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.
The next day, after retiring to Ronville (a Southern suburb of Arras) the decimated Regiment tallied its losses at Monchy. A staggering 338 were listed as killed, wounded, or missing.
Six weeks later the International Red Cross provided the names of 77 additional prisoners of war. (A future blog will talk about the Newfoundlander’s experiences as Prisoners of War.)
Some weeks after Monchy, Brigadier General Cayley wrote to Governor Davidson and expressed his deep regret that The Newfoundland Regiment “twice since they came to France have been practically wiped out.”
But, despite this horrible disaster, and before the Newfoundlanders left the Arras Sector, they would be involved in yet one more Arras operation – the Second Battle of the Scarpe - find out what happens next, as featured in our next Blog about the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's saga.
The name's of the Ten:
Lt.-Col. James Forbes-Robertson, Commanding Officer.
Lieut. Kevin J. Keegan, Signalling Officer.
Sgt. J. Ross Waterfield, Provost Sergeant.
Cpl. Charles Parsons, Signalling Corporal.
Lance-Cpl. Walter Pitcher, Provost Corporal.
Pte. Frederick Curran, Signaller.
Pte. Japheth Hounsell, Signaller.
Pte. Albert S. Rose, Battalion Runner.
Pte. V. M. Parsons, 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment.
Cpl. John H. Hillier was temporarily knocked out by a bursting shell during the rush forward but crawled in from a shell hole about ninety minutes later to join the rest of the group.
OMM. CD. BA. LTh. BD. DD.
Archdeacon Gerald Peddle was ordained a Priest of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1969. Now retired from active ministry, he has served parishes in Newfoundland and Labrador, Québec, Ontario and the Arctic. He has also served as a Chaplain to the Canadian Armed Forces. His final appointment, in the rank of Brigadier General, was as the Chaplain General at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. For the next six years, he provided specialist ministry to both National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. In total, he has served more than 51 years in active ministry.
Gerry currently serves as the Chairman of the Board for Beechwood, Canada's National Military Cemetery in Ottawa. He has also served as an International Guide, specializing in Battlefield Tours for several years.
The Caribou Tour to Gallipoli
In June 2022, we look forward to having Gerry back on the battlefields with us, escorting us on a special pilgrimage to Gallipoli Turkey, to see for the first time, the last of the six Caribou along the Newfoundland Caribou Trail in Europe. Check out the tour June 2022 >