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Webmatters : Fort Garry Horse Memorial at Masnières
Rough Map of Area

Fort Garry Horse

Location

Masnières is situated approximately eight kilometres to the south of Cambrai on the D 644 road (The old N 44).

Coming from Cambrai you come down the hill past the Newfoundland Caribou and almost down to the bridge over the canal. On your left will be a small road leading up the side and just before the Mairie (Town Hall). Take this road and then turn right towards the canal bank. A hundred metres down this side turning and you will see the monument on the grass to your right.

The road that runs along the canal towards the lock in front of you becomes a dead end. This is the lock over which B Squadron crossed.

GPS N E Wikimapia
Decimal 50.123409 3.211988 Map

Masnieres Ecluse (Lock)

Écluse de Masnières from the monument

 

Background

By the beginning of November 1917 the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) was drawing to a close and Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s concentration turned south towards Cambrai.

Cambrai was to be a different battle — one where tanks would be used en masse as a co-ordinated weapon rather than in the piece meal way that had been used previously.

Over three hundred fighting tanks would smash the Germans’ Hindenburg line, the cavalry would pour through to capture Cambrai and the Allies would be on a roll.

As part of General Byng’s Third Army, the Newfoundland Regiment was preparing to take its part in the assault on the Hindenburg Line in front of Cambrai.

At 0620 hours on 20th November and without a preliminary artillery bombardment the Third Army launched its attack. All went well along the 10 kilometre front with the exception of the area of Flesquières where the 51st (Highland) Division failed to carry out the devised plan for working with the tanks. Elsewhere the German line was pierced to a depth of from five to six kilometres.

During the Battle of Cambrai the Canadian Cavalry Brigade were attached to the 5th Cavalry Division which together with the remainder of the Cavalry Corps were supposed to have rushed through the gaps created by the tanks and infantry and thus isolated Cambrai.

One of their other tasks was to :

…take early steps to round up or dislodge the Headquarters of the Cambrai Group at Escadoeuvres, the two divisional headquarters in Cambrai, and the headquarters of other smaller units in the area.

The task of attacking the HQ at Escadoeuvres (to the north east of Cambrai and a good distance from the start line) fell to B Squadron of the Fort Garry Horse commanded by Captain Duncan Campbell.

The bridge that they were supposed to have used to get across the Escaut (Scheldt) river and St Quentin Canal had collapsed under the weight of Tank F21 (Firefly) rendering it impassable to cavalry.

However, B Squadron were informed that the infantry had knocked up a foot bridge across the Masnières Lock (Écluse in French) and it was wide enough for a horse to get across. Within thirty minutes the squadron was across and commenced its charge towards Rumilly. What they did not know was that the order had been sent out cancelling the entire cavalry operation.

 

The cavalry charge

The Fort Garry Horse cavalry charge

Thus commenced one of the famous cavalry charges of the war. Captain Campbell was hit by machine gun fire almost immediately after crossing the canal and it fell to Lieutenant Harcus Strachan to continue the advance.

Despite the machine gun fire, the squadron continued their charge silencing a German Field Battery on their way. A number of German infantry raised their hands in surrender but the cavalrymen had no means of dealing with prisoners and simply rode past.

At this the luck Germans re-manned their machine guns and open fire again on the disappearing cavalry.

Strachan realised that something had gone wrong and that he and his men were quite alone on the German side of the canal. They took shelter in a sunken road to the east of Rumilly. There they found that they could continue no further and were already having to fend off counter-attacks. Having stampeded the horses the party split into two groups with a view to making their way back to the Canal.

Lieutenant William Cowen was awarded the Military Cross for bringing his party safely home and Lieutenant Strachan received the Victoria Cross for his leadership. Of the 133 cavalrymen who had started out only 46 managed to return but they brought with them a number of prisoners as well as valuable information about the German dispositions.

 

The Memorial

Fort Garry Horse Monument

The monument was unveiled on 11th June 2004 as part of a visit by the Garrys to Masnières.

Panels on the side of the monument explain about the charge and there is also a map showing the direction of the charge and the return by Strachan and his men.

Fort Garry Horse Monument

 

The other memorials in Masnières