Newfoundland and Labrador: a Contribution Remembered (part 9)

The Battle of Arras. Part II – The SCARPE

^^^ The Rooms: Outcome at the Battle of Arras for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment (source)


Because of the heavy losses sustained at Monchy le Preux and Beaumont Hamel, the Newfoundlander’s role could not be expected to be a big one.

And so, the remnants of the Regiment had combined with remnants of the British Essex Regiment formed a composite battalion – each contributing 200, all ranks (placed under the Command of Lt. Col Forbes-Robertson – the hero of Monchy).

While holding the reserve trenches at Orange Hill (close to Monchy), they had provided working parties to bury the dead, salvage equipment from the battle area and carry forward wire and pickets, etc, to strengthen the defence of Monchy.

Then, with their remaining numbers, they were moved up to the attacking trenches in front of Les Fosses Farm. This was located on a high elevation and gave the enemy a commanding view of Monchy le Preux and the surrounding area. It was a prime objective in the events that followed.

At 04:30, on April 23rd, (1917) as they readied for the attack, Private Redmond, # 1329, later wrote:

“…it’s in these moments that a man looks down in his soul and prays as he never prayed before … I felt no fear and was prepared to die. Then we hear the order – five minutes to go – and those minutes pass like hours.”

A whistle sounded and an officer said, “over you go.”

Someone said “gonna be some new faces in Hell today.”

Another muttered “a wooden leg or a Victoria Cross today.”

At 04:45 am the Newfoundlanders again went over the top. Although sustaining heavy casualties, they successfully attained their early objectives and went on to hold their gains all day at String Trench under heavy shelling and machine gunfire.

It was said later that the Newfoundlanders fortitude was strengthened by the discovery of half a gallon of service rum in the trench. At the end of the day, the Regiment tallied up its losses at 13 killed and 48 wounded.

During the overall advance, the casualty rate was over 30 percent, due largely to heavy machine gunfire.

The slopes in front of Les Fosses Farm became littered with dead or dying Newfoundlanders. Official figures listed 166 killed, 141 wounded and 153 were taken as prisoners of war.

It was another awful disaster. The next day, the decimated Newfoundland Regiment was marched back to Arras and went into Reserve positions to consolidate, re-build and train new drafts of men from Newfoundland.

By the end of May 1917, when the Battles of Arras had ended, Newfoundland's fighting strength was down to 11 officers and 210 other ranks, which was less than one-quarter of their establishment.

But, throughout June and July, a series of new drafts totalling 500 men again enabled the Regiment to be ready for action. While they were engaged in refitting and training, it is interesting to note that they were located within five miles of Beaumont Hamel.

Surely, the significance of this Arras - Monchy – Beaumont Hamel co-relationship was not lost on these hardy soldiers. This land was now filled with the remains of Newfoundland soldiers and soaked in their blood. Many were still missing in this soil and would never be found again.

It must never be forgotten that those brave warriors from far-off Newfoundland had left their mark on this land – and that that mark is both permanent and indelible.

The challenge of keeping the Regiment up to strength was always difficult and frequently misunderstood. Men had to be recruited (and the rejection rate was extremely high), trained, and then sail across the Atlantic to the Depot in Ayr, Scotland. There, additional training had to be endured prior to moving them to the Front in either France or Belgium.