11 DLI at Cambrai 30 November 1917 (part 1)

On the night of 29-30 November 1917, ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘D’ companies were out on overnight work road building. As they returned in the morning, they became heavily embroiled in dealing with the German counter-attack after the initial success of the Cambrai offensive. What follows is the account that found its way into the Battalion War Diary, more or less word for word. I have not commented on it, as it speaks for itself. Suffice to say that it is a measured and apparently objective description of the role played by Lt Colonel Hayes and his company commanders and their sense of initiative in confusing circumstances when the men would have been tired. There are a large number of map references, so if the reader has access to a contemporary trench map they will be able to pin point where each Company was. I have divided the account into two parts, the first covering the working parties and the second covering Hayes and the HQ with ’C’ Company.



On the 30th, the Battalion was situated as follows: ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies in the Hindenburg support line near R.4.a.26.; ‘A’ Company in shelters in the Railway Cutting at VILLERS PLOUICH; HQ and ‘C’ Company in shelters in sunken road in Gouzeaucourt in Q.16.a.

‘B’ Company were out on the night 29/30 digging trench at cemetery strong point NW of Rue des Vignes. Whilst returning to trenches in R4 a heavy hostile barrage dropped about.

AM: about 6.45 AM it was reported to the company commander Captain Jee that large bodies of men were retiring in a disorderly manner. Captain Jee stood to at once, and two platoons took up a defensive position at R4a33 in the sunken road. Two platoons at R3a.6.0, in support to front two platoons, and to bar the enemy from working up MARCOING VALLEY. Captain Jee reported to Brigadier General Banbury, 61st Infantry Brigade, who ordered him to hold the trench leaving sunken road at R4.a.3.6 with two platoons. The remaining two were to stay where they were. This position lasted till 5.30 PM, during which time fire was opened on several occasions on the enemy. Hostile aeroplanes were very harassing during this period. At 5.30 PM the Company then joined ‘D’ Company in the trench at R.9.b.5.8. Casualties: 1 officer wounded (severely), 3 OR killed and 6 OR wounded.

‘D’ Company under Captain Pemberton were in trench at R9.b.5.8. After the hostile bombardment had been on for some time, Captain Pemberton observed men coming back from the front line who said that the Germans had broken through. The company stood to and took up a position in the Hindenburg Line about R.9.d facing NE. The company commander then received a message from Major Morgan Owen, 11th Rifle Brigade, addressed to 7th DCLI asking for reinforcements on his left, so Captain Pemberton at once advanced to the trench running from R3d.9.1 to R10a.35 and established touch with the 11th Rifle Brigade on his right. He then reported personally to Brigadier General Banbury who ordered him to get in touch with 7th KOYLI in front and to withdraw the remainder of his company in support. Captain Pemberton went along the front line from the 11th Rifle Brigade to the 7th KOYLI and established touch and gradually withdrew ‘D’ Company as 7th KOYLI took over more line. This was complete by 5.30 PM.

‘A’ Company under Captain Sear MC, which was working on roads, was on the VILLERS-PLOUICH TO MARCOING road when they warned that the enemy had broken through. The company returned to VILLERS-PLOUICH and Captain Sear reported to Divisional HQ, from whom he received instructions to take up a position on BORDERER RIDGE to prevent enemy from approaching VILLERS-PLOUICH from the direction of GOUZEAUCOURT. The company dug in under light shell and machine gun fire. The OC got in touch with Battalion HQ during the course of the afternoon. The company remained here the night of the 30th Nov/1st Dec. Touch was obtained with ‘A’ Company and Borderer Ridge about 3 PM. The CO was then informed by Captain Sear that Divisional HQ had remained at their HQ near VILLERS-PLOUICH. Casualties: 2 OR wounded.


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