Cambrai 1917

20 November 1917

Graincourt

Whilst the 51st (Highland) Division continued with its struggle against Flesquières throughout the afternoon the 62nd (West Riding) Division continued to battle its way towards Graincourt lès Havrincourt (The word lès in French - note the accent - means: near to. Lez in names means the same).

Under the leadership of the youngest Brigadier General in the British Army: Roland Bradford VC, who was just 25 years old, 186th Brigade had to advance up the eastern side of the Canal du Nord, secure the main Bapaume Road and take the Hindenburg Support system to the east of Moeuvres.

The Brigade was made up four battalions from the Duke of Wellington's Regiment: 2/4th, 2/5th, 2/6th and 2/7th. The significance of the 2 before the battalion number is that these were second line territorials.

Moving out of their positions in Havrincourt Wood at 0900 hours the Brigade was accompanied by most of the 1st King Edward's Horse and a Company of tanks from G Battalion.

Two hours later they were up on the Division's recently taken second objective (the Brown Line) and commenced their attack.

Leading the assault the 2/5th Battalion on the left and the 2/6th on the right found resistance obstinate enough in places and it took them three hours to advance a thousand metres into the Hughes Switch system.

In the next wave the 2/4th, following the 2/6th, initially waited on the Highlanders on their right before trying to advance on Graincourt but the Scots were still well occupied in Flesquières.

Aided by a fold in the ground which greatly protected their exposed flank the battalion reached Graincourt covered by the King Edward's Horse on their right. Attempts by the cavalrymen to infiltrate behind Flesquières however were immediately met by machine gun fire.

General Bradford came up to survey the situation and ordered the 2/4th to attack Graincourt with the aid of tanks. Six of the machines had already been put out of action by German field artillery on the edge of the village but they were in turn destroyed by tanks slipping in by another route.

By 1530 hours Graincourt had been secured and General Bradford was planning his next move. What he does not appear to have received was an order from Division telling him to stop where he was, as the Highlanders were in need of a flanking attack.

The King Edward's Horse were sent out towards Anneux but found the wire uncut and the machine gun fire very heavy.

 
Canal du Nord

Canal du Nord near Havrincourt - the wood in the background
In 1917 the canal was still under construction and was empty

 

On the main road a Company of 2/4th Battalion came across a column of 200 marching Germans and managed to snatch an officer and two soldiers in the dark before opening fire on the remainder, killing or capturing almost all of them. For the days fighting the English had suffered just 53 casualties.

To their left the 2/7th bombed and bayoneted their way down the Hindenburg trenches towards the main road ably supported by the few tanks available to them. But alongside the canal the 2/5th were having a hard time in the Hughes system.

In its initial advance the battalion had already lost its commanding officer: Lt Colonel Best in fighting around Havrincourt Château and they were now fighting a hard battle in the German trenches (He is buried in Ruyaulcourt Military Cemetery). The Germans though were slowly but surely losing ground and by the time night had fallen the battalion had taken 350 prisoners for 73 of their own casualties.

St Quentin Canal St Quentin Canal
Ruyaulcourt Military Cemetery Ruyaulcourt Military Cemetery