The Kensington Rifles/Your country needs you

Chapter IV: Your country needs you

The Winter of 1916 -1917 The weather had been awful, with wind driven sleet and snow… but the Allies kept up the pressure. The local populace could not remember a colder winter, there were weeks of unbroken frost. Uniforms froze solid and could not be taken off before being partly unfrozen. Plans were afoot to restart the attacks on the front as soon as the weather improved... The Germans strengthened their line by giving up some less tactical parts to permit an easier defensible position. Their army was undoubtedly weaker. In mid-March the Germans pulled back to the Hindenburg Line constructed the previous year by the then Chief of Staff Von Hindenburg and his Quartermaster General Ludendorff. It stretched from the coast to Metz and was an extremely strong series of interlinking strong points and barbed wire entanglements. The Allies plan, devised by the French General, Robert Neville, was to launch a massive attack in the south – on the Aisne, whilst the British were to contribute by asserting pressure, with fourteen divisions, in front of Arras. This surprise attack was meant to guarantee victory in forty-eight hours.

Battle of Arras, 9th April – 20th May, 1917Edit

On the 4th April, a furious bombardment commenced. Once again the object was: to cut the wire, keep the Germans underground, knock out as many strongholds as possible and give hope and support to the waiting troops. This artillery effort had 2,800 guns firing a variety of calibres.

The attack by the British troops began on the morning of the 9th April that included ten British and four Canadian divisions. The goal was to scale the Vimy Ridge heights.

At the northern end of the line the attack was a brilliant success as the troops backed up by tanks forced the heights on a three mile front. Ten thousand prisoners were captured, stronghold blasted flat and many guns destroyed and captured. However, at the southern end of the ridge the battle see-sawed backwards and forwards for five days… the Germans directing more and more reserves forward. Five days later the British attack was halted to allow the French to advance to the Aisne… The French tried hard to keep the pressure up but the offensive turned into a colossal failure as the Germans started to press forward. The French injected further fresh troops which together made fifty-four divisions attempting to hold the tide. Mutiny took place as Frenchmen refused to take up arms. Nivelle was sacked and Marshal Petain installed as the new Commander-in-Chief. Around Arras General Haig continued to attack into May. They were costly advances. The Kensingtons played an important part for over nine weeks having to re-enter the line on a number of occasions.

The Kensingtons were directed to take up quarters not far from the station of Rue du Saumon. All the houses adjacent to the station had their cellars linked together. These quarters had been occupied by each army in turn as the battles seesawed backwards and forwards. The men were detailed off sleeping on all the floors of each of the houses still standing. The battalion was taken out of the line and the majority of men were found room in the Schramm Barracks. The whole place was crowded with troops from Canada and South Africa.

On the 9th April, there was launched, on a front of fourteen miles, the Battle of Arras. The most important feature was Vimy Ridge, which stands two or three miles to the north of Arras. The men still had to put up with the atrocious weather conditions. When the battle commenced on Easter Monday there was a strong south-westerly squalls rain and sleet and even snow flurries hampered the build up in the front lines. As usual there were some successes but the bad weather played a part in stopping observation by the Royal Flying Corps – to give the fall of shot. A week later there was launched to the south an offensive by general Nivelle who had prophesied would be a day of glory for France. It turned out to be one of appalling disaster, partly because the Germans had acquired the plans for the French attack. The French were soundly beaten and broken… they were on their knees.

The failure by the French meant that the British had to not only withstand their own pressure received from the Germans but push forward with even greater force to take some of the pressure off the French front. General Haig had to continue the battle longer than he wanted to. It was during that week that the United States entered the war against Germany.

Towards the end of April 1917 Douglas Haig completed his plans for the campaign in Flanders, something he had always wanted but was dissuaded by Nivelle. Over the next three weeks the already tired troop were told to keep up the pressure and go on the attack. During May these attacks failed at Cambrai.

The Kensington battalion stayed on the Arras front for over two months, not always at the same sector for they were occasionally rested… to return to some other position. The battalion took up residence of some villages behind the line. Afterward returned to Beaurains – in reserve. There the men helped construct a new camp using corrugated iron. Once again the weather was awful - raining continuously.

Third Battle of the Scarp, 3rd May, 7th June, 1917Edit

On the 3rd May the British Army made a gallant attack at a quarter to four in the morning on the Hindenburg Line along a front of sixteen miles, the most formidable was the section around Bullecourt, ten or so miles to the southeast of Arras. The broke through in many places but their successes were short-lived because the enemy threw in a series of counter-attacks. There took place what was known as the Third Battle of the Scarp. For two years the British miners had been tunnelling under the ridge constructing twenty-one mines of which two failed to detonate, the other nineteen succeeded. The German knew this was going on but not the scale of exact whereabouts. The massive explosion destroyed part of the German front line and support positions.

The attack on the Messines Ridge was commanded by General Sir Herbert Plumer leading the British 2nd Army of nine infantry division from X, IX, and II Anzac Corps. Plumer had his orders extended to cover the first line, the second, the village of Wytshaete, and the reverse slope position… an advance of nearly two miles. He deployed massed artillery pieces whose job it was to saturate the German lines - to be taken, and return fire - to eliminate German artillery positions. The creeping barrage was followed up by tanks and infantry who achieved their aim – the village of Messines in the first phase, an hour after the explosion. The second phase, the village of Wytshaete, fell two hours after that. This June offensive was a success achieving its objectives with fewer casualties than expected.

The attack was launched once again in the early hours of the 7th June 1917… starting by this enormous explosion - from a series of nineteen gigantic mines at 3.10, that exploded underneath the ridge itself… and was even heard in London. This literally blowing the Germans off the ridge. Initially the attack was a success achieving all the first objectives. The British and Empire Forces immediately occupied the ridge… they quickly reassembled the trenches reversing the firing steps and parapet. Several attempts were made by the Germans to retake the line but to no avail - they were not strong enough.

Unfortunately Douglas Haig was asked to attend a meeting with the Politicians in London. These meeting lasted six weeks and during this time when the weather was at its best the moment was lost, impetus drained away. The storming of the ridge at Messines and the opening of the larger offensive cost the British troops dearly.

1st Battle of Passchendale, 15th July, 1917Edit

By the time Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, the British Expeditionary Force’s Commander-in-Chief returned from England, the Germans had found some reserves, even thinning out troops in the front line opposite the French, who were in no position to take advantage. Haig believed the German Army was on its last legs – near to collapse after the battles of The Somme and Arras. The British Grand Plan, its primary motive, was to break out of the salient and open up a route to the Belgian coast and the U-boat harbours - to relieve the strain on the multi-national merchant fleet – stop the sinking of desperately needed supply vessels.

At the end of June there was launched a series of separate attacks made by Britain’s Army. The culmination is recorded under a number of titles [indicated] Third Battle of Ypres. It was the start to total misery. The British command attacked the Imperial German Army… the object: to seize the village of Passchendale. As secondary motives: to deny the Germans the better defended ridge… to take some of the strain off the French at Verdun, who were having morale problems… to deflect the German submarine campaign… to hinder the German bombers offensive on mainland England.

The British War cabinet approved the plan for the summer offensive – to begin in the 20th July 1917. A vast number of artillery piece were assembled whose task was to completely flatten the German trenches, supply dumps and strongholds. Eleven days were calculated in which to accomplish this task.

The picture facing the British was one of a low lying ridge that gave the defending enemy better observation of the plain. This, the British observed from a naturally swampy plain without any redeeming features. The farmland had been criss-crossed with drains and ditches seeking natural escape routes for the water. These watercourses had been blasted away over the previous months that not only upset the natural flow of water but redirected storm water. That summer the weather had been unusually wet.

British and Commonwealth troops attacked making a spectacular advance quickly. That summer was a particularly wet one… during the bombardment the rain started falling… off and on, during the whole period… turning into a heavy drizzle on the day of the attack. The battlefield was a quagmire. Nevertheless the troops mostly achieved their allotted tasks.

The Germans, in their organised manner, had prepared on the ridge deep fortifications, blockhouses, pillboxes and defensive positions with linking defile trenches protected by staked barbed wire, all covered against enfilading fire. These defended positions formed four lines facing the British and a further line on the reverse slope. Adopting their newly devised plan of lightly defending the forward position, keeping the body of their troop below ground in deep shelters and retaining reserves in counter-attacking positions, they awaited the battle. The manner of defence was replicated at both the villages of Messines and Wytshaete.

To consolidate the newly won positions and to plan the next advance took six weeks. During this delay the Germans improved their defences by installing another strategic defence line to the south, and a further one on the reverse slope. The existing machine-gun emplacements were resisted to take regard of the new, extra, defence line.

The battle started about the middle of July lead by General Sir Herbert Gough. Is task was to take the Gheluvet Plateau, which was proceeded by a four-day bombardment. The Germans knowing that this probably heralded an attack moved more troops the defences. Appreciating the significance of the prolonged barrage they prepared their new offensive weapon mustard gas.

Battle of Pilckem Ridge, July, 1917Edit

After the bombardment the British attacked forcing their way up the slight ridge gaining over a mile. The British were learning the hard way that it is better to plan carefully to achieve a limited objective then defend it. The artillery also responded to the counter-battery with more precision knowing the Germans would follow up the attack to expel the invaders.

In July 1917 the battalion entrained at Liencourt to be deposited at St Omer, there to march to the villages of Houle and Moule to be got ready for the next battle. It was the most wonderful weather. The countryside had never looked better and the river sparkled. If there was anything which put everyone in good spirits it was the sun allowing everyone to wash and laundry their clothes. But it wasn’t for long before we had to take an old grey painted London bus to Abeel and onwards to take part in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. The journey was filled with singing and shouting as we journeyed along the county roads past woods, meadows and fields of hay.

The battalion reached the village on the Franco-Belgium border. We all fell-in to be marched to Steenvoode. The villages did not look particularly inviting. Marching along feeling quite jolly arrived at Mic-Mac Camp close to Dickebush, there being several Nissen huts. Now we were in the battle zone where the roads and fields were pocked marked with shell holes filled with water. The village of Ouderdom was only a mile or so away. We continued marching getting nearer and nearer to the sounds of battle at last entering the village were directed to a disused brewery. There was no singing now only a grim deadly look of resignation. Everyone quietened down knowing that shortly we were to go to the front. After staying in the village for a few days The Kensingtons set off again towards Ypres.

On the 15th August 1917 the weather was threatening and the storm clouds complimented our depressed feeling. The Kensingtons continued marching in open formation passing Shrapnel Corner. On the right the walls of the city and on the left the moat which ran parallel to the front.

Battle of Langemarck, 16-18th August 1917Edit

Over this devastated area the battle raged. It was described as a nightmare casualty station… was inundated – they were shelled by day and bombed at night. The scene in the horse lines was horrible. Lines of horses blown to pieces others stampede around helplessly with torn limbs. Any attempt to move in the thick mud and filled shell hole was impossible any straying meant drowning without being able to move from the cloying mud. The Germans drew breath praying for more rain which was their greatest saviour. At Estree Blanche another attack was made but the weather took another turn for the worst and the attack faltered.

In August the weather broke and the month of August became the wettest known in that part of Flanders. The artillery attack left the ground pock-marked by shell holes that filled up with water. Before troops could advance a path of duck-boards had to be laid following tapes laid by the Pioneers. The next two weeks saw both sides engaged in repeated artillery barrages – each side trying to outdo the other in weight of fired shot and saturation. The battalions took it in turn to keep up the attack throughout the fortnight. On the 16th August the Battle of Langemarck was launched just before dawn. Eight divisions were assigned to create an enormous shove on a wide front. The day before, expeditionary forces were pushed forward to clear the ground before the main attack… over-running several strongholds including the main fortification of Au Bon Gite, which although surrounded held out. The battle see sawed backwards and forwards, but the attacking troops had secured a vital foothold across the Steenbeek. This was essential to the main attack the following night.

The 60th and 61st Brigades would be able to cross and form up within striking distance of the German trenches the next morning… to allow the main body of troops, coming up behind, to pass through the hoped for break in the German line.

The 2nd British Army took over from the 5th. Bringing General Plumer into action again. He decided to take the offensive towards the southeast along the southern half of Passchendale Ridge using limited action, then taking a firm stance - to hold on to what was gained.

There were three objectives A series of lines were to be laid, five hundred yards apart, identified by the colours blue, green and red. The two-hundred attacking troops in the first wave were to hold the first position – defined by the road on the western side of the village, this was the blue line… they were to stay there for twenty minutes before following up. The second wave passed through these men holding the road… setting out to attack and clear the village stopping at the far side to reform and dig in. The third wave then passed on through the two former lines, to secure a third, red line, marked by a series of German trenches. When the third wave attacked the trenches the first would be following up in a supporting role. The green, when their role of keeping the German heads down over would then join in.

Meanwhile, the artillery would fire a creeping barrage in front of the leading troops - to form a curtain of fire and to pulverise the enemy. Signallers were detailed off to lay a line behind the leading troops to allow artillery observers to report back. This barrage would lift every five minutes one-hundred yards… until the German trench were reached, and then a final lift of two hundred yards… to deter any possible counterattack to take back the trench. This final artillery contribution would allow the sized German trench to be fitted with new firing steps and machine gun positions. This was the plan for the capture of Langemarck all the attacking troops took part in necessary training for the battle at the beginning of August.

The planners meant this to herald a breakout which demanded that the various stages to be rigidly kept - so that the overlapping waves would provide the support for the leading troops. This demanded the men should not be weighed down by having to carry their packs which were left behind to be kept in store… there was going to be enough extra ammunition and equipment to be carried as it was!

Before all set piece battles the men played cards, told stories and busied themselves to take their minds off what was to happen. Two days rations were passed out and the water carriers struggled to fill up the water bottles. The officers instructed the sergeants what the plan was so that the men could be told what their particular tasks were to be. Flares were issued to be lit to indicate when they reached the German trench.

The night of the attack was cold and it was raining hard. The troops formed a single file all along the Yser Canal keeping as quiet as possible. At 22.30 hrs. they moved off crossing the water keeping a hundred yards between each of the four companies. An hour later, after making their way over planks laid over the worst stretches, the way indicated by white tape, the men were allowed to rest. Starting again their march continued still making use of the carefully prepared track by the pioneers the previous night. Crossing over the road and keeping the railway line on their left then over the stream the first wave arrived at the assembly line on the far side of the Steenbeek. The German front line was very close – only about eighty yards away, the leading troops could hear the Germans talking. It was clear that the Germans had no idea of what was about to happen.

At 4.30 the artillery started to pulverise the German position… then ceased firing to allow the attack to go in. The ground had been stirred up by the bombardment making it even more pock marked. The forward line of troops was knee deep in mud. The attack was going well the Germans did not have a chance to retaliate. As the waves passed through each other the artillery lifted their fire. At 5.00 the battalion was in position.

The attacking troops found that the opposition was lighter than expected. The bombardment was having the desired effect. The Germans were in confusion. The barbed wire had been cut and flattened. As the first to reach the trench jumped in there was hand to hand fighting. The bombers were out moving along the trench throwing their bombs down into the dugouts. Men were detached to search out documents, maps and orders trying to identify the Germans who had been manning the trench. Anything of interest was collected and sent back to headquarters.The supporting troops using their Lewis guns caused many casualties allowing many prisoners to be taken. The red line had been reached and the attacking force was digging in, reversing the firing steps and mounting the machines guns to cover their front.

The forward battlefield was now empty. No attack in the past had occurred without the Germans reacting by trying to retake lost ground. There was no reason to suppose that this was not going to happen here. Enemy aircraft were flying overhead no doubt surveying the ground reporting on the condition and numbers of opposing forces. At 17.00 hrs. there was movement ahead and the British observers were blowing their whistles. Orders were given to stand up and receive the enemy. The Germans were about a battalion in strength. The order was given to open fire including the now mounted and positioned Lewis guns. A green rocket was fired to alert the artillery to lay down a barrage. This had the desired effect for the Germans gave up and disappeared. There was a second attack two and a half hours later but this to failed to dislodge the British. Patrols were sent out throughout the night but it remained calm.

The following morning, the 17th August, the orderly teams were collecting and issuing the battalion’s breakfast, topping up water bottles and issuing ammunition. The Germans were firing a morning hate barrage directing their fire at the farm and Langemarck… this continued practically all day. That evening a minor attack was made to secure a short section of trench the Germans had retaken. This was soon accomplished forcing the Germans to leave in rather a hurry… ending the operation as the 20th Division moved into reserve.

The battle was over by eleven, by that time the reversing of the firesteps completed… There was now time to allow the men to take it in turns to rest, clean up and have a smoke. The place was an utter shambles. All the craters were half filled with water. The bodies of the dead and wounded littered the ground. The wounded were crying out and the stretcher parties were moving about collecting up the worst cases. It took sometimes six men to move one wounded soldier because the sticky mud was at knee height and the shell holes had to be straddled as the water squelched out at each step. A section of German 4.2-inch howitzers and one 77-mm field gun had been captured and a number of pillboxes and strongholds put out of action. This part of the battle had been a success with relatively few casualties… however; the battle in the south was a disaster with 15,000 casualties and very little gain.

The afternoon went by and the Germans never tried to retake the trench… which was a relief, as the men were pretty done in. Those who had slight wounds made their way back to the casualty station. Each battalion had their own stretcher bearers who were busy. They had receive sufficient first aid to attempt to stop wounds bleeding and to prepare the wounded for the journey back to the rear… three-quarters of a mile away, over the other side of the Steenbeek, and then a further three-quarters of a mile to Gallwitz Farm which was the Forward Advanced Dressing Station. On the morning of the 18th August the survivors were then taken by either horse-drawn ambulance or placed on trolleys using the light railway lines to be patched up at the FADS then shipped to England.

The battalion marched to the proven camp to recuperate. New drafts were sent towards the end of the month to make up for the injured and dead. As soon as the new draftees were placed training undertaken - to instruct the new men about trench warfare. On the 9th September the battalion returned to the front to act initially as salvage collectors – to scavenge for weapons left on the field of battle.

Battle of Menim Road, 20-25th August, 1917Edit

Once again there was a tremendous bombardment meant to soften up the opposition, flatten the strong-hold and break-up the wire. The Allies attacked and managed to hold on despite counterattacks. At last their seemed to be a solution to prepared positions. This required guns to be ranged accurately using all calibres and shells to creep forward closely followed up by the infantry to gain achievable goals then taking stock to reform and start again.

Ypres was the key position that affected the whole sector. The city had exacted a terrible toll on both sides. As the Kensington battalion marched along the road past the city walls we reached the Menim Gate, turning right continued over a wooden bridge past the Zillebeke Lake. Ahead there was a trench system topped by a mound making the whole area a fortified bastion. Batteries of guns were firing over our heads as we carried on towards the Westhoek Ridge. It was then that the Battalion Major was killed together with the Adjutant, as the RSM lay wounded. Captain Shaw took over coming from Brigade to take over from Captain Venables.

The Germans were putting up a heavy barrage as the remainder of us doubled along the Menim Road past the dressing station of Half-Way House. Lines of German prisoners were passing as the Kensingtons made their way quickly along the road until they reached the pill-box.

Battle of Polygon Wood, 26th September, 1917Edit

This took place during the Third battle of Ypres, starting off on the morning of the 26th of September. It was planned as a jumping off point for a direct assault on the Ridge that had as its focal point the village of Passchendale. The troops were marched into line making their way from the road to the torn and shell holed track that lead to the communicating trench. At onetime this had been well dug with duckboards and dugouts, firing points and steps well placed with looped sandbags facing the enemy… now it was a shambles with bits of equipment and bodies sticking out from the slimy mud with two foot of water contaminated with an evil smelling scum. When all was quiet at night the rats came out stealing the rations and foraging amongst the litter. The men asleep covered their faces with a blanket even though they could feel the rats running over them. The rats had no fear hardly taking any notice of the happenings around them. Stray dogs roamed the battle fields looking for scraps of food shivering and shaking as the guns boomed out.

It did not take long for the men to become battle hardened. If they didn’t smoke before they did now… it was a nerve calming habit promoting a sense of togetherness, as they all lit up. All men suffered from fatigue and exhaustion, many having the shakes. No-one took any notice or made a remark but most engaged in mindless conversation, although no-one listened.

This occurred the closer the time came to go over the top. Instructions would be continually repeated. The butterflies in the stomach made you breathless, the loose bowel, hands that would not keep still and the eyebrow that twitched…, they rocked backwards and forwards on the squelching duckboards… waiting their turn… Again the artillery put down a barrage prior to the order to advance… you could feel the ground shake and tremble. The noise of the whistles and bangs… the whine and rushing sound. Everyman had to stand firm. Occasionally a man was hit by shrapnel or an unlucky bomb burst. The cry for ‘stretcher bearer’ rings out as the word was passed along the line. Somebody had bought it. When would it be my turn?

Battle of Broodsinde, 7th October, 1917Edit

Much of the south side of the ridge had been captured by the first of October. It had been a tremendous slog by the British 2nd and 5th Armies. The later attack managed to pass through the German defences to the depth of one mile. Just over a week later the two armies pushed forwards again - on Passchendale itself, after two days of continuous heavy rain. It had been a grim business. It was almost impossible to comprehend how troops could continue in such conditions. There appeared to be no change to the strategy and tactics. The troops had to just carry on with the Battle of Flanders capturing Passchendale three days later.

Battle of Poelcappelle, 10th October, 1917Edit

Whilst the battle for Passchendale was being raged another was in progress. Poelcappelle was proving to be a harder nut to crack for it was a complete failure with very little to show for the 13,000 casualties. The British 5th. Army once again was being asked to create a diversion by attacking Houthulst Forest, Malmaison and northeast of Poelcappelle. At first only slight gains were made. Later on the right flank succeeded in capturing the rest of Poelcappelle.

3rd Battle of Passchendale, 31st Oct-10th Nov, 1917Edit

This was, and is still called, ‘The greatest martyrdom of the World War. The four divisions of Canadian Corps were transferred to the Ypres Salient relieving the Anzac Corps on the 18th October.

Ypres lies at the western end of a low-lying plain circled by woods and hills. It lies behind the front line by some two miles and some five miles beyond- further east, is the actual village of Passchendale. In-between the town of Ypres and village of Passchendale flows the river Yser… dotted about, numerous canals and streams, all part of the field drainage system - all not much above sea-level guarded by the Pommern Redoubt. From the river the ground rises… to the village of Gravenstafel and there, further up the valley, perched on the heights… the village of Passchendale, a gentle climb up to the ridge.

An important part of the picture: All military attacks were preceded at that time by an artillery barrage… this was either a total stonk that could last for days or a creeping barrage... began just before the battle, to saturate the ground in advance of the attacking troops. The Ypres plain was like a basin - the river running through the centre had created water meadows on either side making much of the grassland marshy. Past generations of farmers built a series of canals, channels, ditches and water-courses to drain away the surface water - to make the land productive. Naturally: any breaking or damage of that drainage system would recreate the marsh. The weather was unexpectedly wet – it rained continually…

Three separate attacks were planned, each given a day to achieve. The British 5th Army were to mount diversionary operation on the left [Pilckem Ridge] and the 1st. Anzac on the right [Nonne Boschem]. The start date was 26th October 1917. The bombardment began on 22nd July employing 3,000 guns, well in advance of the start date. This shellfire: transformed the area into a pock-marked swamp two miles wide, full of quicksand’s capable of drawing man and horse beneath its surface.

The 3rd Canadian Division kicked off advancing up the northern flank towards Bellevue spur. The 4th Canadian Division made for Decline Copse. Altogether the Canadians achieved all their objectives were eventually forced back - by repeated German counterattacks.

The second stage, four days later, was to mop up what had not been cleared on the 26th. And secure a base on the Passchendale crest... A number of strongly held farms were assaulted and captured. By the 10th November the Third Battle of Passchendale succeeded costing the Canadians Corps 15,654 casualties in 16 days of hard fighting.

Battle of Cambrai, 13th November, 1917Edit

The Kensingtons took over the front line on the 12th November. In support were the 3rd London’s bringing up full battle equipment. This was the first battle to be ordered that was not preceded by an artillery bombardment. Headquarters had come to the conclusion that a pre-bombardment only alerted the enemy to an impending attack – allowing the German troops to retire from the front line - to return after the artillery had moved forward. On the eve of the battle the 167th and the 169th Brigades were holding the front. Their task was to create a diversion making it look as if they were the attacking party using many different ploys to seek that effect. The 168th Brigade was in reserve. When the battle began it became obvious that the ruse had been a success. The troops following the tanks penetrating the Hindenburg Line on a wide front.

The 36th Division on the right of the 56th advanced from Demicourt the 169th linked up with them later that morning. By the end of the day there was a large bulge in the line, eight miles wide by four deep. The advance was stopped by the Germans short of the Bourlon Wood which covered a ridge. Douglas Haig on the 22nd November decided to carry on the attack. Both the Brigades 167th and the 169th were ordered to attack the Hindenburg Line. The next day the 168th were thrown into the fray, Tadpole Copse now the objective. The Kensingtons, with Lieut-Colonel Shaw in command marched the Brigade to Le Bucquiere, along the Cambrai Road. The following night they took up residence vacated by the Rangers and the \Fusiliers about the Louval Wood.

The London Scottish was occupying the Hindenburg Line pushing their way towards Tadpole Copse. C Company of the Kensingtons started to dig a trench from the original front line to the crater. A Company took over defending the right flank. When the trench had been dug C Company went to the rear to carry up battle stores. In the morning the rest of the Battalion moved in to relieve the Fusiliers. The Battalion was now in a confusion of trenches, dug-outs and strongholds totally unknown to them. They could hear the Germans but not see them. In the morning the Germans put in a determined attack shelling the line. It was clear that the Germans would attack again.

For the first time tanks were used. The attack started in the early morning with a large number of tanks [381] opening the way ahead for the infantry. Great advances were made including a breaching part of the Hindenburg Line defences. The heavy tank assault broke through the enemy lines into clear ground ahead opening up a marvellous chance to forge ahead. But no reserves were available to take over the territory gained. Before anything could be arranged the Germans had once again sealed the breach and they counter-attacked. In the end the battle was called off and the Germans retook all the ground they had lost. The battle ended with withering blizzard the snow drove everybody below ground. Although the battle had only lasted two weeks the figures of the casualties again leave the mind dazed at the stupidity of it all. Forty-five thousand on each side. We took eleven-thousand prisoners and the Germans took nine thousand of ours. There was to be no more major assaults for the rest of that winter. The Third Battle of Passchendale depleted the number of troops available to exploit the gains made at the Battle of Cambrai which showed the capabilities of massed tank action. At the end of November, beginning of December

The Kensingtons were relieved by the Gordon Highlanders and Black Watch to take up a rear reserve camp at Roclincourt. A few weeks later they were off again to Bailleul south of Vimy Ridge after a couple of days taken out of the line to celebrate Christmas 1917 back in Roclincourt Camp.

Last modified on 27 September 2010, at 14:31