It was an Allied offensive on the German defences around the French city of Arras. The Allies had planned an offensive for the spring of 1917, after the defeat at the Somme, to finally break through the German lines. The French, now under the command of General Robert Nivelle, would launch an attack on the Chemin des Dames Ridge, near the River Aisne. The Australians would attack near Bullecourt, on the south of Arras. The British would launch an offensive at Arras to divert the German resources away before the French attack.
The British 3rd Army, commanded by General Sir Edmund Allenby, was to lead the main advance on Arras and, on the left, the Canadian Corps were to take Vimy Ridge. The British had planned the attack with great care. The British had increased their artillery support to about 3,000 guns and had trained their troops in attack manoeuvres.
The German positions were well defended. The city of Arras had been on the front line since the beginning of the war in 1914. The German positions were protected by several lines of trenches and concrete blockhouses.
The Allies attacked on an 18km front, from Vimy Ridge in the north to Neuville-Vitasse in the south. On 20th March 1917, the British artillery bombarded the German lines around Arras. More than 2.5 million shells were fired. The incessant shelling destroyed the German defences and the soldiers were left exhausted. At 5:30am on Easter Monday 9th April 1917, the British, Canadians and South African infantry launched the assault.
In the south, the assault was successful and the British advanced to 3 miles into the German lines on the first day. Despite the plan of limiting the fighting once serious resistance was met, Sir Douglas Haig prolonged the offensive. The battle turned into a tough, close combat battle.
On 11th April, the German reserve divisions arrived at Arras. The German fierce resistance, poor weather and muddy ground prevented the British from further significant advances. To the south, the French offensive failed and the French suffered heavy losses for very little gain. The French moral collapsed and soldiers mutinied.
Casualties: 300,000 men on both sides were killed, wounded or missing; 158,000 British men and 130,000 German men were killed, wounded or missing. The Arras Offensive lasted 39 days. The British lost an average of 4,000 men every day.
Vimy Ridge was a prominent 9km-long escarpment rising amid the open countryside, north of Arras. The Germans had been entrenched on the ridge since the first weeks of the war. More than 10,000 French soldiers had been killed or wounded in previous attacks to recapture Vimy Ridge. The 1st Bavarian Reserve Division, the 79th Reserve Division and the 16th Infantry Bavarian Division were defending the ridge. The ridge was protected by three lines of trenches, spread among a network of barbed wire, concrete machine gun bunkers, underground chambers and tunnels. About 10,000 German soldiers were entrenched there.
The attack on Vimy Ridge was part of the larger Arras Offensive. The soldiers trained thoroughly for the attack and rehearsed their assault in full kit, with the cavalry mimicking artillery fire. Four Divisions of the Canadian Corps fought at Vimy Ridge.
Before the offensive, the artillery bombarded the German defence lines, smashing trenches, fortifications, ammunition and supply dumps. On Easter Sunday, snow fell across no man’s land. On Easter Monday, at 5:30am, a final bombardment opened up. 15,000 Canadian soldiers advanced across the muddy ground with a barrage of shells exploding ahead, just as they had rehearsed.
On the southern part of Vimy Ridge, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions fought their way through the German lines. The 1st Canadian Division was commanded by Major-General Arthur Currie, the 2nd Division was commanded by Major-General Henry Burstall and the 3rd Division was commanded by Major-General Lewis Lipsett.
The highest point of the ridge, Hill 145, was attacked by 11th Brigade 4th Canadian Division. The 4th Division was commanded by Major-General David Watson. Hill 145 was fortified by multiple rings of trenches and dugouts of concrete and steel. German soldiers were able to reach their machine guns before the Canadians arrived. The 11th Brigade suffered heavy casualties, but Hill 145 was taken at dusk on 9th April 1917, along with the rest of the ridge.
In the following three days, the high ground was entirely under the Canadians’ control and the German had retreated from the ridge. At that point in the war, Vimy Ridge was the largest territorial advance of the Allies and it became a symbol of national achievement for the Canadians.
Casualties: the Canadians lost 10,602 casualties, including 3,598 men killed. The German lost about 20,000 casualties.
Douglas was born at Colchester Cavalry Barracks, Essex, to Major Douglas and Minnie Hall of Burley-on-the-Hill.
Douglas attended Oakham School between 1911 and 1914. He was in the Day Boys. His school achievements are listed below:
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1913 - Douglas is standing far right.
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1914 - Douglas is standing second from left.
In his sporting and music career, the Oakhamian Magazine made comments upon both his rugby and cricket prowess.
Winter 1913 Rugby review: ‘A very good hooker. Is light but keen, and dribbles very well. Very weak defence.’
Summer 1914 Cricket review: ‘An admirable catch in the country and good ground field anywhere; most disappointing as a batsman.’
After school, Douglas enlisted as a Private in the 5th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. He took a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment in December 1914. He went out to France in September 1915 and fought at Loos and Armentières. He was wounded at Armentières at the end of 1915, was sent home and came back to the front in Summer 1916. In November 1916, he was invalided home with a fever. He returned to France on 14th March 1917 as Captain with the 10th Battalion, The Yorkshire & Lancashire Regiment, 63 Brigade, 37th Division and fought at Arras.
Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment badge.
While leading his company on 23rd April 1917, Douglas was shot in the head by a machine gun bullet at the Battle of the Scarpe. He was 22.
Roll of honour in the Oakhamian Magazine, Summer term 1917, Vol.33, no.2
He is buried in Chili Trench Cemetery, but it is not known where his grave is exactly. He has a special memorial in row B.3. Douglas is also remembered at Burley on the Hill and in Oakham School Chapel.
Harold was born in Morcott, Rutland to Joseph G. and Elizabeth A. Hill of Pilton, Uppingham, Rutland then of Skegness, Yorkshire. He was one of six sons who all volunteered at the beginning of the war. Three were killed in action.
Harold attended Oakham School between 1906 and 1910. His school achievements are listed below:
In his sporting career, the Oakhamian Magazine made comments upon his rugby prowess.
Winter 1909 Rugby review: ‘Follows up very well and is a neat dribbler’.
After school, Harold went to Culhum Training College and became a schoolmaster. In September 1914 he joined first the 8th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment then was transferred to the 11th Battalion, The East Yorkshire Regiment, 92 Brigade, 31st Division as a Private.
Lincolnshire Regiment badge.
His battalion landed in France in August 1915 and took part in the Battle of Loos. Harold was wounded at the Somme in 1916. He was declared missing and presumed killed in action in the battle for Oppy Wood during the Arras offensive on 3rd May 1917. He was 24.
Roll of honour in the Oakhamian Magazine, Summer term 1919, Vol.35, no.2
Harold is remembered on Bay 4 & 5 of the Arras Memorial, on the Skegness war memorial and in Oakham School chapel.
Malcolm was born in Kettering to William Fitzroy and Anna Helen Neilson of Lyddington. His older brother Donald Francis was also killed in the war.
Malcolm attended Oakham School between 1908 and 1912. He was in School House. His school achievements are listed below:
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1910 – Malcolm is standing third from left.
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1911 – Malcolm is sat on the far right.
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1912 – Malcolm is sat on the far right.
The School Corps in 1911 - Malcolm is sat in the second row, third from the right.
In his sporting career, the Oakhamian Magazine made comments upon both his cricket and rugby prowess.
Summer 1910 Cricket review: ‘Shows every indication of developing into a really good bat; his fielding shows wonderful improvement and is now quite sound’.
Summer 1911 Cricket review: ‘A safe rather than enterprising batsman; he shows every promise of training on into a really useful slow bowler, and is a good field’.
Summer 1912 Cricket review: ‘Began the season well, but later lost his form as a batsman. He atoned for this however by the success which attended his slow bowling; is none too safe a catch.’
Winter 1911 Rugby review: ‘The most improved player in the team. Uses his head, and makes good openings for his wings. Has a good pair of hands, tackles well and kicks well. Inclined to overdo the short punt when attacking.’
After school, Malcolm went to Ontario Agricultural College. He joined the 2nd Canadian Infantry Battalion as Sergeant and went to France in January 1915. He was promoted to Major in the autumn of 1916.
He fought in the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. He had a serious accident while teaching in a grenade school in France on 28th December 1915. He was repatriated and returned to the front in September 1916. Malcolm was involved in the Battle of Arras which began on 9th April 1917 and took part in the Canadian troops’ success at Vimy Ridge. He was killed by a shell while helping his servant who had previously been hit. He was 22.
A brother officer wrote: "He was not only admired and respected, he was loved. It was generally conceded that he was one of the most able and efficient officers in the battalion. But to those of us who knew him intimately, who lived and worked with him, he was not only an exceptionally able soldier, but a gentleman of the first water. He lived his life with a definite purpose for usefulness. He was clean in thought, word, and action. He had a clear conception of the obligations of life, and, with benefit to all who came in contact with him, he tried with success to carry them out."
Roll of honour in the Oakhamian Magazine, Summer term 1917, Vol.33, no.2
Malcolm is buried in grave V.D.5 in the cemetery of Ecoivres. He is remembered on the war memorial at Lyddington, the war memorial in Stoke Dry and in Oakham School chapel.