Monday The night passed fair and quiet[.] weather was too unsettled for bombing, more settled today bitter fighting up at the line for Cambrai Many wounded & prisoners passed us today Bulg[arian] Surrender
The weather was wild last night, according to war correspondent Philip Gibbs, “with a gale of wind blowing and heavy rainstorms over the battlefields.” (1) From Bourlon Wood, “very grim and black there under the rainswept sky, I saw all these guns of ours open fire, and their flashes made a line of flame.” (1)
The machine-gun resistance is so fierce that (as he writes when the war is over) “General Currie, whom I saw during those days, was anxious and disheartened. He was losing more men in machine-gun actions round Cambrai than in bigger battles.” (2)
The 55th Battery moves forward again today, to a position “in some old Hienie [sic] stables” (3) west of Sainte Olle and “did good work in shooting at various targets. The other Batteries moved up on the same vicinity during the afternoon but remained silent as the positions were only semi-covered. The idea of the move was to enable the Batteries to reach as far back as ESCAUDOEUVRES the objective of tomorrow morning’s attack. Our infantry took TILLOY during the day after heavy hand to hand fighting.” (4) A counter-attack at 5:13 pm was “successfully repulsed” with the assistance of an S.O.S. barrage from both the 13th and 14th Brigades. (5)
That position, incidentally, is about eight miles (13 km) east of their Inchy position on September 27th. Here the “men lived where best they could, the lucky ones in a capacious tomb, which was serving for an office.” (3)
German morale is “rapidly giving way,” according to Gibbs, but the Canadian infantry, despite being chilled by last night’s weather “endure these discomforts bravely and the vision of victory keeps them warm in soul if not in body.” (1)
It is, of course, an optimistic assessment. In his letter to Janie yesterday, Percy begged her to “try to keep a tight rein on your nerves.” He could tell her, he says, “a little of how the nerves act on some people [and] shall do some time later.”
The battle, says Tim Cook, was a “meat grinder.” (6) No wonder it was also a shredder of nerves.
(1) Gibbs, Philip. “Canadians in Bitter Struggle for Cambrai” (dateline September 30, 1918). The Globe (1844-1936). October 1, 1918. 1. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
(2) Gibbs, Philip. Now It Can be Told. [published in the UK as The Realities of War]. 1920.
(3) MacArthur, D.C. The History of the Fifty-Fifth Battery, CFA. 1919. 63.
(4) War Diary of the 13th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. Vol. 20: 13. September 30, 1918. Library and Archives of Canada.
(5) War Diary of the Fifth Canadian Divisional Artillery. Vol. 20: reverse of page 10. September 30, 1918.
(6) Cook, Tim. Shock Troops. Canadians Fighting the Great War Vol. 2 1917-1918. 2008. 540