Tuesday The night passed cold and damp, fair weather thru’out the day, War news is good from all fronts, Heavy and bitter fighting continues, lots of prisoners came by today, have taken up a forward [Wagon Line] position Am well
“After a busy day firing for the Princess Pats (who were fighting for Tilloy) and sniping at the Cambrai Towers,” (1) the battery’s guns are ordered to move back from Sainte Olle to their old position west of Raillencourt, behind the old Marcoing Line. (2)
“The front will be held for the present as a defensive front, pending further operations.” (3) The Canadian Corps cannot continue this brutal level of fighting. It has been “some of the bitterest fighting we have ever experienced… attack and counterattack every day.” (4), resulting in some ten thousand casualties to the Canadian Corps. “The real shock,” says Tim Cook, “was that they did not suffer more.” (5)
Even from the gunners’ perspective it has been, to use Bertie Cox’s phrase, “no picnic”:
“Constantly on the move. Digging gun pits, digging funk pits, digging holes in the ground to sleep in. Just get them finished, then another move. The one redeeming feature about it, is we’re on the advance and not the retreat. The weather, on the whole has been fairly good for the offensive, but several days we had to stand out in the open and take the rain all day, and believe me, it’s bitterly cold at night and in the day, too, sometimes. He’s putting up an awful tough fight for Cambrai, it’s one of his biggest railway centers. The old timers say it’s the hardest nut the Canadians have ever had to crack, and they always have the biggest nuts, too, as you may have noticed. It’s a recognized fact that the Canadian Corps is the best fighting force in France today, (Americans included). In fact it has not once retreated since the war began. Some record, eh?”(6)
In the next few days there will be a time for regrouping. There will be night patrols and artillery firing and strong resistance to any German attack, but also time to bring up more ammunition and to gather up and bury the dead.
Yesterday evening Bertie Cox’s 60th Battery buried its dead, too. About 1:30 yesterday morning one enemy shell fell on the sleeping quarters of the battery’s position, killing two lieutenants, and wounding the major and a third lieutenant. (7) The battery had been shelled ever since moving into this position: “as the shells were coming from the south-east, it was decided to construct bivouacs on the north side of a high brick wall which ran due east and west. Everyone was tired out, and hoping for a good night’s sleep, but at midnight the shelling restarted, this time from the north-east. The wall was worse than useless as a protection from an attack from this direction. One shell secured a direct hit over a small trench in which the officers were sleeping, exploding against the wall. The result was disastrous.” (8) “The Battery’s lucky star has evidently left it,” said Bertie Cox. (6)
Both Lieut. Kennet Stairs and Lieut Mervyn Jones were students when they enlisted; Stairs was 29 when he died, Jones only 19.
The photograph of Cambrai is from the National Library of Scotland.Notice the body in the foreground.
The photographs of Lieutenants Stairs and Jones are from their entries in Veterans Canada’s Virtual War Memorial.
(1) MacArthur, D.C. The History of the Fifty-Fifth Battery, CFA. 1919. 63.
(2) War Diary of the 13th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. Vol. 21: 3. October 1, 1918. Library and Archives of Canada.
(3) War Diary of the Fifth Canadian Divisional Artillery. Vol. 21: 4 October 1, 1918. 4.
(4) Cook, Tim. Shock Troops. Canadians Fighting the Great War Vol. 2 1917-1918. 2008. 545.
(5) Cook, 546.
(6) Cox, Bertram Howard. Letter to Carl and Mabel, October 3, 1918. Available from the Canadian Letters and Images Project.
(7) War Diary of the 13th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. Vol. 20: 12. September 30, 1918.
(8) 60th C.F.A. Battery Book, 1916-1919. . 93.