First Battle of the Scarpe

Monday, 9th April 1917

When the British assault began at 5.30am on the 9th of April (Easter Monday), the 50th Division were still held in reserve, approximately 10 miles west of Arras. The 4th Bn were billeted at Beaufort 45 and the days were filled with training exercises.

At 9.30am that morning, all the Bn officers were conducting an outpost scheme on the ground between Beaufort and Manin 46 and at 2pm ‘C’ and ‘D’ Coys were exercised in a tactical scheme on the same ground.

At 11.30pm orders were issued to the three Infantry Bdes of the 50th Division to move to the Habarcq- Wanquetin area on the 10th. The 149th Bde were to occupy the Wanquetin-Hauteville area.

Tuesday, 10th April 1917

At 3pm the Bn, less ‘A’ and ‘B’ Coys, paraded opposite Beaufort church and marched via Avesnes-Le-Comte 47 and Hauteville 48 to arrive at a Nissen Hut camp at Wanquetin 49 around 5pm. The 150th Bde moved to Habarcq 50, the 151st Bde to Agnez 51, Gouves 52 and Montenescourt 53, the 7th Bn DLI (Pioneers) into Arras and Divn HQ opened in Berneville 54 at 4pm.

Wednesday, 11th April 1917

On this day the Divn was transferred from XVIII to VII Corps and commenced the relief of the 14th Divn. The 149th Bde were to take the first turn in the front line.

Training for the 4th Bn continued at Wanquetin, with‘C’ and ‘D’ Coys conducting bayonet training at 10am followed by a short march. At 3.30pm the snow began to fall again. During the afternoon the men's packs were stored and sandbags, very lights, grenades and flares were issued. A motor lorry delivered these stores to ‘A’ and ‘B’ Coys and brought their packs back to Wanquetin.

The 6th and 7th Bns set off at 5.15pm, marching eastwards straight through Arras and on to the trenches held by the 42nd Bde south of Tilloy. At 6pm, the 4th Bn (minus ‘A’ and ‘B’ Coys) paraded then marched, while the snow fell heavily, via Warlus, Dainville and Arras to Ronville Caves 55, arriving there at midnight. Guides from the 42nd Bde (14th Divn) were met at map reference - 9.27a.1.9. ' A' Coy having been relieved by the 150th Bde at Agnes-Les-Duisans 56, marched to join up with the Bn (minus ‘D’ Coy) at Warlus 57.

Despite the fact that snow was falling heavy, the men were ordered to ‘dump’ their great coats and to take only a blanket wrapped in a waterproof sheet as protection against the weather, consequently all ranks were soon in a wretched condition.

The 6th Bn took control of the trenches on the right flank of the 50th Divn sector straddling Telegraph Hill 58 and the 7th Bn the left flank. The 5th Bn moved into support, occupying the old German front line, the 4th Bn were held in reserve at Ronville Caves. The 1st line transport was stationed at the Citadelle 59 in Arras. The entire relief was complete by 3.35am.

Meanwhile, the 151st Bde moved up and relieved the 43rd Bde (14th Divn) in Ronville Caves, while the 150th Bde remained at Habarcq.

At 1am, in Ronville Caves, stores were issued to the 4th Bn:

Sandbags - 4 per man.

Flares - 2 per officer and man.

No 5 Mills Grenades - 40 per bombing section.

No 20 Hales Grenades - 40 per rifle grenade section.

Very Lights - 4 (2 white, 2 green) per officer, servant, CSM and platoon Sgt.

Thursday, 12th April 1917

Lt Col. B.D. Gibson
Lt Col. B.D. Gibson

“A chilly clear aired morning, the water standing everywhere in sheets after last nights snow and rain. Arras is crammed with troops of many different divisions. The town is comparatively little damaged, but there seem to be practically no civilians”. .

During the afternoon Lt Col Gibson, Major Robb and 2nd Lt Wilson reconnoitred the area around Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines 60 and Telegraph Hill . ‘B’ Coy marched from Beau tz Les L… and joined the 4th Bn at 9pm.

At midnight on the 12th GOC 50th Divn assumed command of the front line sector and Divisional HQ opened in Arras. The new sector was the northern part of the Hindenburg Line 61 and had only been captured during the attacks carried out between the 9th and 12th of April.

"The new sector occupied by the 50th Divn was on the ridge immediately east of the villages of Wancourt and Heninel. The river Cojeul ran north-easterly through Heninel past the eastern outskirts of Wancourt and then taking a sharp turn eastwards just south of Guemappe. The left flank of the Divn front rested on the river east of Wancourt, the right on the well defined building known as the Wancourt Tower, which stood upon the ridge east of Wancourt and Heninel. Southeast, but beyond the Divn right boundary lay Cherisy, while directly ahead was Vis-en-Artois. Guemappe, also in the German lines, was north of the Cojeul on the left front of the 50th Divn; machine gun fire from the village could rake the Divn front line in enfilade”.

Friday, 13th April 1917

Early on the 13th patrols carried out by the 9th Bn DLI reached the Cojeul River and dug in fifty yards east of Wancourt Tower 62.

At 11am, officers from 4th Bn HQ and each Coy reconnoitred the route from Ronville Caves to The Harp 63 (near Telegraph Hill). At 1pm Major Robb reconnoitred the route from Ronville Caves to Wancourt.

At 5pm the officers and men who had been detailed to remain behind when the Bn went into action marched back to billets in Arras.

That night, two Coys of the 9th Bn DLI were holding the front line from Wancourt Tower northwards for about six to seven hundred yards, and two coys were in a sunken road just east of the Cojeul River. Meanwhile orders had been issued that the VI and VII Corps would again advance on the 14th.

Saturday, 14th April 1917

The 151st Bde was to advance the attack in order to protect the left flank of the 56th Divn, who were tasked with capturing Cherisy, and form a defensive flank facing north along the high ground roughly just south of the 80 metre contour, with their left flank in Wancourt Tower. Zero hour was set for 5.30am. The 6th DLI would advance at zero hour with the 8th Bn DLI and 5th Bn Borders following later. This attack met with some success with the 6th Bn DLI reaching German trenches just south of Wancourt Tower. Wancourt Tower was destined to become the scene of continual fighting during the next few days because it commanded a view of all the Divns approaches from Telegraph Hill.

At 5.30pm the 4th Bn moved in coy and platoon order from Ronville Caves to the north end of 'The Harp' by the route reconnoitred earlier. The first to arrive discovered that the 7th Bn, whose positions the Bn were supposed to take over, were still there, so they had to lay down to the rear of the trench. However, during the move orders were received to move to 'Cojeul Switch' at the south end of 'The Harp' (map ref: N7A).

At 8pm, once the 5th Bn had moved forward from its positions, the Bn moved in.

The First Battle of the Scarpe officially ended on this day, however the 4th Bns involvement with this sector had only just begun.

Sunday, 15th April 1917

The 149th Bde relief of the 151st Bde was completed early in the morning. The 6th Bn assumed control of the trenches previously held by the 9th DLI and after ejecting the enemy established a post between the opposing lines in the ruins of Wancourt Tower. The 7th Bn manned the support lines with two Coys in Nepal Trench 64 and two along the bank east of the river Cojeul, the 5th Bn were in Niger Trench 65 and the 4th Bn in Cojeul Switch 66.

At 3.30pm the enemy were observed attempting to dig a sap towards Wancourt Tower, but a platoon from the 6th Bn were successful in thwarting this. A communication trench was subsequently dug running from the front line to the north of the tower. Two enemy bombing attacks were repulsed by the 6th Bn.

The 4th Bn remained in in The Harp (South) and Cojeul Switch throughout the day.

Bibliography:

Footnotes

  1. Beaufort
  2. Manin
  3. Avesnes-Le-Comte
  4. Hauteville
  5. Wanquetin
  6. Habarcq
  7. Agnez
  8. Gouves
  9. Montenescourt
  10. Berneville
  11. Ronville Caves - Cave and tunnel system extending south eastwards from Arras.
  12. Agnes-Les-Duisans 
  13. Warlus
  14. Telegraph Hill
  15. Citadelle
  16. Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines
  17. Hindenburg Line - A defensive line, 90 miles long, constructed by the German Army during the winter of 1916 & 17. Designed to shorten the front line by 25 miles and thereby reduce the number of Divns required to hold it 
  18. Wancourt Tower - A German observation post based on a ruined windmill strengthened with concrete. It ceased to exist as a landmark on the night of the 13th April.
  19. The Harp - Trench system so named because of its shape
  20. Nepal Trench
  21. Niger Trench 
  22. Cojeul Switch 
  23. Beaufort
  24. Manin
  25. Avesnes-Le-Comte
  26. Hauteville
  27. Wanquetin
  28. Habarcq
  29. Agnez
  30. Gouves
  31. Montenescourt
  32. Berneville
  33. Ronville Caves - Cave and tunnel system extending south eastwards from Arras.
  34. Agnes-Les-Duisans 
  35. Warlus
  36. Telegraph Hill
  37. Citadelle
  38. Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines
  39. Hindenburg Line - A defensive line, 90 miles long, constructed by the German Army during the winter of 1916 & 17. Designed to shorten the front line by 25 miles and thereby reduce the number of Divns required to hold it 
  40. Wancourt Tower - A German observation post based on a ruined windmill strengthened with concrete. It ceased to exist as a landmark on the night of the 13th April.
  41. The Harp - Trench system so named because of its shape
  42. Nepal Trench
  43. Niger Trench 
  44. Cojeul Switch 
  45. Beaufort
  46. Manin
  47. Avesnes-Le-Comte
  48. Hauteville
  49. Wanquetin
  50. Habarcq
  51. Agnez
  52. Gouves
  53. Montenescourt
  54. Berneville
  55. Ronville Caves - Cave and tunnel system extending south eastwards from Arras.
  56. Agnes-Les-Duisans 
  57. Warlus
  58. Telegraph Hill
  59. Citadelle
  60. Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines
  61. Hindenburg Line - A defensive line, 90 miles long, constructed by the German Army during the winter of 1916 & 17. Designed to shorten the front line by 25 miles and thereby reduce the number of Divns required to hold it 
  62. Wancourt Tower - A German observation post based on a ruined windmill strengthened with concrete. It ceased to exist as a landmark on the night of the 13th April.
  63. The Harp - Trench system so named because of its shape
  64. Nepal Trench
  65. Niger Trench 
  66. Cojeul Switch 
  67. Beaufort
  68. Manin
  69. Avesnes-Le-Comte
  70. Hauteville
  71. Wanquetin
  72. Habarcq
  73. Agnez
  74. Gouves
  75. Montenescourt
  76. Berneville
  77. Ronville Caves - Cave and tunnel system extending south eastwards from Arras.
  78. Agnes-Les-Duisans 
  79. Warlus
  80. Telegraph Hill
  81. Citadelle
  82. Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines
  83. Hindenburg Line - A defensive line, 90 miles long, constructed by the German Army during the winter of 1916 & 17. Designed to shorten the front line by 25 miles and thereby reduce the number of Divns required to hold it 
  84. Wancourt Tower - A German observation post based on a ruined windmill strengthened with concrete. It ceased to exist as a landmark on the night of the 13th April.
  85. The Harp - Trench system so named because of its shape
  86. Nepal Trench
  87. Niger Trench 
  88. Cojeul Switch 
  89. Beaufort
  90. Manin
  91. Avesnes-Le-Comte
  92. Hauteville
  93. Wanquetin
  94. Habarcq
  95. Agnez
  96. Gouves
  97. Montenescourt
  98. Berneville
  99. Ronville Caves - Cave and tunnel system extending south eastwards from Arras.
  100. Agnes-Les-Duisans 
  101. Warlus
  102. Telegraph Hill
  103. Citadelle
  104. Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines
  105. Hindenburg Line - A defensive line, 90 miles long, constructed by the German Army during the winter of 1916 & 17. Designed to shorten the front line by 25 miles and thereby reduce the number of Divns required to hold it 
  106. Wancourt Tower - A German observation post based on a ruined windmill strengthened with concrete. It ceased to exist as a landmark on the night of the 13th April.
  107. The Harp - Trench system so named because of its shape
  108. Nepal Trench
  109. Niger Trench 
  110. Cojeul Switch 
  111. Beaufort
  112. Manin
  113. Avesnes-Le-Comte
  114. Hauteville
  115. Wanquetin
  116. Habarcq
  117. Agnez
  118. Gouves
  119. Montenescourt
  120. Berneville
  121. Ronville Caves - Cave and tunnel system extending south eastwards from Arras.
  122. Agnes-Les-Duisans 
  123. Warlus
  124. Telegraph Hill
  125. Citadelle
  126. Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines
  127. Hindenburg Line - A defensive line, 90 miles long, constructed by the German Army during the winter of 1916 & 17. Designed to shorten the front line by 25 miles and thereby reduce the number of Divns required to hold it 
  128. Wancourt Tower - A German observation post based on a ruined windmill strengthened with concrete. It ceased to exist as a landmark on the night of the 13th April.
  129. The Harp - Trench system so named because of its shape
  130. Nepal Trench
  131. Niger Trench 
  132. Cojeul Switch