Heroes of Amiens
Canada's record at the famous Amiens “hush show"—ten V.C.’s in twelve days fighting
W. W. MURRAY
HERE are three quotations:
(1) “The eighth of August marked the downfall of our fighting strength, and destroyed our hopes of strategic amelioration.”
(2) “The eighth of August is the black day of the German Army in the history of the war.”
(3) “We were opposed to the elite of the French Army and the celebrated Canadian Corps.”
The dolorous sentiments expressed in the first two are those of General Eric von Ludendorff, erstwhile quartermaster-general of the Imperial German Army; the third is the explanation of Ludendorff’s brotherin-law, General von Hutier. All three have reference to what was the most picturesque and certainly the most overwhelming triumph of arms scored on the Western Front—the Battle of Amiens, which began on August 8, 1918, and lasted for twelve days . Jt is not inappropriate that the words of these German leaders should now be recalled, ten and a half years later, particularly since Amiens, although not exclusively a Canadian operation, was in its general effect dominated so much by the successes of “the celebrated Canadian Corps” as to make it almost seem so. General von Hutier’s excuse is quoted for the reason that it was he who commanded the defeated troops on that portion of the front. Reasonably enough it appears to have been required of him that he should offer something in extenuation of the catastrophe. And with all due modesty, Canadians consider his plea quite adequate.
Ten Awards From One Battle
AS A result of Amiens, ten more Victoria Crosses were added to the thirty-three which had already been won by Canadians up to that period of the war. The recipients were:
Lieutenant John Brillant, M.C., 22nd (French-Canadian) Battalion, born at Assametquaghan, in the province of Quebec.
445312 Private J. B. Croak, 13th Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada, of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.
823028 Corporal H. G. B. Miner, 58th Battalion, Central Ontario Regiment, a native of Cedar Springs, Ontario.
475212 Sergeant R. Spall, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, whose birthplace was Ealing, England.
Lieutenant J. E. Tait, M.C., 78th Battalion, Manitoba Regiment, a Scotsman from Dumfries.
830651 Private A. Brereton, 8th Battalion, Manitoba Regiment, of Oak River, Manitoba.
1987 Corporal F. G. Coppins, 8th Battalion, Manitoba Regiment, who was born in London, England.
2075467 Private T. Dinesen, 42nd Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada, a native of Ringsted, Denmark.
445120 Corporal H. J. Good, 13th Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada, of Bathurst, New Brunswick.
424252 Sergeant R. !.. Zengel, M.M., 5th Battalion, Saskatchewan Regiment, whose home-town was Minneapolis, U.S.A.
The first five named died in performing the deed for which they were posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross; the others survived.
A “Hush Show”
HÖHERE are a number of things burned into the mind of the many thousands of Canadians who swept into battle at the opening of the barrage on that memorable morning of “8-8-18.” The tomb-like silence in which the whole country around was wrapped in those few minutes prior to zero—4.20 a.m., for Amiens was a “hush show,” a surprise attack conceived with sealed lips and prepared in secrecy. The mist—a thick, damp, clinging blanket, the Father of all Fogs; the tanks; the low-flying aeroplanes droning overhead unseen; the sudden, reverberating crash of many scores of concealed batteries, swelling rapidly into an earth-rocking crescendo as the Canadian gunners “tugged the rope” which loosed tons of metal on the German lines; the swamps of the Luce; the sun trying to break through the gray shroud as the morning advanced; and the cavalry! Such were the elements which surrounded the infantryman as he trudged forward to the assault. The initial attack of the 1st Canadian Division fell to the 3rd Brigade who were disposed with the 13th Battalion operating in the centre, sandwiched between the 16th on the right and the 14th to the left. It was the 13th Battalion of which Corporal Good was a member. Of all the courageous actions for which The Victoria Cross has been awarded, his stands out as unique.
His company had encountered considerable trouble in Hangard Wood where, due to the mist, a number of cleverly concealed machine-gun nests were passed over unnoticed. The Highlanders attended to them promptly and with commendable efficiency later; but a great deal of bomb-fighting ensued in this desolated area of blasted tree-stumps. Corporal Good distinguished himself in this type of battle. He charged a nest of three machineguns, bayoneting some of the crews and capturing the remainder. Bigger game was ahead, however.
Hangard Wood was cleared; the Highlanders found themselves in country seared with deep valleys, on the flanks of which were emplaced batteries of German artillery. North of Aubercourt a group of 5.9 howitzers were still in action, and upon these Good stumbled, with three men of his section. He had become separated from his company temporarily in the bad going. The corporal was here faced with a problem, and he decided to work it out his own way. Perhaps he figured that the German gunner was no keener on a bayonet-fight than anybody else; on the other hand, perhaps he didn’t. At all events, collecting his three musketeers this modern D’Artagnan made straight for the battery. It is futile to speculate on what the German artillerymen thought when they saw four Canadian Highlanders whooping toward them out of the fog. Conceivably they figured that, in army parlance, “the jig was up!” They surrendered; and with them came their guns—clean, well-oiled and in excellent working order.
Coppins Attack on Hackett’s Wood
APPROXIMATELY eight miles was the depth of the penetration made during the first day of Amiens; on the following day the Canadian Corps fought its way forward nearly six more miles. From the achievements of August 9, a selection is made of the act of Corporal Coppins as illustrative of Canadian hardihood that day.
The 8th Battalion were a unit of the 2nd Brigade, the “quick-step brigade,” of the 1st Division, so known from its outstanding characteristic in attacks of going at things “on all six!” The second day of the operation was no exception. The Winnipeggers were headed for Warvillers, and they got there with time to spare. Southwest of Vrely was a particularly nasty stretch of bush, totally unlike the withered trunks of Hangard Wood, but a miniature forest of soaring elms and tangled undergrowth. This was Hackett’s Wood; and in it the hardpressed enemy found good concealment. Advancing over the plain, the 8th Battalion came under vicious machine-gun fire, and the platoon in which Coppins functioned found itself suddenly thinning. The machine-guns were numerous - against them it was impossible to make progress, nor could the platoon retire. There was no cover, for the area was not unlike the bald-headed prairie of Coppins’ home environment. It was obvious that something had to be done quickly before the whole unit was wiped out.
Corporal Coppins called for four men, and these were readily forthcoming. In the face of a leaden storm the quintette rushed straight for the guns. The four men were killed and the corporal was himself wounded; but in spite of his hurts he kept on. Crashing into the guncrew, Coppins bayoneted the operator of the first gun, and before the remainder of the personnel had recovered from this audacious attack, he had disposed finally of three more. Such a type of warfare was not suited to the others, and up went their hands.
“Corporal Coppins, by this act of outstanding valor, was the means of saving many lives of the men of his platoon,”, says the official citation, “and enabled the advance to continue.”
Private Thomas Dinesen was a Dane who, like so many of his compatriots, found congenial associations in the ranks of the Canadian Corps. His racial strain having some kinship to the Scots, he donned the kilt of the 5th Royal Highlanders in Montreal and eventually found himself operating in the field with the 42nd Battalion. At Amiens he acquired the Victoria Cross and His Majesty’s commission. This was on the fifth day of the engagement—August 12.
With the Princess Patricia’s, the 42nd Battalion were assigned the task of capturing Parvillers—a name to conjure with in the 7th Brigade! They did so. But with the battle five days old the enemy had had time to rush in fresh troops; also he was fighting in the old defence line of the Somme. After mopping up the village, the Highlanders were obliged to proceed to the reinforcement of the Patricia’s who, in continuing their advance, had encountered some heavy work. Then began one of the longest fights of the war—longest in that it was practically hand-to-hand action for upward of ten hours. The Forty-Second battled dourly, and none was more aggressive than Dinesen. He had a flair for taking on machine-guns single-handed; and his average was one every two hours. Five times he rushed forward alone and with bomb and bayonet fought their crews. It is recorded that this brave soidier accounted for twelve of the enemy. His citation says that “his sustained valor and resourcefulness inspired his comrades at a very critical stage of the action, and were an example to all.”
A Masterly Bluff
UROM Amiens to Valenciennes, a distance that is better understood in terms of time rather than in miles, the Canadian Corps were in one fight after another. From August 8 to November 1 there was little rest. The war was being won, and the Canadians were doing a modestly vigorous part toward winning it. Moved swiftly northward the third week in August, the 2nd and 3rd Divisions struck a lightning blow at the enemy east of Arras before the last of the other divisions had left the Amiens area. This attack, beginning at three o’clock in the morning of August 26, was continued until in that series of battles of the Last Hundred Days the Canadian Corps had smashed their way completely through the organized defences of the Germans. It was on that day that Lieutenant Charles Smith Rutherford, a native of Colborne, Ontario, and a subaltern officer of the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles, won the Victoria Cross. For sheer nerve, not to mention undiluted bluff, the act for which the honor was awarded is hard to beat in the whole annals of the decoration. Briefly, Rutherford argued forty-five Germans into surrendering.
The 5th C.M.R.’s were on the right flank of the 8th Brigade attack, with the commanding bastion of Monchy-le-Preux as their objective. In their stride the battalion took Orange Hill, a mile southeast of Feuehy, and continued the long fight that was to carry them to Monchy, a mile and a half away. The artillery barrage was adequate, progress was good, and casualties not particularly severe. Instead of a frontal assault on Monchy, whose ruins were scattered over the summit of the hill, the Mounted Rifles encircled it at the base, cutting the enemy off from any reinforcements, and proceeded to “drift” up toward it.
Rutherford decided to reconnoitre alone before committing his men, and he clambered up the steep, barren slope.
No sooner had he nosed over the crest into the outskirts of the village than he “collided” with a German pill-box, bristling with rifles and machine-guns, all of which were immediately leveled at him. Situations of this character are not dealt with in the training manuals; presumably their writers never envisaged operations where one individual takes it upon himself to stroll up to a welldefended fortress with the intent of doing it and its occupants grievous bodily harm. Rutherford had to think quickly. He did so.
“Surrender!” he demanded.
He beckoned to the defenders with his revolver, intimating at the same time that they were in a bad fix and the best way out would be for them to throw up their hands. He had coolly approached to within a few yards of the pill-box, and one of the two enemy officers in command invited him to enter. But Rutherford knew all about the “spider and the fly.” As his citation says: “he discreetly declined.” However, the German leader did not see things exactly in the same light as Rutherford: as the matter appealed to him it was Rutherford himself who was the prisoner.
Here the argument ensued. With fine logic added to great forensic skill, the Canadian contended that the Germans had not the ghost of a chance, they were in a hopeless mess and the best way out was to quit and save further trouble. The minutes of this extraordinary session
were not taken, nor was any stenographic report of Rutherford’s speech made. The general impression, however, is that it must have been good ! The visible situation may not have convinced the Germans; but Rutherford’s arguments were incontestable. Two officers and forty-three men surrendered there and then. “Masterly bluff” his citation calls it. It was, beyond any doubt.
But the Mounted Rifle officer was far from finished.
“You’ve got another machine-gun farther up the hill,” he told the German. “Order them to surrender, too, or—”
A wave of the revolver, and with a dirty look the enemy officer walked off. He returned in a few moments with another machine-gun crew! Rutherford’s platoon then came forward.
The official record follows the movements of this oflicer in these terms:
Lieutenant Rutherford then observed that the right assaulting party was held up by heavy machine-gun fire from another pill-box. Indicating an objective to the remainder of his party, he attacked the pill-box with a Lewis Gun section and captured a further thirty-five prisoners (with machine-guns, thus enabling the party to continue their advance.
The Roll of Heroes
The representative character of the Canadian Expeditionary Force is well illustrated in the following table which shows the country of birth of the sixty-one men who had The Victoria Cross bestowed on them for services rendered in the Canadian Corps (including the Canadian Cavalry Brigade),
Nova Scotia...... 3
New Brunswick. . . 3
British Columbia. . 1
UNITED STATES----.... 4
DENMARK ............. 1
“The bold and gallant action of this officer contributed very materially to the capture of the main objective and was a wonderful inspiration to all ranks in pressing home the attack on a very strong position.”
An Award To An O.C.
T'HE Victoria Cross was not generally awarded to officers commanding battalions. The general principle was that a Lieutenant-Colonel had no right to be mixed up in actual shock action with his troops, and that his place was at Battalion Headquarters directing affairs. But there were occasions when the principle collapsed and the sheer weight of circumstances dictated that The Victoria Cross could not be properly withheld. One of these exceptions operated in the case of Lieutenant-Colonel W. H. Clark-Kennedy of Montreal, a native of Ayrshire, Scotland, and one of the original company commanders of the 13th Battalion. It was while commandi ng the 24th Battalion that he performed the deeds which brought him the coveted decoration, and the period covered August 27-28, two days which saw some of the bitterest fighting of the war. Conspicuous bravery, initiative, and skilful leadership are the terms employed to convey the conduct of this commanding officer during the gruelling attacks on the Fresnes-Rouvroy Line— an offshoot from the Drocourt-Queant Line, which itself was a switch of the famous Hindenburg Line. And the word “Line” in those cases meant miles of deep trenches, tangles of barbed-wire, concrete machine-gun emplacements and grimly desperate German infantrymen manning them.
“On August 27,” says the citation, “he led his battalion with great bravery and skill from Crow and Aigrette trenches in front of Wancourt to the attack on the Fresnes-Rouvroy Line. From the outset the brigade (6th) of which the 24th Battalion was a central unit, came under very heavy shell and machine-gun fire, suffering many casualties, especially among the leaders. Units became partially disorganized and the advance was checked. Appreciating the vital importance to the brigade front of a lead by the centre, and undismayed by annihilating fire, Lieut.-Colonel Clark-Kennedy, by sheer personality and initiative, inspired his men and led them forward. On several occasions he set an outstanding example by leading parties straight at machinegun nests which were holding up the advance and overcame these obstacles.
“By controlling the direction of neighboring units and collecting men who had lost their leaders, he rendered valuable services in strengthening the line, and enabled the whole brigade front to move forward.
“By the afternoon, very largely due to the determined leadership of this officer, and disregard for his own life, his battalion despite heavy losses, had made good the maze of trenches west of Cherisy and Cherisy Village, had crossed the Sensee River bed, and had occupied Occident Trench in front of the heavy wire of the Fresnes-Rouvroy Line; under continuous fire he then went up and down his line until far into the night, improving the position, giving wonderful encouragement to his men, and sent back very clear reports.
“On the next day he again showed valorous leadership in the attack on the Fresnes-Rouvroy Line and Upton Wood.. Though severely wounded soon after the start, he refused aid, and dragged himself to a shellhole from which he could observe. Realizing that his exhausted troops could advance no farther, he established a strong line of defence and thereby prevented the loss of most important ground. Despite intense pain and serious loss of blood, he refused to be evacuated for over five hours, by which time he had established the line in a position from which it was possible for the relieving troops to continue the advance.”