Husband of Evelyn Alexander (nee Coulbeck),
of 37, West End, Wetherby, Yorkshire.
Henry was born in about 1882 in the St. Giles District of the West End of London. Little
is known of his early life other than he was the son of Henry William Alexander (Senior) who as far as I can ascertain died
in London in 1895. Relocating to the north of England at some unknown period, it was in December 1907 that Henry entered a
union of marriage with one Miss Evelyn Coulbeck, a native of Beverley, at St. James Parish Church. At this juncture, Henry
is recorded as residing at Linton, occupation, Gardener, Evelyn, also residing at Linton but no occupation recorded. It is
of interest to note that the marriage was witnessed amongst others by Frances Kate Swann, the wife of George Swann, a Farmer
(Own Account), of Linton. I can only surmise that on this basis, Evelyn may have been employed by the Swann family as a Domestic
Servant. Establishing their marital home at Number 2, Fox Yard off Bank Street, in February 1908 their first child was born,
William Aubrey Alexander, baptised at St. James Parish Church on the 12th of April. Relocating to Number 9, Wentworth Terrace,
Westgate, it was in March 1910 that a further child would bless the marriage, Alfred Coulbeck Alexander. In January 1912,
a daughter would be born, Evelyn Ada Alexander, followed by another daughter in April 1915, Gladys, respectively.
History of Wetherby records that Henry had enlisted in the Hussars when less than 19 years of age. The History further
records that he had served in the Boer War, his decorations for this campaign including the South African Medal with the Clasps
Transvaal, Orange Free State and South Africa. An analysis of the Medal Rolls for the Campaign reveals rather
intriguingly no record of Henry Alexander however an ambiguous source alludes to the fact that he enlisted in 1897 and was
issued the serial number 3748. This batch of serial numbers confirms an attestation in that year, the terms of his service
being seven years with the Colours followed by five years in the Reserve, or if the man completed his seven years whilst serving
overseas, then for a further period, not exceeding one year, with the Colours, and the remainder of the twelve years in the
Service History Post 1902
the end of the Boer War campaign, the Regiment returned to India in 1902, bolstered as it was by a draft from the Reserve
Squadron based at Aldershot. Sailing from Port Natal onboard the S.S. "Ionian" on the 3rd of October 1902,
the Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel St. Clair Oswald, departed the continent with sixteen officers, two
Warrant Officers and 491 N.C.O.'s and men. (Source:- The Standard, dated the 8th of October 1902). Arriving at Bombay
on the 23rd of October, the Regiment proceeded to Sialkot in the Punjab, subsequently relieving the 9th Lancers who proceeded
to Rawalpindi. In January of the following year, a number of drafts from home service were posted to India, amongst their
number being 105 men of the 3rd Hussars who departed Southampton onboard the S.S. "Assaye" on the 6th.
(Source:- The Bournemouth Daily Echo dated the 6th of January 1903). In May, Colonel Oswald was granted leave from India for
a period of five and a half months to attend to private affairs, Major Walter Goring assuming command of the Regiment in July.
In that same month, a further draft of 180 non commissioned officers and men from the 18th Hussars stationed at Aldershot
were prepared to embark to reinforce the 3rd Hussars, Colonel Oswald returning to resume command of the Regiment in October
after a summer at Dunnikier, near Kirkcaldy.
month of May 1905 would witness the Colonel once again granted leave from India, returning to the Regiment later that year.
Upon the eventual departure of Colonel Oswald in May 1906 for an early retirement, Major Goring subsequently assumed command
as of the 14th of July. In 1907, the 3rd (King's Own) Hussars were under orders to return to South Africa but prior to
this movement, the Regiment took up station at Karachi. Departing Karachi on the 22nd of November onboard the R.M.I.S.
"Hardinge," the Hussars were to be stationed at Pretoria but prior to their arrival, home units based at
Aldershot were issued orders to prepare to send reinforcing drafts for a number of units abroad including the 3rd Hussars.
Their stay at Pretoria was of a relatively short duration as in February 1908 they moved to Middelburg as part of a force
of Cavalry and associated units. Returning to Pretoria at some point during the year, it was in the year of 1910 that the
promoted Colonel Goring was replaced by the Second-in-Command, Major Walter Graham Murray D.S.O. on the 14th of July respectively.
Orders were finally received in early 1911
to return home, the S.S. "Soudan" subsequently departing Durban on the 18th of November, the Regiment was
predicted to arrive at Southampton on the 14th of December. Duly arriving at the port on this day, the Regiment then proceeded
to Shorncliffe Camp, near Cheriton, Kent, to take up quarters.
It is impossible to state, with some degree of accuracy, the actual record of service with
the Colours of Henry William Alexander. Suffice to say, if his service obligation was completed, and if indeed it followed
the above, he may have returned home circa 1904/05. Upon the outbreak of the Great War, Henry attested for military service
at Leeds in August 1914. Posted to one of the Reserve Cavalry Regiments,
3rd (King’s Own) Hussars formed part of the Cavalry Division but were re-designated as the 1st Cavalry Division
in September 1914. In October 1914, the brigade was transferred to the 2nd Cavalry Division forming part of the 4th Cavalry
The Brigade comprised of the following units:-
6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers)
Own Oxfordshire Hussars
Operations on the Western Front:- Mons 1914 & Retirement
Up on the outbreak of the War and after orders were received to mobilise, the 3rd (King's Own) Hussars
were stationed at Shorncliffe Camp near Folkestone, Kent. It was on the 15th August of 1914 that Headquarters and "A"
Squadron of the Hussars entrained for Southampton, Headquarters subsequently embarking on the S.S. "City of Lucknow"
with "A" Squadron embarking on the Transport S.S. "Karnak" respectively. Both ships departed
the port at 1.50 p.m. and heading for Le Havre, both anchored off the port at 2 a.m. on the following morning. Awaiting a
tide, the "Lucknow" then sailed up the River Seine proceeded by the "Karnak" until Rouen
was reached at 10.15 p.m. with the hour of disembarkation being allocated as 6 a.m. on the morning of the 17th. Almost chaotic
scenes now ensued as there were no slings available to unload the horses and equipment that was available to facilitate their
unloading was deemed unsafe and unsuitable. Suffice to say, a number of horses fell to the deck but luckily they escaped serious
injury but finally the last horse was transported off the "Lucknow" by sling method at 1.30 p.m., disembarkation
being completed in the full, fifteen minutes later. "A" Squadron who also had to disembark their horses using the
sling method appear to have had a trouble free procedure, their disembarkation being completed half an hour earlier than that
of the "Karnak". During the morning, "B" Squadron arrived at Rouen onboard the Transport S.S.
"Honorious," their disembarkation being completed without apparent incident soon after that of Headquarters.
With no news of "C" Squadrons arrival, Headquarters accompanied by both "A" and "B" Squadrons
now proceeded to a Rest Camp located at Bruyeres, a distance of three miles. Upon their arrival, the Camp was found to be
already occupied by Brigade Headquarters and a number of the Carabiniers (6th Dragoon Guards) who had arrived a short time
previously but thankfully, the weather was fine as the men busied themselves for a night under canvas.
Heading northwards to the B.E.F. concentration area near Maubeuge, the days
that followed were chaotic to say the least with billeting arrangements and changes in orders proving to be most problematic.
"C" Squadron finally arrived on the 21st of August, their delay being caused by insufficient space for their horses
on their allocated transport with the result that they had to remain at Southampton in a rest camp for a period of four days.
On the following day, units of the B.E.F. reached Mons, the French Fifth Army on their right flank under the command of General
Charles Lanzerac, subsequently being engaged by units of the German Second Army near Charleroi. German cavalry had been engaged
about Binche and Bray to the west but it was on the 23rd of August that the infantry engaged superior numbers of the enemy
at Mons. The Battle of Mons is well documented and beyond the scope of this commemoration but as regards the Cavalry and the
inevitable retirement of the infantry, faced as they were by superior numbers of the enemy, the 2nd Cavalry Brigade were ordered
to cover the withdrawal of the 5th Division. (Authors note:- The 6th Dragoon Guards of the 2nd Brigade had received orders
early in the morning to proceed to a bridge located at St. Aybert on the Conde Canal, west of Mons. This was held until units
of the 9th Infantry Brigade of 3rd Division arrived, the Dragoons marching to billets at Estreux during the course of the
Upon the B.E.F. retiring southwards,
it was at 5 p.m. on the 23rd of August that the 3rd King's Own crossed the French frontier and proceeded in a south-westerly
direction to Saultain, east of Valenciennes. Due to the absence of the Billeting Officer, arrangements were not concluded
till late in the evening but despite this inconvenience, the men were ready to return to the march early on the morning of
the 24th. Remaining in the general area, "C" Squadron who had been sent to a position west of Valenciennes now reported
that a large force of Uhlans were advancing from the north-east threatening the left flank of the retirement. Orders were
now issued for the brigade to hold a line to the south-west of Valenciennes, the position being put in a state of defence
with the 3rd King's Own occupying the Fort de Curgies, accompanied by the Composite Regiment. At 4.30 a.m. on
the morning of the 25th, the Squadrons were collected together and departed Curgies just as the enemy were about to attack.
With "A" Squadron of the 6th Dragoons acting as a Rear Guard at Preseau, orders now stipulated that the 3rd King's
Own were to join the brigade and the Cavalry Division in their concentration area at Maresches just to the south, the position
adopted being one in which to support the left flank of the general retirement of the B.E.F. Riding southwards via Artres
and Querenaing, it was whilst at the latter place that French gendarmes reported that a large force of the enemy were approaching
from the direction of St. Amand north of Valenciennes.
early months of 1915, the Hussars moved continuously between various towns and villages located to the west of Bailleul
performing various duties.
On the 22nd April, the Second Battle of Ypres commenced with the Germans discharging chlorine
gas in the areas between Pilckem and Langemarck in an attempt to seize strategically important high ground. This act, the
first use of poison gas in the Great War, caused panic and heavy casualties to the 45th Algerian and 87th French Divisions
that were holding this part of the front line. As a consequence of the of the gas attack the French divisions abandoned their
positions resulting in a large gap of over four miles on the left flank of the 1st Canadian Division. The situation had
by now become critical, but, during the night 22/23rd the Canadians along with British units that had been rushed forward
to assist, adapting a defensive position against repeated counter-attacks by the enemy.
On the 24th, the Canadians were
now subjected to an attack proceeded by the discharge of chlorine gas. The line was temporarily held even though the defenders
had no form of protection against the effects of the gas, but, due to the sheer weight of the enemy's attack, St. Julian
was abandoned and a subsequent retirement was ordered.
Attempts to recapture the ground lost continued over the following
days but, on the 1st - 3rd May, a strategic withdrawal took place to a new defensive line. This line ran from the east of
Sanctuary Wood then continued northwards along the Frezenberg Ridge, then the line continued in a north-westerly direction to
Boesinghe located on the banks of the Yser Canal.
As these events unfolded to the north, the 3rd Hussars moved from Bailleul
on the 25th April to Vlamertinghe situated to the west of Ypres.
On the 29th, the Hussars moved to positions located
near St. Julian which they occupied for 8 days, finally being withdrawn on the 7th May to Rue Pruvost (Authors note:
War Diary states 'Ypres' but this location is to the west of Doulieu located to the south of Bailleul)
and then to Vlamertinghe on the 14th respectively.
It was whilst at the latter location that Henry joined the ranks
of the 2nd Cavalry Division from England, his entry into the Theatre of War being dated on his Medal Index Card as the
18th May, 1915.
The month of May would see the Hussars alternating between reserve positions such as those occupied
at Vlamertinghe to front line positions at Hooge on the 24th.
On the 31st May, the Hussars were withdrawn from
the Salient to billets located at Wallon-Cappel to the west of Hazebrouck
The remainder of 1915 would see further movement
in reserve positions to the west of Bethune with the winter months being spent in billets located at Bayenghem north-west
of St. Omer.
As the events of 1915 drew to a close, Henry spent his first Christmas on the Western Front at the latter
place. The year of 1916 would see the launch of the second British offensive of the War on the chalk uplands of
Picardy, France. The planning for the Somme offensive had begun.
year of the Somme Offensive
The year of 1915 had closed with the Allied and German Armies locked
in a stalemate of trench warfare. The French Army in particular had suffered horrendous casualties during the Artois
offensives with its vigourous policy to recapture any ground at all costs. On the 6th December 1915, the Allies held conference
at Chantilly resulting in agreement to launch a major offensive on the Western Front. The need to launch an offensive became
more urgent when, on the 21st February 1916, the German Army under the command of Falkenhayn launched a major offensive
on the ancient fortress town of Verdun with the objective of 'bleeding the French Army to death.'
As French forces rushed to the defence of Verdun, it became apparent that the forthcoming offensive would largely become
the responsibility of the British Army. Now under the command of Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, who, on the dismissal of
Sir John French in December 1915 had become the commander of the British Expeditionary Force, the scene was set for a full
scale offensive to take place on the Somme, Picardy. The commencement of the attack was, however, delayed by Haig, who, waited
until there were sufficient amounts of both trained men under his command and the necessary amount of 'materiel'
to prosecute a successful offensive. As events unfolded, a decision was agreed between Haig and General Joffre that a
combined French and British offensive, although limited by the French in the amount of men they could commit due to the
ongoing defense of Verdun, would not be postponed beyond the end of the month of June.
The movements continue
On the 9th April 1916, the 3rd Hussars were now located between Escoeuilles
and Surques situated to the east of Boulogne.
The mundane task of providing labour that had preoccupied the cavalrymen
since they were placed in reserve in June 1915 continued. Casualties to the Hussars had occurred, but, in military terms
they were 'negligible.'
On the 15th April, the Hussars moved once again closer
to Boulogne occupying a position at le Wast, however, during the month of June, a further series of movements commenced.
On the 5th, time was spent on the channel coast at the towns of Ambleteuse and Audresselles north of Boulogne, however,
on the 9th, this no doubt welcome diversion came to an end when the men and horses moved once again back to le Wast.
Hussars moved back to various towns and villages situated around Hazebrouck and Bailleul during the remainder of June. It
was whilst at le Doulieu, south of the latter place, that Henry and the men of the Hussars would have no doubt received news
of the launch of the long awaited Somme offensive on the 1st July 1916.
to the Somme
After spending the month of August located at the Foret de Nieppe, south of Hazebrouck,
the Hussars moved southwards during September to the Somme battlefield arriving at Dernancourt to the south-west of Albert
on the 15th.
On the following day, the Hussars moved to Morval located to the north of Combles. It had been anticipated
that if the infantry succeeded in capturing the line from Combles located in the south of the line to Gueudecourt
in the north, that the cavalry who were held in reserve, could then push through to capture the high ground located to
the east of Bapaume. Despite the capture of areas of the line to the north, Combles was not to fall until the 26th September
and any projected advance by the cavalry did not materialize.
Consequently during the period of one month spent
on the Somme, no offensive operations were mounted by the 4th Hussars who remained on routine labour duties.
the Somme offensive began to flounder in a sea of mud with mounting casualties, the Hussars were withdrawn to Villeroy located
to the north-west of Auxi-le-Chateau on the 16th October. Here they would remain throughout the winter of 1916/17.
1917: Arras and Cambrai offensives
In the early
months of 1917, the German Army began a gradual retirement to the 'Siegfried Stellung,' a system of
trenches, fortified by concrete positions and heavy belts of barbed wire that stretched from Arras in the north and ended
near to the River Aisne, north of Reims. The decision by the enemy to withdraw to this defensive system, known to
the British as the 'Hindenburg Line,' was due to a number of factors. One catalyst as to this course of action
was the number of casualties and ground lost during the Somme offensive, it was therefore deemed that holding on to the
positions that remained would be a vast drain on manpower and materiel. Consequently the withdrawal commenced
on the 25th February 1917.
In the spring, the Allies planned to launch a series of offensives to try and break the deadlock
of trench warfare. To the south, the French Army under the command of General Robert Nivelle would attack the German Army
along the River Aisne, to the north, Haig, although his plans had been modified, would attack to the north and south of the
Scarpe at Arras. The British attack would commence on the 9th April, a week before the French offensive, with the objective
of breaking through the 'Hindenburg Line' and the drawing away of German forces from the south.
Arras:- The Attack At Monchy-le-Preux
The attack commenced
in a snow storm at 5.30 a.m. after a week long bombardment of enemy positions.
Attached to the Third Army under
the command of General Sir E.H.H. Allenby for forthcoming operations the Cavalry Corps., consisting of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd
Cavalry Divisions, Lieutenant-General Sir C.T. McM Kavanagh Officer Commanding, were concentrated in reserve west
of Arras with Corps Headquarters located at Duisans.
Initial infantry assaults had proved successful across the whole
of the fifteen mile front in the opening phase of the attack. The Cavalry Corps, with the 17th (Northern) Division attached
for operations, now moved southwards to positions east of Arras to exploit any further advance towards the German Third Line
north and south of the Arras - Cambrai Road.
The Cavalry Corps began, as orders dictated, to move southwards in two columns.
The left column comprised of the 1st and 3rd Cavalry Divisions with 50th Brigade, 17th (Northern) Division in support of the
3rd, and 52nd Brigade in support of the 2nd Cavalry Division respectively. The divisional reserve consisted of the 51st Brigade.
The objectives of the attack were firstly, to establish a line along the left bank of the Sensee river and secondly,
to establish a line on the Drocourt-Queant Switch Line, a subsidiary defence system of the 'Hindenburg
Due to the late issue of orders to commence movement, this being about 4 p.m., the left column of
the 17th (Northern) Division were ordered to halt in the western suburbs of Arras and there find billets for the evening.
The right column however had made steady progress and had reached the eastern suburbs, where, at about 6.30 p.m. an officer
from the 2nd Cavalry Division reported further progress had stalled and the division were now occupying positions in the captured
German First Line at Tilloy-les-Mofflaines.
Elements of the 50th Brigade proceeded to bivouac in a field at the side
of the Arras-Cambrai Road as heavy snow began to fall. A miserable end to a day that had previously held much promise of a
long awaited breakthrough.
As regards the divisions attachment to the Cavalry Corps, this was effectively cancelled on
the following day when orders were received for attachment to VI Corps.
On the 10th April, the 2nd Cavalry Division
attempted to push south of the village of Monchy-le-Preux in conjunction with an attack to the north of the latter by the
3rd Cavalry Division, but, these attempts, due to lack of effective artillery, were held up by barbed-wire defences and machine-gun
fire. On the banks of the Scarpe river, a similar outcome resulted in an attack by the 1st Cavalry Division, however, the
attempts to capture Monchy-le-Preux by the 37th Division, Major-General Hugh Bruce Williams commanding, would continue
the following day, this time with the support of cavalry.
At 5.00 a.m. on the morning of the 11th, units of the 37th
Division in conjunction with the Fifteenth (Scottish) Division under the command of Major-General Frederick McCracken advanced
in a snow storm.
As both divisions advanced, they were subjected to heavy artillery and machine-gun fire from the direction
of Monchy village. Although the village was penetrated by units of both divisions, most notably the 111th Brigade of the 37th
Division, the cavalry came into the advance on the village at 8.30 a.m.
Advancing to the north of Monchy and down the
slope of Orange Hill, the Essex Yeomanry under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Francis H.D.C. Whitmore D.S.O. and the
10th Hussars under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Edward Hardwick D.S.O. of the 8th Cavalry Brigade almost
at once came under machine-gun fire. Wheeling to the south, the cavalry now entered the village but were hit with a heavy
barrage of enemy artillery that resulted in heavy casualties both in horses and men.
To the south, the 3rd Dragoon Guards
under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Burt of the 6th Cavalry Brigade advanced at the gallop arriving
at their objective, a road running from the south of the village by about 9.30 a.m. supported by "C" and "G"
Batteries of the Royal Horse Artillery.
As the Dragoons came into the open, they were hit also by a heavy barrage of
enemy artillery once again resulting in heavy casualties in men and horses. During the action, Brigadier-General Bulkeley-Johnson,
the Officer Commanding 8th Cavalry Brigade was also killed in an attempt at forward reconnaissance.
The attack at Monchy
by the cavalry had been a costly but valiant attempt resulting in over 400 casualties.
1918: The year of the German offensives
November 1917, Erich Ludendorff had begun to plan a German offensive that he believed would destroy the Allies ability to
prosecute and continue the War. Following the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 in Russia, newly released divisions
were sent to the Western Front in preparation for the forthcoming offensive planned to take place in the following spring.
Ludendorff believed that the Allied offensives of 1917 had so weakened the Allies, in particular the British Expeditionary
Force, that a series of concentrated attacks with superior forces would force British back to their logistic supply bases
located on the channel coast. Once the British forces were defeated, attacks would then be mounted against the French Army
and American forces and upon their annihilation, Paris would be occupied.
German forces would assault with Three Armies
on an attack frontage of fifty miles. The front would stretch from just south of Arras to the north, and to the south,
on the Oise River, south of St. Quentin. Innovative tactics were to be employed by the infantry, in particular the use of
'Stosstruppen,' well trained, lightly equipped assault troops or 'Stormtroopers.' Penetrating
the first line of defence and supported by engineers to clear any remaining barbed wire, they would 'punch' a hole
in the line allowing the main force continue the advance.
The offensive, codenamed 'Operation Michael,' was
to be supported by a massive concentration of artillery of over 6000 pieces of all calibres. This intense barrage, supported
also by over 3500 trench mortars, was about to be unleashed on the Third and Fifth Armies commanded by Byng and Gough respectively.
British defensive tactics
The vast build up of men and
materiel by the enemy had not gone unnoticed. Aerial reconnaissance provided intelligence on the the improvement
of road and railway networks in the German rear areas for example. A build up of enemy artillery all along the frontage
occupied by the British Third and Fifth Armies also indicated that a possible enemy offensive was imminent. British artillery,
engaging in the bombardment of pre-selected targets in the rear areas, observed large secondary explosions which suggested a
possible build up of munitions.
To Haig, it was now a question of not where the enemy intended to launch an offensive
As the War had progressed, the British had adopted the German tactics of defence in depth. This strategy consisted
of the dividing up of the battlefield into three zones:
1. The 'Forward Zone.' This consisted of outposts, redoubts
and trenches protected by barbed wire defences. Artillery pieces were also located in this zone in well prepared defensive
positions. This forward line of defence, it was perceived, would remove the impetus of any attack which was to be made by
2. The 'Battle Zone.' Located at a distance of about 4000 yards behind the latter zone and consisting
of heavily defended redoubts protected by barbed wire. In addition, the defences also contained machine-gun and trench mortar
positions, plus artillery.
It was within this zone that the main battle was perceived to be fought.
3. The 'Rear
Zone.' Located some distance behind the 'Battle Zone' and consisting of reserve units, ready to be launched into
any attack if and when needed.
In reality, some areas of the 'Battle Zone' were incomplete and construction on
the 'Rear Zones' had not even began. To compound this, the shift of strategy from one of offense to defence had called
into question the tried and tested methods employed by the guns. The artillery would therefore have to adapt to this change
of tactics, the emphasis being placed on good intelligence, maximum use of concentrated fire-power and effective counter-battery
Henry and the 3rd Hussars had spent the winter
of 1917/1918 in reserve positions at Devise located to the west of St. Quentin.
On February 28th, the strength of the
regiment is recorded as:
Other Ranks, 413
On courses etc.:
Other ranks, 92
On the 1st March the men and horses proceeded to billets
previously occupied by the 4th Hussars located at St. Christ their former accommodation being taken over by units of the 24th
The following day, orders were received by the regiment that they were to proceed to the trenches located at
Vadencourt(Vadancourt). This movement was to be carried out on the night of the 4th-5th March and prior to this, an advance
party consisting of two officers and six other ranks proceeded forward at noon on the 2nd.
On the 3rd, the mounted party
of men selected for duty in the trenches (War Diary states no amount of men or horses but presumably this is a second party) assembled
at Battalion Headquarters located at Ennemain and proceeded to Vermand, returning to St. Christ with its led horses at
Between the 4th and the 10th, the War Diary notes that:
'The departure of
the dismounted party left the Regiment very short handed 3 or 4 horses per man.'
However, the men were
found 'employment' exercising and grooming their horses.
On the 11th, the shortfall of horses was addressed with
a reinforcement of 66, described as 'good quality' from the Leicester Yeomanry who were to be equipped
At 4.00 p.m., the dismounted party returned as orders were received the following day that the 2nd
Cavalry Division were to prepare to move to the area held by 3 Corps commanded by Lieutenant-General R.H.K. Butler and consisting
of the 14th (Light) Division, 18th (Eastern) Division, and the 58th (2/1 London) Division. The cavalry now formed part of
the Fifth Army under the command of General Sir Hubert Gough and were to act as a mobile reserve.
at 9.00 a.m. on the 13th March, the Brigade assembled at Croix-Moligneaux and marched southwards to Grandru, located
to the east of Noyon via Matigny, Ham and Guiscard.
The War Diary of the Hussars describes the terrain as
'hilly and well wooded,' and these features were utilized as an aid to concealment from aerial observation,
the men and horses being camped under the cover of the trees.
To the south of St. Quentin, 3rd Corps held a line that stretched from Itancourt, due south to the Basse
Foret to the south of Chauny.
As regards to the role of the cavalry, should the enemy breakthrough the line and seize
certain strong-points, the 4th Cavalry Brigade were to counter-attack using a dismounted force as and when required.
This movement was to be carried out using busses if required, the rendezvous and embussing point being Appilly to the south.
In the days that followed, a practice drill for embussing was carried out and a reconnaissance of crossings over the Oise
river was made between Appilly and Chauny to the east. Dismounted officers viewed strong-points located at Essigny ( Essigny-le-Grand,
just to the south of St. Quentin) with, as the War Diary states:
'A view to a possible
counter-attack in that locality.'
21st March 1918:- Operation Michael
From the 16th - 19th March, the Hussars were employed in training, however, on the 20th,
orders were received that the 4th Cavalry Brigade with its dismounted parties were to be held ready to rendezvous at the embussing
point at 50 minutes notice. It had now become clear by whatever means, that an attack was expected on the 3rd Corps at
At 4.30 a.m. on the morning of the 21st March, a heavy bombardment by the enemy erupted on the front held by
the 3rd Corps.
At 10.00 a.m., the 4th Cavalry Dismounted Brigade under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Dugdale,
Oxfordshire Hussars were ordered to parade at the brigade rendezvous and embussing point at the cross-roads north of
Appilly, this being completed by 11.00 a.m.
The dismounted party of the 3rd Hussars under the command of Captain Robert
Armstrong Bagnell and comprising of 214 men of all ranks, proceeded by lorries to Chauny and hence into positions at
To the north, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade mobilized and proceeded to move southwards from Athies
located to the west of Devise to Beaumont-en-Beine located to the south-east of Ham. This now dismounted force consisting
of 800 men of the Canadian Brigade with 700 men from the 6th Brigade and also 700 men of the 8th Brigade of the 3rd Cavalry
Division respectively, were now ordered to reinforce beleaguered infantry units in the area.
As the day wore on and under
the tremendous weight of the German advance towards the banks of the Crozat Canal between Ham and Chauny, the inevitable retirement
of British infantry units began. Bridges across the canal were blown and orders were issued by Gough to withdraw to positions
behind the latter. As a consequence, at 7.30 p.m. the 'Dismounted Regiment' (underlined in the War Diary
and which the Author shall refer to as in the text) were ordered to move northwards to the Fort located at Liez to cover the
retirement of the 7th Queens of the 18th Division.
A retirement was then ordered to the town itself whereupon orders
were received to mount a counter-attack on Liez Fort and to form a defensive flank to enable the retirement of other infantry
units in the area. However, these orders were countermanded and the cavalry force took up a position on the Liez-Vendeull
Road to cover retreating infantry.
During the night 21/22nd, the Dismounted Regiment withdrew to the south-west taking
up positions at Frieres-Faillouel located on the western bank of the canal.
The casualties to the 3rd Hussars on the
opening day of the 'Kaiserschlacht' amounted to just one man wounded, Lance-Corporal John Connolly H/10579.
The divisions that comprised 3 Corps however had paid a terrible price.
At 6.00 a.m. on the morning of the 22nd, the Dismounted Regiment were ordered to move to the
Bois de Frieres located to the south of the village of Frieres-Faillouel. The enemy were by now advancing to the north of
Jussy and by 1.00 p.m. had effected a crossing of the Crozat Canal at Quessy to the south and were advancing on Vouel. Orders
were then received to proceed to relieve infantry holding positions located to the north of Tergnier. On marching to this
position a force of German infantry attacked north of the latter and in response to this assault the 3rd Hussars took
up a position to the east of the Bois de Frieres with some retiring British units.
By early evening, Tergnier had fallen
to the enemy after a resolute defense by the 58th Division under the command of Major-General A.B.E. Cator. Of the Hussars,
the War Diary records that:
'The Hotchkiss rifles especially doing excellent work.'
The action however resulted in 20 men being wounded.
With the enemy pressing hard, the Dismounted Regiment were now ordered to take up a defensive position to the east of Faillouel.
The objective was to cover the retirement of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade and remaining infantry units, and to prevent the capture
of the village itself. The 3rd Hussars consequently took up their allotted position with a composite force of infantry stragglers
on their left flank, and the 6th Dragoon Guards on the right.
Further orders were then issued to retire onto Ugny-le-Gay
to the west and whilst doing so they came under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire. During this retirement casualties to
the Regiment numbered 22, of these, Private James Lander H/35923 was recorded as 'Killed In Action,' whilst
two Other Ranks were recorded as 'missing.' Of the latter, Corporal Reginald Desborough H/10748 was later
found to have been killed.
The led horses of the Regiment that had remained in Grandru prior to the launch of the
German offensive were mustered at 11.30 a.m. to join a composite mounted Squadron of the 4th Cavalry Brigade. This force consisted
of a Troop from each of the regiments of the brigade, the 3rd Hussars Troop being commanded by Lieutenant Rupert Arthur Kettle.
The objective of this mounted force of the 2nd Cavalry Division was to form a defensive flank to the south of Ham which
the enemy had entered during the early morning resulting in heavy fighting taking place between Verlaines to the south and
Ollezy to the east.
The formation of a mounted force would also unite the composite units of the 3rd Cavalry Division
including the detachments of Canadian Cavalry into one composite cavalry unit. Known as 'Harman's Detachment,'
this unit consisted of the following mounted brigades:
Canadian Brigade Staff.
150 men of the 6th Brigade under
the command of Major Evelyn H.W. Williams.
150 men of the 7th Brigade under the command of Captain Hugh Ford Parbury.
200 men of the Canadian Brigade under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel H.I. Stevenson.
Under the command of Major-General
Anthony E.W. Harman D.S.O. Officer Commanding 3rd Cavalry Division, the detachment now proceeded to Ugny-le-Gay where
a gap had developed between the hard pressed 14th and 18th Divisions at la Neuville-en-Beine to the north. On arrival at this
position, contact was made with dismounted units of the 6th Cavalry Brigade under the command of Brigadier-General A.G. Seymour
The remainder of the led horses and Regimental Transport of the 3rd Hussars began to march southwards at
2.30 p.m. towards the Bois de Carlepoint located to the south of the Oise river near Noyon, here they were to bivouac.
The War Diary records, with a somewhat melancholy tone, that "all the band instruments of the Regiment had to be
left at Grandru owing to lack of transport and subsequently fell into the hands of the Germans".
The Dismounted Regiment were now ordered to escort
a brigade of artillery that were retiring from positions at la Neuville-en-Beine located to the west of Tergnier. As this
force retired towards Guivry, they came under heavy enemy artillery fire and no doubt casualties resulted from this bombardment.
Arriving at Guivry, the Dismounted Regiment were now ordered to take up positions at Les Hezettes to the north-east to reinforce
the French Army who had attempted a counter-attack on Tergnier the previous day.
On arrival, the French began a
retirement from their main positions around Guivry followed by French infantry units on both flanks, however, the Regiment
maintained their own position until 6.30 p.m. The situation had now become critical as the enemy were now working around both
flanks passing through surrounding woodland. Under a hail of heavy machine-gun and artillery fire the enemy launched
a frontal attack forcing a retirement, this, being carried out whilst being subjected to heavy fire. German cavalry patrols
had also been observed in the distance no doubt ready to exploit any breakthrough as the Regiment eventually reached high
ground occupied by French units at Buchoire to the west.
To the north, the 9th French Division were now retiring southwards
to take up a new position at Guiscard and subsequently orders were received by the 3rd Cavalry Division to cover this retirement.
However, the 6th (Mounted) Brigade of the division under the command of Major Evelyn H.W. Williams was hurried forth to cover
the retirement of the British 20th and 36th Divisions who had come under increasing pressure in the line held from Eaucourt
Moving forward from Berlancourt to the north of Guiscard, this small force moved to Collezy located to the
north-east of Berlancourt where preparations were made to launch a mounted attack on the enemy who were holding woods
and high ground to the east. Although outnumbered and coming under machine-gun fire from the direction of Golancourt,
the brigade charged the enemy with swords drawn and many either fled, surrendered or were killed. Pursuing the enemy
into the wood, the men now dismounted and began to open fire until the order was issued to retire to the rally point on the
Villeselve/Berlancourt road. Casualties to the enemy were heavy with about one hundred killed and over one hundred captured
along with three machine-guns.
This gallant action however had cost the brigade dearly with about 50% casualties being sustained to
a force that initially numbered about 150 men.
During the following day the brigade retired to Lagny north-west
of Noyon to bivouac with the remainder of the mounted detachments of the 3rd Cavalry Division located to the north-east
At the Bois de Carlepont to the south of Noyon, 84 of the led horses under the command of Major Herbert
Wareham Clinch departed at 3.00pm. to retrieve the Dismounted Regiment of the 4th Hussars. The remainder of the led horses
and Regimental Transport then proceeded to march southwards to les Cloyes and then to Bailly which was reached at 9.30
Orders had now been issued during the day dictating that the Dismounted Regiment of the Hussars plus dismounted units
of the Canadian and 3rd Cavalry Divisions were to now be placed at the disposal of General Dibold Officer Commanding
French Army units to the east of Noyon.
This dismounted force under the command of General John E.B. Seely D.S.O. were
now placed in reserve taking up positions between the Oise Canal and the main road running in an easterly direction towards
Casualties during the previous day amounted to two men killed, Sergeant Frederick Sheaff H/7759, and Lance-Corporal
Edward Smith H/4231 (recorded as 'missing' but later to be pronounced as killed). Two Other Ranks were
'missing,' and 20 Other Ranks wounded.
the morning of the 25th the Dismounted Regiment rejoined the unit at Bailly on the banks of the Oise river, however, the mounted 3rd
Hussars Troop under the command of Lieutenant Kettle were still operating in the field.
To the north-east of Noyon, the
enemy had now attacked and seized strategically important high ground enabling him to have complete artillery observation
over French and British units holding the line to the north of the Oise Canal.
Throughout the early hours of the morning,
French forces had conducted a gradual retirement as the enemy pressed home attacks in a south and westerly
direction from Guiscard which he had occupied during the night 24th/25th.
General Dibold now ordered Seely and the cavalry
units under his command to provide support to French units holding positions to the north of the canal west of Muirancourt. The
objective, if possible, was to either stop the rapid advance of the enemy's forces westwards or, at least, fight a delaying
action until more French units arrived in the battle area.
On receipt of these orders Seely sent forth a Dismounted Force
of the 3rd Cavalry Division but on arrival at this position it became clear that French forces had continued to retire
towards Catigny. Maintaining a position at Chevilly whilst this withdrawal was completed, the Dismounted Force eventually
returned to their mounts located at Lagny. It was then ascertained that on the retirement of the cavalry, French forces had
continued a further retirement from Catigny to positions in the vicinity of the road from Noyon to Roye to the west of
the Canal du Nord. General Harman then issued orders to the 2nd and 3rd Mounted Detachments of the cavalry to, as the
narrative of the Fort Garry Horse records, ' Restore the situation.' Under the cover of darkness this manoeuvre
was carried out with Mounted Detachments of the 2nd Cavalry Division under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel George Trevor-Roper
Cook D.S.O. which advanced towards Catigny. To the south, Mounted Detachments of the 3rd Cavalry Division proceeded towards
Sermaize whereupon the French rose to the advance and once again re-occupied positions on the eastern bank of the Canal
du Nord with any enemy elements being expelled from the line of the Noyon-Roye road in the process.
The Narrative of
events which is included in the War Diary of the Fort Garry Horse and which is also present in various forms in
the other War Diaries of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade includes the following extract worthy of explanation:
'Lt-Col Muirhead of Harman' Detachment and Lt-Col Paterson, of the 3rd Cav. Div. detachment
visited this line in the Sermaize-Catigny Sector.'
Authors note: 'Lt-Col Muirhead' actually
refers to Captain Anthony John Muirhead M.C., Oxfordshire Hussars who did not ascertain the full rank of Lieutenant-Colonel
until 1936. This begs to answer the question when the Narrative included in the Appendices of the War Diaries was actually
written. 'Lt-Col Paterson' refers to Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Walter Paterson D.S.O.
Paterson then proceeded by motor to the outskirts of Noyon accompanied by a mounted escort. This reconnaissance was
completed without encountering any enemy force and patrols were maintained with French units holding the line from Noyon to
Catigny, positions being described by the French in the Narrative as being 'perfectly satisfied' with.
To the south, it was now deemed prudent that a tactical withdrawal should take place of French artillery and infantry units
from the area. This retirement commencing during the late morning.
Possibly as a response to the developing situation,
at 11.00 a.m., a Composite Regiment was formed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Temple Willcox consisting
of a Squadron each from the units that formed the 4th Cavalry Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Division.
This mixed force consisted
of 18 Officers, 335 Other ranks and 364 horses. Accompanying the unit were also 8 limbers.
They then proceeded to march
northwards towards Couarcy where they rendezvoused with a similar composite force that had been formed from units of the 3rd
and 5th Cavalry Brigades. Under the command of Brigadier-General Thomas Tait Pitman and referred to as 'Pitman's
Force,' positions were then occupied along the southern bank of the Oise river from Couarcy in the south to Pontoise
(Pontoise-les-Noyons) located to the north respectively.
Covered by the various dismounted units, by 1.00 p.m.
the extraction of French artillery and infantry units to the south had been completed via the crossing at Appilly.
The last unit to cross the bridge being a Squadron of Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) under the command
of Lieutenant Harlow V. Tripp.
At 8.00 p.m., the 4th Cavalry Brigade (Composite Regiment) marched to Chiry via Ourscamp
where the three units that formed this force, the 3rd Hussars, 6th Dragoon Guards and the 1st Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars
At 10.00 p.m., the 5th Cavalry Brigade (Composite Regiment) were ordered to take up a position to the north
on high ground at Mont Renaud near Passel located to the south of Noyon. Standing at 85 metres, Mont Renaud offered
a strategically important vantage point overlooking the main road to Compiegne.
Along the whole length of the battle
front, worrying gaps had developed between French and British units. If German forces could exploit these gaps, the road to
Paris, as Petain feared, would be open.
26th March 1918:- The Death
of Corporal Henry William Alexander
Early on the morning of the 26th, a snow storm had developed.
At 8.00 a.m. reinforcements from led horses arrived consisting of 1 officer and 24 Other Ranks from the 6th Dragoon Guards,
2 officers and 21 Other Ranks from the 3rd Hussars, and 1 officer and 34 Other Ranks from the 1st Oxfordshire Hussars. The
3rd and 4th Composite Regiments proceeded at 10.30 a.m. to march towards Dive-le-Franc located to the south-west of Noyon
with orders to sieze Mont Porquericourt located to the north of Suzoy. The attack was to be mounted by a party
of the 5th Composite Regiment who had now rejoined, with the 3rd Composite Regiment in support and the 4th Composite Regiment
in reserve. However, on arrival at Dive-le-Franc, it was now ascertained that the enemy were already in occupation of
the Mont with French infantry units holding positions on high ground to the north and north-west near Suzoy. The
5th Composite Regiment were now placed in a position on the northern edge of the Bois de la Reserve with the 4th
Composite Regiment occupying high ground to the north of Dive-le-Franc overlooking the Suzoy Valley. It was too late however
to stop further advancement of the enemy who were now seen to be moving down into the Suzoy Valley from the north. Positions
were now taken up by the 4th Composite Regiment to the north of Dive-le-Franc at a cross-roads with the Oxfordshire Hussars
located to the west of the latter and the 3rd Hussars to the east, the reserve consisting of the 6th Dragoon Guards were
to maintain position at Dive-le-Franc until committed. The enemy infantry advance was temporarily checked but Suzoy itself
had fallen into their hands. It would appear that a report was now received, although the source is unclear, that a gap had
developed between the 2nd and the 3rd Cavalry Divisions, the latter being located in the Bois des Essarts to the
north of Evricourt. The 6th Dragoon Guards under the command of Major Hereward Sadler were consequently sent forth to
address the situation but reported back that there was no gap in evidence and that they were retiring. Furthermore, a report
also stated that the 3rd Cavalry Composite Regiment were holding positions between 3rd Cavalry Division and Lieutenant-Colonel
George Trevor-Roper Cook and his Composite Force of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade who had now been
brought into the action were also reported to have commenced an attack on enemy forces located in the Bois des Essarts.
It was at 1.30 p.m. that the 3rd Hussars were placed in reserve but shortly after this withdrawal, a Squadron under the command
of Captain Charles Felix Clarke were sent forward to support the Canadian attack on the wood. This attack was launched
by the Canadian Brigade including a detachment of the 7th Dismounted Brigade with orders to clear the wood and to remove enemy
forces occupying Mont Porquericourt. The 6th Brigade with the remaining elements of the 7th Brigade were to guard
the right flank from positions at the Bois de la Reserve. As the attack progressed, contact was made with elements
of 'Pitman's Force' at the road junction to the north of Dive-le-Franc and Lieutenant-Colonel Cook's
Composite Force of the 2nd Cavalry Division located in the area of Lagny to the north. The War Diary of the 3rd Hussars records
the Canadian attack succeed the 3rd Hussars were to attack Suzoy from that wood".
On arrival at the Bois des Essarts, Captain Clarke and the Squadron under his command found that the Canadians
were now retiring from the wood. Covering this retirement from a position at the Chateau located on the southern aspect of
the Bois des Essarts, Clarke held the position until forced to retire himself. With the 3rd Cavalry Division retiring
to Thiescourt to the west of the Divette river, the 3rd Hussars now joined with units of the 3rd Composite Regiment to form
a defensive flank on the left of positions held by the 2nd Cavalry Division. French forces had also begun to commence a retirement
forcing the 5th Composite Regiment to fall back to positions located on the southern edge of the Bois de la Reserve.
It was at 7.00 p.m. that Lieutenant-Colonel Willcox now assumed command of the line held by the 4th Composite Regiment which
also consisted of elements of the Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons) and the 4th Hussars from General Pitman. This sector of
the line was now held for the night with attached French Infantry. On the left of the line, the 3rd Hussars and the remaining
elements of the 4th Hussars held position on the Divette river at Evricourt with the line extending northwards along the southern
edge of the Bois de la Reserve. To the north of Dive-le-Franc, the high ground was occupied by the Scots Greys and
Oxfordshire Hussars with the 6th Dragoon Guards placed in reserve in the village itself, 2nd Cavalry Division Headquarters
now being located at Chiry. On the right flank, touch had been obtained with French forces located on the Mont Renaud
however the situation on the left flank due to the retirement of the 3rd Cavalry Division is described by the War Diary of
the 3rd Hussars as being "in the air". Finally, at 11.00 a.m. on the morning of the
27th, the British Cavalry were relieved by what is described as 'fresh' French Infantry. Marching to the
led horses that were stationed near Chiry, the three Composite Regiments of the 2nd Cavalry Division proceeded southwards
to Compiegne, the 4th Cavalry Brigade Composite Regiment being the last to leave the area of battle with the Squadron of the
6th Dragoon Guards forming the rear guard.
the actions of the 26th March, the 3rd Hussars had suffered one officer 'missing,' four Other Ranks
killed, with one Other Rank 'missing.' On this day also, one Other Rank was to succumb to wounds received.
In addition, the Regiment had 1 officer wounded, Lieutenant James Henry Eliot M.C., and 9 Other Ranks. Of the 'missing,'
the officer, Lieutenant Rupert Arthur Kettle was later pronounced to have been 'Killed In Action.' Subsequently
his body was recovered from the battlefield and identified and he is now buried at Noyon New British Cemetery, Oise,
France. Of the Other Rank reported to be 'missing,' this unfortunately transpired to be Corporal Henry William
Alexander. It is unclear as to actually when and where Henry was killed on the battlefield, but the circumstances surrounding
his death were reported in a newspaper article dated April 27th, 1918:-
"In a letter
respecting Corporal Alexander, an officer writes:- "He fell severely wounded by shell fire. His comrades made every endeavour
to get him away, but were unable to do so, being themselves almost surrounded by the enemy. I fear that his wounds were of
a very serious nature, and that his chance of recovery was slight".
Unfortunately, Henry's body, like those of his four comrades who were killed in the actions of the 26th, could
not be identified. All are now commemorated on Panel Number 3 of the Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France.
The memorial commemorates over 14,000 casualties of the United
Kingdom and 300 of the South African forces who have no known grave and who died on the Somme from the 21st March to the 7th