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Webmatters : 40th Division Memorial at Bourlon
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40th Division

Location

Bourlon is easily found from the main Arras—Cambrai Road, the D 939. If coming from the A26 Autoroute take Sortie 8 (Marquion).

From either direction the great mass formed by Bourlon wood is easily distinguishable to the south. Turn onto the D16 following the signs for Bourlon and the Canadian Memorial.

The church is easily found in the centre of the village.

Bourlon Church

 

Background

Memorial plaque to the 40th British Division

Commemorative plaque just inside the church

The altar of this church was given by the British 40th Division
In memory of its officers and men who fell in the attack
on Bourlon Wood in November 1917

On 4th August 1917 Brigadier General Hugh Elles commanding the Tank Corps and his Chief of Staff: Lt Colonel John Fuller presented an idea for a full scale hit and run raid led by tanks against the Hindenburg Line. The tanks would smash their way through the German lines in the area of Banteux and Ribécourt; drive on to Marcoing and then return to base.

The area to the south west of Cambrai offered rolling plains over ground all but untouched by cannon fire. It was ideal for a tank battle — not in the handfuls of the Somme or Ypres but en masse. Hundreds of them.

With Field Marshall Haig’s promotion of Fuller’s raid into a full scale attack, General Byng issued his orders on the 13th November. The battle would be led by the Tank Corps with five Divisions of Infantry in close support. It would commence on the 20th November.

 

40th Division at Bourlon

On the 23rd November the task of clearing Bourlon Wood fell to the 119th Brigade who were accompanied by four tanks from D Battalion. The tank commanders had never seen Bourlon Wood before and the infantry had never worked with tanks.

At 1010 hours the artillery began bombarding the edge of the wood before lifting at regular intervals; at 1030 hours the tanks and infantry advanced.

In just over an hour the infantry managed to advance half way through the wood and were joined by the tanks from G Battalion. By early afternoon they were patrolling the north-eastern edge of the wood.

A harder time was had attacking along the western half of the wood and the infantry sustained heavy casualties. They did manage to gain the eastern edge of the village but a German counter-attack forced them back out again.

By nightfall, however, only the northern edge of the wood was still in German hands.

Despite renewed efforts to advance the line by the Guards Division in the coming days little further advance was made — and it began to snow.

 

The Memorial

The altar donated by 40th Division

In 1919 the restoration of the village church was begun recreating the former building. The only real improvement being — the roofing. In 1926 the bells were baptised :

  • Louise Lucie Julienne Jeanne Clothilde Thérèse
  • Louise Bernadette Anne-Marie
  • Alphonsine Cécile Augustine Jeanne Adélie Berthe Frédérique Solange Bédastine

In 1928 the altar offered by the soldiers of the 40th Division was inaugurated.

Plaque to the Tank Corps

You will also note that there is a small plaque dedicated to the Tank Corps on the left hand side of the nave.

Outside is a memorial plaque to Lt Graham Lyall VC.

 

The other memorials in this area