Orchard Dump
Webmatters : The Battle of Cambrai 1917, Bonavis and Masnières
Rough Map of Area

Cambrai

30th November 1917

Bonavis Ridge

The Germans had decided to stagger their assaults on the British front and initially III Corps thought that the Germans’ sole objective was against VII Corps. At 0800 hours, however, they found the Caudry Group attacking in force.

With the fall of Gonnelieu and Gouzeaucourt 12th (Eastern) Division found itself in difficulties, but thankfully had already taken some measures to counter any possible attack.

Even so, 35th Brigade was forced to retire back across the main Peronne Road towards La Vacquerie — their commanding officer Brigadier General Vincent having already become separated from his men during his flight from Villers Guislain.

The 36th Brigade to the north were forced to follow and the 37th Brigade around Bonavis Farm found itself threatened with being pincered out.

The 220th German Division had advanced into Lateau Wood against the 6th Royal West Kent who, being completely outnumbered would only hang on until 1200 hours.

 
La Vacquerie from the east

Looking towards La Vacquerie from the Peronne Road

 

At Bonavis itself the 7th East Surrey had put up a desperate fight but at one point came under the fire of the guns from both sides and were forced to retreat.

The 20th (Light) Division were still holding almost all of the road between Masnières and Bonavis when the Germans launched their attack. They were in a difficult position not having been able to advance during the British offensive as far as the St Quentin Canal. From their current trenches they couldn’t see the canal crossings but were in turn overlooked by the Germans sitting on the high ground above Crèvecoeur.

The 10th Kings Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) on the right and near Lateau Wood had a horrific morning. Storm Troopers covered by the mist swarmed in and around them from all directions constantly taking the route of least resistance. Just twenty men from the Battalion survived the day. The story repeated itself with the 11th KRRC to the left and the 10th Rifle Brigade who were behind them.

The Division was forced back leaving the way open for the Germans to enter les Rues Vertes behind the 29th Division who were on the northern side of the canal and now alone.

 

Masnières and Marcoing

29th Division had two of its Brigades on the far side of the St Quentin Canal: the 87th in the loop east of Marcoing and the 86th in Masnières itself. The 88th Brigade was in reserve, south of Marcoing.

With a lot of noise coming out of the opposing German trenches during the night the 86th Brigade was already on alert. The 1st Royal Guernsey Light Infantry (in reserve down in the catacombs) had been stood to, but nobody was expecting an attack from the south. La Rue Verte on the southern side of the bridge from Masnières was undefended.

From 0700 hours the front of the 86th was bombarded and two hours later the Germans assaulted the 16th Middlesex who were holding Mon Plaisir Farm and the adjacent canal bridge. The British were forced to give some ground but held the rest throughout the day despite severe artillery fire.

With the collapse of the front line to their south, the way into les Rue Vertes was open. A hero was needed to save the day.

He arrived in the form of Captain Robert Gee, the Brigade’s staff captain. Working with twelve signallers he rushed out into the street with a Lewis gun and the small party opened up on the Germans. A rough barricade was thrown up from furniture and they held the enemy off until reinforcements from the Royal Guernsey LI could get back across the canal.

There is now a plaque to the Royal Guernsey LI in Rue Verte.

Once established with better numbers Captain Gee and his men advanced down the main street bombing their way and set up another barricade. From here on in they began clearing the side streets until the village was secured. At this point the Germans set up a machine gun position less than a hundred metres away and the gallant Captain rushed the crew using his revolver to down the gunners. One of his own crews then came up and turned the gun onto the Germans whilst a further bombing party secured the area.

Shortly afterwards Captain Gee was shot in the knee, and a wee while afterwards he was decorated with the Victoria Cross.

At the top of Masnières on the way towards Cambrai you will see the memorial to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who also played a leading roll in the defence of the town during the German counter-offensive.

Just after 0900 hours Major General de Lisle having recovered from his sudden flight from Gouzeaucourt sent a message to the 88th Brigade to move to the right flank as quickly as possible.

The Brigade soon became involved with the Germans at Marcoing Copse but pushed them back far enough to be able to link up with the troops in les Rues Vertes.

Surprisingly although the 87th Brigade were bombarded throughout the day no attempt was made to dislodge them.