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The First Battle of Arras

Horses and tanks at Monchy le Preux, April 1917

The 1st Battle of Arras started on the 9th April 1917, following a German fall-back to their prepared defensive position, the Hindenburg Line. The battle, which lasted a week, was initiated in defence of a French Army offensive at Chemin des Dames in Champagne and was initially very successful, resulting in the gain of about 3 miles of enemy held territory. The Canadian forces had great success in taking the formidable Vimy Ridge in an action that is still seen in Canada as nation building. However, the attack at Chemin des Dames failed and the Battle of Arras descended into a stalemate with several engagements following during that month.

The village of Monchy le Preux that had been strongly fortified by the Germans was taken on the 11th. The Allies held the town until the end of the year. One feature of this battle was the changing role of the horse in warfare, as described by Michael Malpurgo in Warhorse. The mobility of the cavalry was used to break through enemy lines when the infantry were unable to do so. They would then dismount and provide extra fire power. This was to establish gaps in the line that were then broadened out. Sadly at Monchy, the horses were too close to the enemy artillery and horses and riders were slaughtered in large numbers while on the move. More horses were killed when tied up nearby once the cavalry had dismounted to use their guns.

Five Caians lost their lives in the first few weeks of this battle.

A L Holland (Photo: Marlborough College)O MowattP A HillR Winser (Photo: Bedales)G M Archdale
       A L Holland              O Mowatt                   P A Hill                  R Winser               G M Archdale