Newfoundland and Labrador: a Contribution Remembered (part 8)

The Battle of Arras. Part I – Monchy le Preux

^^^ The Monchy Ten - Every bullet they fired was made to count.


On Easter Monday, April 9th, 2017, while the Canadians were capturing Vimy Ridge, the

Newfoundlanders, as part of a larger Allied initiative, began a seven-week series of operations which collectively became known as the Battle of Arras.

Of great strategic importance was the little village of Monchy le Preux which was built on a summit 200 feet higher than the surrounding countryside. It was this commanding height that made its capture an objective of very high priority.

At 5:30 am, in a driving sleet storm, the Newfoundlanders jumped out of their trenches on the outskirts of Monchy le Preux and advanced towards Infantry Hill (Also known as Hill 100 from its elevation in meters.)

They advanced very quickly over the first line of German trenches and then found themselves surrounded as the enemy counter-attacked from two wooded areas on each side of them.

In addition to suffering very heavy casualties, many soldiers from both the NFLD and Essex Regiments had to surrender as they were totally engulfed.

One-quarter of the Newfoundlanders who went over the top that morning were captured. The total number of casualties was exceeded only by those who fell at Beaumont Hamel.

Up to this point, Monchy was seen only as a horrible disaster.

Headquarters soon realized that the enemy’s counterattacking had been successful, and it was feared that they were about to regain the trenches which they had lost that morning.

Lt. Col Forbes-Robertson quickly took the initiative by rounding up his HQ staff, (just nine men) and by skirting a hedge around the village, made contact with the enemy.

These ten warriors poured such rapid, accurate and concentrated fire into the enemy positions that they wisely gave up on the idea of re-taking Monchy.

They literally saved the British line near Arras from complete collapse.

Padre Nangle wrote later“…the party of ten men established themselves in a grove of trees and held off the Germans all day.”

These ten men (one of whom was a Brit from the Essex Regiment) saved Monchy.

Their names are inscribed on a plaque on the wall of the bunker on which the Caribou Memorial rests.

To illustrate just how important their accomplishment was, General de Lisle later wrote: "…if Monchy had been lost to the enemy on April 14th, 40,000 troops would have been required to retake it.”

Lt. Col Forbes-Robertson would later receive the Victoria Cross for his actions, and all the others were recipients of various honours.