seaforth’s who had held off a force of at least regimental strength.

By 2-30 that afternoon the battle of Fontaine had ended. With no ammunition, and precious few men remaining, the surviving Jocks had got clear of the village to make their perilous way across the shallow valley to the British lines at Cantaing, where, following a post battle call of the regimental roll it had been found the battalion had lost eleven officers killed or wounded, thirty other ranks killed, a hundred and ninety two wounded, and further eighty six men were ‘missing’.

With the battle of Cambrai rapidly swinging in favour of the Germans and the village of Fontaine, the gateway to Cambrai, now lost, Haig had pressured Byng into bringing his reserves into the battle, insisting that Fontaine be retaken and Bourlon Wood captured by the 27TH of November, at the latest. The almost impossible task of Retaking Fontaine had eventually been handed to the Guards Division, which had duly taken over the British line from the Fifty First [Highland] Division.

The fate of the men about to take part in the assault on Fontaine had been sealed at a high level meeting that had taken place in a hut at Havrincourt the previous day. Attended initially by with Lieutenant General Holcombe [4TH Corps C.O.] Major Generals Fielding, Guards Division, and Braithwaite, 62ND Division [Field Marshal Haig and General Byng had arrived later], the meeting had begun at 9-30 that day with the three Generals discussing for some time the merits of an attack on Fontaine, which by this time had been defended by no less than three divisions of German infantry along with five hundred artillery pieces. Fielding had felt that the capture of the village would be an impossible task unless the high ground near Rumilly had been taken beforehand. Fielding had subsequently discussed his dislike of the operation with Byng later that afternoon who had insisted that the attack must go ahead regardless of the General’s foreboding.

Following this ultimatum the three Generals had between themselves arranged the details of their final details for the assault; ‘and it was apparent that G.O.C. Guards Division had not considered the attack on Fontaine, and had made no plan whatsoever, in spite of being warned by B.G.G.S. the afternoon before’. [5]

Faced with the suicidal task of capturing a heavily defended objective which had virtually been untouched by British artillery, Fielding had returned to his Headquarters at Flesquieres, where he had met with his three Brigade Commanders to draw up a plan of attack for the next day, which more or less, had been drawn up on the back of a cigarette packet. Obviously, with so little time before the beginning of the operation during the early hours of the next day, Fielding had had to keep his plan simple and had therefore plumbed for the traditional British frontal attack, which would be assisted by twelve tanks.

The attackers first objective had bee the capture of the enemy’s main line of resistance which had ran from a road junction at the east end of Fontaine to the northern edge of Bourlon Wood, whilst the second objective had been the securing of a line running south to north through the village, past the church, including the capture of the village railway station and the eastern outskirts of Fontaine, which would then become the Guards outpost line. Fielding had eventually consigned the task of taking Fontaine to Brigadier General Sergison-Brooke with his 2ND Guards Brigade, which had consisted of four battalions of Foot Guards, the 3RD Grenadier, 1ST Coldstream, 1ST Scots, and 2ND Irish Guards.

The Brigade had begun its approach to the front at dusk on the 26TH of November. Held in reserve at Ribecourt, the officers and men of the formation had left the village in darkness and into the teeth of a blizzard. Marching in silence, the greatcoated Guardsmen, their steel helmeted heads bowed to the driving snow, although well used to the rigours of marching, had nonetheless found their going difficult, the thick cloying mud sticking to their boots until the men had felt like their feet were attached to footballs. Despite their difficulties the Guards had fought their way to their start line and by the time that dawn had begun to show a ‘dirty white’, all had been made ready for the off.

On the left flank of the assault had been the 2ND Irish Guards. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander, The ‘Second Micks’ had had the worst experience of all of the Guards units during their approach march. Having endured a long journey from Flequieres in the bad weather conditions via La Justice, and Graincourt, the battalion had also been assailed by a heavy enemy artillery barrage, nevertheless the Micks had made it, albeit in a wet, tired, and shell shocked state. By Zero Hour the previous nights snow had turned to freezing rain [it would rain throughout the remainder of that day]. Promptly at 6-20 the British barrage had opened on Fontaine, and had begun to creep forward in the pre determined five minute ‘lifts’. This fire had been accompanied by an intense barrage of machine gun fire which had been use to quell enemy machine gun fire from the nearby La Folie Wood.

The 2ND Irish Guards task in the Fontaine operation had been to support the assault on Bourlon Wood [which had simultaneously been taking place to the left of the Guards attack] by 62ND Division, the battalion making an assault in the darkness towards the northeast corner of the Wood. Advancing in two waves, almost immediately the Irishmen had come under intense enemy fire coming from Bourlon Wood, which had caused many casualties. Nonetheless, the survivors had continued their advance and had soon coma across a line of enemy outposts, where the Micks had found many Germans sheltering from the elements. By this time the blood of the men had been ‘well up’ and as one can imagine few Germans had survived the subsequent ferocious onslaught with bayonets. The fortunate few that had managed to survive the cold steel had been taken prisoner and marched to the rear. As the Irish advance had continued on its way, one could say almost blindly, they had captured many prisoners along with a number of enemy guns but at a high price.

By this time elements of the ‘Micks’ had lost direction, and within an hour of the start No.2 Company had drifted to the left, but the remaining three had managed to maintain direction due to the use of compasses. However, by 9am the unit had been sorely mauled by a tenacious foe and the battalion had become fragmented into small fighting groups of desperate Irishmen fighting for their very lives. By Midday communication with the Micks had been lost. Fearing the worst, Fielding had ordered two companies of the supporting 1ST Battalion of the Welsh Guards forward to find what had happened to them. Just the onset of darkness the remnants of 2ND Irish Guards had been found, far from dead and still fighting in Bourlon Wood. That night the force, by then consisting of around one hundred and seventeen rifles, had been escorted out of the dreaded wood having lost around three hundred and twenty two of their number, including most of their officers.

In the centre of the assault, 1ST Coldstream Guards had got into position despite the bad weather to begin their attack at Zero Hour. Like the Irish Guards to their left, the Coldstream had begun their assault without tanks and had soon run into difficulties due to the intense enemy fire coming from well concealed machine gun positions in well dug trenches, and houses dotted along their line of attack. Nevertheless, within two hours, despite their appalling losses, the Coldtsream had fought their way into Fontaine and had battered their way through the village until they had arrived at the railway line at the other side, in the process capturing the commune’s railway station. However, by this time the Coldstream had lost so many men that the survivors had at one point been on the verge of being surrounded and annihilated by the numerically superior enemy force. Therefore, soon after 10am that morning the remaining Guardsmen had been ordered to make a fighting retreat back through the village to their original start line.

Later that day, back in the relative safety of Ribecourt, only 180 officers and men out of the force of around six hundred who had begun the attack earlier that day, had answered their names during the post battle call of the Battalion’s roll.

On the right of the assault had been the 3RD Battalion Grenadier Guards. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A.F.A.N. ‘Bulgy’ Thorne D.S.O., the Battalion had been divided into the customary four companies [numbered 1 to 4], each consisting of three officers and around one hundred and fifty N.C.O.’s and men. Third Battalion had belatedly begun their advance at 6-45 that misty morning, once again the supporting tanks had not arrived and the five hundred officers and men had moved off without their comforting presence.

Spearheaded by 2ND Lieutenant G.H.R. Hoare’s No.3 Company on the left, and the twenty years old, Lieutenant Gavin Patrick Bowes-Lyon’s No.1 Company on the right flank [with No's 4 and 3 Company’s in support], no sooner had the Grenadiers left their assembly trench than they too had encountered an intense fusillade of fire coming from a small house some two hundred yards to their right front, as well as that from a line of trenches located just to the east and south of the village. Despite many casualties, including Lieutenants ‘Mary’ Bowes-Lyon and Hoare, a handful of Grenadiers had got to the German wire, which they had found to be uncut. A way through the wire had eventually cut, however by this time only one sergeant and six men had been capable of continuing the assault, this they had done and had somehow fought their way to the village’s church where they had sought what cover they could from the intense enemy sniper fire to await the arrival of urgently needed reinforcements. [2]

The surviving members of No’s 1 and 3 Companies had eventually been joined by Captain J.S. Hughes M.C. and a few of his Guardsmen of No.4 Company. Determined to continue the assault Hughes had divided his small force into two parties, one of which he had led in an attack on a troublesome enemy trench on the road to Cambrai, whilst the Company’s second in command, Second Lieutenant C.W. Carrington, had been ordered to secure the road to the village railway station as far as the village crucifix. After a struggle both these objectives had been achieved.

The first objective of 3RD Grenadiers had now been achieved and a great number of Germans had been captured but the battalion by this time had been so short of men that there had not even been enough to escort their captives to the rear. Soon the Guardsmen had begun to run short ammunition, and their supply of hand grenades had become dangerously low. This critical situation had been exacerbated by the harassing fire coming from two derelict tanks [which had been destroyed days before during 51ST Division’s attack on the village] and a trench system just south of Fontaine, which had picked off the Guardsmen almost at random.

With precious little information coming out of the mayhem at Fontaine, ‘Bulgy’ Thorne had decided to go into the village himself to find out what had been happening. Taking along the Battalion’s Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Carstairs would later write of his experience;

‘The full orchestra of battle was on. The air seemed alive with invisible wires being twanged, while the earth was thumped and beaten. The bullets zipped, whizzed whistled, spun, sung, and sighed according to their proximity and their point of flight…Together we proceeded up the main street of Fontaine Notre Dame, down which machine gun bullets were pouring with the volume of water from a fire hose. We hugged the houses to minimise the danger of being hit. We reached the cross roads and I marvelled that a man could get so far and remain alive. We were in the van of the battle.

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