After Cambrai: December 1917

For the first couple of days in December, after helping to hold fast against the German counter-attack at Cambrai, 11th DLI were primarily engaged in consolidating what had been held, even advancing a little in places. All the time they were under heavy shelling, as the diary noted: ‘by our own guns captured by the enemy.’ ‘A’ Company moved back from Borderer Ridge to hold a trench in Lincoln Avenue, from which a small party under Lt HS Parkin bombed their way back into a section held by the Germans, a task completed by 11 Rifle Brigade when the Pioneers ran out of grenades. ‘B’ Company held a trench in front of La Vacquerie, from which they supplied 7 KOYLI with their rations. Next day they moved into the front line with ‘A’ company to close a gap. ‘C’ Company moved from the Brown Line into a trench in front of Villers Plouich, covering the valley, and then from trench to trench making small improvements as they went, finishing in the Hindenburg Communications Trench. They stayed there next day until moved back to the Brown Line.  ‘D’ Company were in the Hindenburg Trench from where they delivered rations to the infantry ahead, 7 KOYLI and 7 DCLI. Everyone got their own rations at 9pm on 1 December and the CO did his rounds of each Company in turn. On 2 December, all Companies moved back to the Brown Line where Colonel Hayes had established Battalion HQ. Over the two days, two men were killed and 33 wounded by the heavy shelling.

Over the next few days, the battalion was moved back via Fins, Sorel, Ecquemicourt and by buses to Wardrecques, where drill, training and baths were the order of the day. New officers arrived, including 2 Lts Galley, Alexander and English. By 16 December, the Pioneers were back on the Ypres Salient at Dickebusch and back to the usual routines of carrying materials to form dumps, wiring trenches and the like. Ironically, given recent losses, two groups of 50 men were transferred out to 2 DLI and 14 DLI, some of which would turn out to be quite temporary. The Battalion strength on the roll was 35 officers and 767 other ranks – 280 of the latter had been written off as sick, dead or wounded. The diary was signed off by Captain Pemberton, temporarily in charge of the battalion.

Cambrai Memorial at Louverval (Photo: Gaynor Greenwood)

The dead included Lts Inglis and Freeman (documents concerning the latter at Durham County Records Office). Thirteen men were killed along with Freeman during the German counter-attack on 30 November. The two men who died from shelling on 1 December were Privates Thomas Wilson and James Sidney Cole. Privates Horace Brown and William Longstaff died of wounds during the following week, as did Sergeant John Ormston and Lance Corporal Edward Simpson. Eight of those who died have no known grave and are listed on the Cambrai Memorial at Louverval.

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