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Webmatters : Monument to the 15th Bn at Warvillers

15th Bn Canadian Infantry

48th Highlanders of Canada Insignia

Location

Warvillers is a village approximately 4 kilometres north of Bouchoir, a town on the main straight road from Amiens to Roye. The Churchyard is a little east of the village.

Come off at Bouchoir and take the road through Folies. Warvillers is the next village. The church is easily seen so drive towards it — bearing right. Park outside and on going through the gate go round to the right and through the next gate.

The monument is opposite the entrance to Warvillers Churchyard Extension CWGC Cemetery in which you will find soldiers from the battalion who were killed during the taking of the village.

GPS N E Wikimapia
Decimal 49.7791 2.68903 Map

Background

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between Germany and Lenin’s Russian Republic was signed on the 3rd March 1918 and brought to an end the war on the Eastern Front.

At a summit on 11th November 1917 General Ludendorff had proposed the idea of a scheme of large scale offensives against the Allies before the growing numbers of American soldiers in Europe swung the advantage away from the Central Powers.

And so, on 21st March 1918 the Germans launched the first of these offensives, against the British, at St Quentin. The unheard of ferocity of the bombardment and their crushing superiority in numbers allowed Ludendorff’s Storm Troopers to crack the British front.

This powerful blow was repeated along the Western Front against French and British alike until June 1918. The Germans gained a lot of ground but at the cost of thousands of lives and the soldiers were now exhausted from their efforts. Under their recently appointed Supreme Commander in Chief, General Ferdinand Foch the Allies began to take the initiative.

On the 18th July General Mangin launched the French counter-attack at Soissons and a few weeks later it was the turn of Field Marshal Haig to return to the offensive on the 8th August.


Monument to the 15th Bn CEF at Warvillers

The monument at Warvillers

Foch gave his orders on the 28th July and contrary to previous offensives, this was not to be a ‘Bite and Hold’ operation the advance was be continued as far towards Roye as possible.

The boundary between the French First Army and the Australian Corps was moved seven kilometres to the south: the Australians occupying the old French trenches.

The Germans were aware that an offensive was being prepared but had no idea that this apparent weakening of the line was a ruse to mask the arrival of the Canadian Corps; supposedly still in Artois.

The movement south of the Canadian Corps was conducted in utmost secrecy. Even the Brigadier Generals had no knowledge of their ultimate destination when they entrained on the 30th July. Most thought they were heading to Belgian Flanders and in fact a detachment had been sent there with a view to creating a false communication system for the Germans to pick up.

The Canadians relieved the Australians on the night of the 6/7th August. Their area of responsibility being the zone between the Villers-Bretonneux to Chaulnes railway line and the Amiens to Roye road. The Australians on their left and the French on their right.

 

3rd Brigade Canadian Infantry

The 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade was made up of four battalions :

  • 13th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Royal Highlanders of Canada)
  • 14th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Royal Montreal Regiment)
  • 15th Battalion Canadian Infantry (48th Highlanders of Canada)
  • 16th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Canadian Scottish)

Many of the Canadian Infantry Battalions were sponsored by Militia units back in Canada and it was from these units that they took their secondary titles and traditions. The soldiers from the three ‘Scottish’ battalions wore the kilt.

 

Battle plan

The first day of the offensive required the Canadian Infantry to push the front forward as far as the “Red Line” between Mézières and Harbonnières. From this position the 3rd Cavalry Division would continue the advance as far as what was shown on the maps as the “Dotted Blue Line”; between Le Quesnel and Harbonnières.

Zero was set for 0420 hours on the 8th August 1918 and in order to gain the maximum surprise along the Canadian and Australian fronts the decision was taken to forego a preliminary bombardment. The infantry would rely on the over four hundred light and heavy tanks that would accompany them and the rolling barrage preceding them.

Currie deployed his Corps with the 1st Division in the centre; the 2nd on the left; the 3rd on the right and the 4th Division in reserve.

The Warvillers Plaque

Commanding the 1st Canadian Division, Major General Macdonnell, chose the 3rd Brigade to lead the assault with; (from south to north) the 16th, 13th and 14th Battalions in the line with the 15th Battalion and 5th Battalion (on loan from the 2nd Brigade) in support.

In their Spring offensives the Germans had used their Stoßtruppen to flow around an obstacle leaving follow-up troops to deal with it. The idea was rapidly adopted by the Allies. Being assigned to the second wave would no longer imply a quiet morning !

Zero. The 13th Battalion left its trenches in front of Hangard Wood and launched itself against the German front line with the 15th Battalion following hot on its heels. There was a heavy fog and trying to secure the wood was no easy matter.

Suddenly some well hidden machine guns opened fire on No 2 Company but Captain Gordon Winnifrith deployed his bombing teams and a mix of grenades and bayonets put a swift end to the problem.

The Highlanders emerged from the wood into a dense fog—it was impossible to see more than five metres in front of them.

With the 13th Battalion held up at Corbeau Trench, on the far edge of Morgement Wood, it was for the 15th Battalion to make the difference. Major Alan Turnbull was injured leading the attack—a big man, it would take eight German prisoners to carry him the ten kilometres back to the Dressing Station.

The waves of attack continued to crash against Corbeau Trench and eventually the Germans were forced to submit and the Canadians continued their advance.

One by one the villages of Hangard, Démuin, Aubercourt and Ignaucourt fell to the Canadian infantry as they completed their objective.

It was not even 0800 hours; the Generals had yet to breakfast !

The morning was rounded off for the infantry in spectacular style as the Cavalry took up the advance.

Thousands of horses thundering across the fields; an impossibility in static warfare but now a necessity in a war of movement. That evening the 15th Battalion ‘dined’ in Aubercourt.

Early on the 9th August the 15th Battalion received orders that they were to assist the 2nd Canadian Brigade by supporting the 5th Battalion in its attack.

The roads in the rear areas were so crammed with troops and guns moving forward that the couriers with the orders had not been able to get through. The theoretical Zero at 0500 hours had to be put back once, twice and then again.

At 0830 hours the Highlanders set out for Caix in search of the 5th Battalion who were positioned in a narrow valley to the south of that village. The enemy machine guns were pouring fire into the valley and Lt-Col Charles Bent ordered his men to close up to the eastern bank as much as possible to gain what little shelter they could.

The German artillery became a lot more active than it had been the previous day. Shells fell amongst the Highlanders as they awaited. Finally a runner arrived with the information that the 5th Battalion were to attack at 1300 hours. The Highlanders were to follow ten minutes behind them.

With his men advancing Lt-Col Bent and his Headquarters Company were just moving out of the valley when a shell fell amongst them seriously injuring Bent. Realising that he could not continue the command of the battalion was handed to Captain John Maybin.

German machine guns in front and in the vicinity of Beaufort Château soon brought the leading battalions to a halt. The 5th Battalion was suffering heavy casualties, and the Canadian artillery were not putting down a sufficient weight of fire.

Captain Maybin found five Whippet light tanks and personally briefed the crews as to what he desired. The tanks rumbled off brushing the enemy aside.

Passing to the north of Beaufort village the Highlanders could now see Warvillers in the distance. The valley was crossed with relative ease but each attempt to approach the village was met with heavy fire and it was here that most of the Highlanders’ casualties occurred.

The timely arrival of the tanks helped settle the argument and Warvillers was stormed. Finding that all communication with the 2nd Battalion (supposedly in Rouvroy on their right) had been cut a scouting party was dispatched to assess the situation.

The village appeared deserted when the small patrol was suddenly confronted by a party of a dozen Germans. Before anybody else had the time to act Captain Gordon Winnifrith charged at the Germans screaming Scottish oaths at the top of his voice. It would appear that the sight of a madman, in a kilt and with a gun was too much for the Germans who took to their heels.

 

The Memorial

Captain Steve Gilbert and the flag carried by his grandfather on the Somme in 1916

Captain Steve Gilbert and the flag carried by his grandfather on the Somme in 1916

This commemorative plaque was unveiled on the 29th September 2013 in the presence of Canadian and French dignitaries by members of the 15th Battalion Memorial Project.

The 15th Bn CEF were sponsored by the 48th Highlanders of Canada a militia unit from Toronto. The regiment has demonstrated its continuing interest in commemorating its First World War combatants by the raising of plaques across the Western Front.

The plaque carries a bilingual account and detailed map of the action.

 

The Inauguration


Hon Colonel John Newman and Xavier Decherf unveil the plaque

Hon Colonel John Newman and
Xavier Decherf unveil the plaque

Once again in a weekend supposedly wet and thunderous the forebodings of the French Met Office failed to materialise and the weather remained warm, sunny and dry. Members of the Project team were joined by villagers led by Xavier Decherf, Maire of Warvillers.

Lt Colonel (Hon) John Newman of the 48th Highlanders and M Decherf unveiled the plaque and wreaths were laid on behalf of the Regiment, the village, Canadian government, 48th Highlanders Old Comrades Association, and the Royal British Legion.

The gathered onlookers were addressed by Commander René Tremblay on behalf of the Canadian Embassy.

We were joined by members of the Somme Battlefield Pipe Band to provide the Last Post and lament.

The flag which was used both on this day and for other inaugurations was owned and carried throughout his service in France by William Stephenson, the Scots born grandfather of Captain Steve Gilbert. William enlisted on 1st November 1915 and was, on his arrival in France in July 1916, assigned to the 12th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery.

He was only in France a few months when on 19th October 1916 he was wounded by shrapnel at Courcelette as the Canadian Corps prepared to once again assault Regina Trench. For William the war was over and he was invalided back to Canada.

Some photos from the inauguration

Members of the Somme Battlefield Pipe Band Once again, remarkably lucky with the weather Xavier Decherf, Maire of Warvillers and Commander René Tremblay The party of Highlanders from Toronto The prayers were led by Canadian Chaplain Major Lublink Aux Morts ! It would appear that it is photo session time Xavier Decherf and General Greg Young M Decherf and the Canadian contingent ADC Dez and Sgt Sobcki of the 41e RT The Canadians with Pipe Major Yves Holbeque And the beer was Brasserie De Clerk's Poppy M Decherf received two commemorative plaques from General Young

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