The Battle of Arras which began on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917 can be counted as one of the successes of the war.
The number of troops involved was about the same as that on the first day of the Somme (14 Divisions) but these men would be attacking with a far superior weight of artillery to back them up. 200,000 soldiers were strung out 3 kilometres deep along a front of 32 kilometres to the east of Arras. Of the 120 battalions prepared for battle 44 were Scottish in title.
The British artillery, however, had been doing remarkable work in keeping German gunners’ heads down and for the moment the Royal Flying Corps were keeping the skies above the British lines clear from prying eyes. British commanders had worried that such a concentration of troops would not go unnoticed by the enemy or that a haphazard bombardment would cause severe casualties and disrupt the timing of the show.
Above all though, the local German command was convinced that no attack would be delivered over the Easter weekend. Their intelligence pointed to an allied attack but as they were already aware of General Nivelle’s attack on the Chemin des Dames they thought the British were not yet ready.
That Easter Monday brought a mixed bag of weather conditions. One moment it was all sunny spells and then the rain would be back turning the churned fields of mud into glue. Then the temperature would drop again and rain would turn to sleet and then snow.
The soldiers already burdened down with equipment were ordered to leave their heavy greatcoats behind. Some did — some didn’t. The wind at times was bitter and like all things in life there were the pros and cons. The greatcoat got sodden and heavy but at least it helped keep out the cold.