23rd April 1917
Having breached the German’s front line positions during the preceding weeks, the British were now confronted in this sector by a trench system known as the Oppy line — named after the village north of Gavrelle. Despite a preliminary bombardment, the German wire north of Gavrelle was hardly touched and First Army decided that their part in the renewed offensive would, for the moment, be limited to taking Gavrelle. On the right of the 63rd Division, the Drake Battalion (189th Brigade) had also noted sections of uncut wire and limited its attack to the northern half of its objective where there were sufficient holes. Advancing through these gaps they made good progress and having attained the top end of their objective they then bombed their way down the rest, securing the position.
On the left of the divisional front, the 4th Bn Bedfordshire regiment and 7th Bn Royal Fusiliers managed to get into their first objective but the Fusiliers who were working with an open left flank were now held up by a swathe of uncut wire in front of them. Whilst the Fusiliers were checked, the other battalions pushed on into the centre of the village where the Bedfords, in turn, found their own left flank compromised. Instead of being able to advance as far as the railway line, they were forced to hang back. Coming up behind the Drake and Nelson battalions the Hood Battalion was supposed to have waited to give the former a chance to clear their first objective. However, in the face of a German counter barrage, they decided that the best response was to push forward creating a mishmash of troops in the centre of the village.
Once the units had been reorganized they continued their way up the street fighting a dogged battle from house to house. Having taken the village they tried to continue on, but getting in was one thing, trying to emerge out the other side was another altogether. As soon as the sailors and soldiers tried to leave the cover of the buildings they were swept with machine gunfire. They only had a further 300 metres to achieve but the commanders on the spot realized that success was far from certain, that the losses would be high, and settled for what they had.
Unfortunately, the windmill on the high ground just to the north of the village was not taken. The Germans considered the windmill as the keystone to this sector of the Oppy Line. Not content with merely shooting at any emerging British troops the Germans also attempted a number of counterattacks themselves but all of these were beaten off. It was, however, not until late in the evening that the 1st Bn Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) were finally in a position to secure the Division’s left flank. The following morning the Germans continued to send wave after wave of soldiers against the new possessors of the village but once again these were beaten off.
Then, at midday, the Germans fired a terrific bombardment into the village before launching a large-scale assault at 1530 hours. Although they advanced with determination they presented easy targets for the British artillery and machine guns. Some managed to reach as far as the village but their numbers had dwindled to insignificance and they were soon dealt with. In all, 479 prisoners were taken by the 63rd Division but the work had only begun. The thorny problem was going to be how to continue the advance out from the village into yet another German defensive line.
My grandfather, Pte Timothy Bracey (HAC) - Service # 11477 - fought here with tenacity and determination alongside his infantry brothers, witnessing his platoon CO, LT Ronald Haine VC, killed in the battle.
This short film pays respect to those of the HAC, and all young men, from every walk of life, who lost their lives in The Great War. In memory particularly of Pte Richard Powell, my great-great-uncle, who died in Flanders in 1917 with the East Lancs Regt.
" I once walked amongst a brotherhood of fathers, sons, of uncles, friends, and loved ones dear. Through mud and slime, and constant thunder, the driving rain, of shell-burst, barrage, and withered fire from those like me, with no greater purpose than to live beyond their own enduring hell.
The dreams and lost desires of childish memories, that through the darkness, were but one bright light to draw me to a place of calm. Returned when all was done, to those who nurtured me, who saw me grow, and thrive, quite free.
Yet was all I came to see in pain and death, the misery of futures lost in the fear and toil of waste, spilled in this foreign land? Or was there something greater, an eternal glory that none could see beyond this worldly suffering of men?
This was no place of God, nor any in bequeath of tearful prayer to turn their hand. Nor was it meant to be a place for man in all his fear and loathing. It was, in truth, too grotesque a vision to contemplate.
What world have we created, in the silence of young voices that once knew joy, and raucous laughter? Who sang with spirits raised in witness of the bloody slaughter of those they knew, and loved, and lived among.
And then to final words in hushed and whispered tones, in last of earthly time, once more, to those who bore them breath. To mothers, sisters, and lovers few. To gaze upon the setting light of day for one moment more, before to slip, so given they in release from harm, to favoured 'dreamt of' place called home. "
A SHORT FILM ABOUT MEMORIES, LOVE, AND REGRET
Nicholas David Lean @ 12th March 2021
LEST WE FORGET
" A Mother's Son " tells the overwhelmingly visual, yet heartbreaking story of Hilda Cadwallader.
A mother to a young son, shipped off to France at the outbreak of war in 1914 - and who never returned - who has spent her entire life mourning for the boy she lost. She has endured the turmoil of guilt for allowing him to be sent so far away on what many considered a fool's errand. Whilst the patriotic fervour of service to one's nation overtook the many, it was the poor, the uneducated, the farm labourers, and the industrial working class of society who were spent as fodder for the German guns, at the behest of the rich and privileged. " A Mother's Son " is an emotional, gut-wrenching journey that follows a woman in her last moments of tormented life, seeking forgiveness from the son she bore, and whose young life was sacrificed in the muddy fields of France over 100 years ago.
Lt. Jonathan Cadwallader
Honourable Artillery Company
Battle of Arras
April 28 - 29 1917
Died from wounds sustained following mortar explosion, aged 23
portrayed by Jamie Lee-Hill
Mother (husband died of Tuberculosis)
Raised in Coventry
Gave birth to Jonathan aged 17, once
married into wealth, but was left with substantial debts upon her husband's death.
Born May 19th 1875
Died August 27th 1972, aged 97
portrayed by Sharon Lawrence