of Evelyn Alexander (nee Coulbeck), of 37, West End, Wetherby, Yorkshire.
Henry was born in about 1883 in the St. Giles
District of the West End of London.
In 1907 at Wetherby, Henry married Miss Evelyn Coulbeck, a native of Beverley,
Henry enlisted in the Hussars when less than 19 years of age. Serving in the Boer War, his
decorations included the South African Medal with the Clasps, 'Transvaal,' 'Orange Free State' and 'South
Africa.' Henry was discharged from the service in 1913 and then re-enlisted on the outbreak of the War, however,
he was not to be posted to the Western Front until 1915.
3rd (King's Own) Hussars
The 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 Brigade.
The Brigade consisted of the following
6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers)
1st Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars
on the Western Front: 1914
On the outbreak of the War the 3rd (King's Own) Hussars were stationed
at Shorncliffe Camp near Folkestone, Kent.
On the 15th August 1914, the Hussars disembarked in France and in the days
that followed they concentrated at Rouen in preparation for the move northwards towards Belgium.
Involved in the subsequent
retreat from Mons and the actions on the Aisne and the Marne during August and September respectively, the 'Race
To The Sea' as it came to be known began, with both opposing forces attempting to outflank each other as they steadily
moved northwards. In early October, the brigade were involved in numerous actions that would ultimately lead to the First
Battle of Ypres which commenced on the 19th October and finally ended on the 22nd November. The 3rd Hussars were particularly
involved in the battle on the 30th/31st October suffering numerous casualties as the enemy repeatedly attempted to break
through the line.
As the year drew to a close and the lines around Ypres stabilised primarily due to adverse winter weather
conditions, the Hussars were withdrawn from the front and moved southwards to billets located near the town of Bailleul.
During the early months of 1915, the Hussars moved
continuously between various towns and villages located to the west of Bailleul performing various duties.
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 adapted 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.
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.
1916: The 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.
Hussars: The movements
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
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.
The 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.
Southwards 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
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 anytime.
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
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.
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 to Cugny.
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.
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 Muirancourt.
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 p.m.
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 Chauny.
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.
On 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-west.
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 hill with French infantry units holding positions on high ground to the north and north-west near Suzoy.
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.
At 1.30 p.m. 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 Bois des Essarts.
The attack on the wood was launched by the
Canadian Brigade including a detachment of the 7th Dismounted Brigade with orders to clear the latter 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-west.
The War Diary of the 3rd Hussars records that:
'Should 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 in the village of Evricourt, 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.
At 7.00 p.m., 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 Epinoy (typo error and refers to Evricourt?) with the line extending northwards along the southern
edge of the Bois de la Reserve. To the north of Dive-le-Franc, 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
On the right flank, touch had been obtained with French forces located on 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
During the actions of the 26th March,
the 3rd Hussars had suffered 1 officer 'missing,' 4 Other Ranks killed, with one Other Rank 'missing.'
Subsequently, 1 Other rank was to succumb to wounds received. In addition, the Regiment had 1 officer wounded, Lieutenant
J.H. Elliot 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,
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 August 1918.