The Fi­nal New­found­land Of­fen­sive, 1918

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - REMEMBRANCE DAY - Source: Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Canada web­site

Dur­ing the cam­paigns of 1918, the Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment’s op­er­a­tions were con­fined to the north­ern sec­tor of the West­ern Front. When the Ger­mans launched their great April of­fen­sive, the Reg­i­ment fought de­fen­sive ac­tions in the Bat­tles of the Lys, adding the name “Bailleul” to its bat­tle hon­ours. In mid-septem­ber, the Bat­tal­ion be­came part of the 28th In­fantry Bri­gade, 9th (Scot­tish) Divi­sion. It was to serve with this for­ma­tion for the re­main­der of the war.

On the open­ing day of the fi­nal of­fen­sive, the 9th (Scot­tish) Divi­sion, in the British Sec­ond Army, strik­ing east­ward from Ypres, re­cap­tured po­si­tions on Pass­chen­daele Ridge which the Ger­mans had over­run in their spring of­fen­sive. At the end of two days the New­found­land Bat­tal­ion had ad­vanced four­teen and one-half kilo­me­tres, hav­ing played an im­por­tant part in break­ing through the en­emy’s front “Flan­ders Po­si­tion”. Then came a pause in op­er­a­tions to al­low heavy ar­tillery and sup­plies to be brought for­ward through the mud of the old churned-up bat­tle­field that the at­tack­ing British and Bel­gian forces had at last put be­hind them.

A re­sump­tion of the of­fen­sive on Oc­to­ber 14 marked the be­gin­ning of what came to be called the Bat­tle of Cour­trai. As part of a gen­eral ad­vance to­wards Ghent (now Gent), three corps of the Sec­ond Army, north of the River Lys (or Leie), were given the task of se­cur­ing the line of the river to be­yond Cour­trai, in readi­ness for es­tab­lish­ing bridge­heads on the south bank. The 9th Divi­sion, which was on the Army’s north­ern flank, had the great­est dis­tance to cover. The Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment’s ob­jec­tive, the rail­way run­ning north from Cour­trai, was eight kilo­me­tres from the start­ing line.

The at­tack went in at 5:35 a.m. on the 14th. As they moved for­ward, the New­found­lan­ders had to deal with a num­ber of Ger­man pill­boxes that were threat­en­ing to stall the ad­vance. A se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion de­vel­oped when lead­ing com­pa­nies were held up by Ger­man field gun shelling in some houses a few hun­dred me­tres away on the right flank. As a New­found­land pla­toon moved out to try to out­flank the Ger­man bat­tery, Pri­vate Thomas Rick­etts, a mem­ber of the Lewis Gun de­tach­ment, dis­played great ini­tia­tive and dar­ing in en­gag­ing the en­emy with his ac­cu­rate fire. At one stage he had to dou­ble back across 90 me­tres of bul­let-swept ground to re­plen­ish his am­mu­ni­tion. The fire from Rick­etts’ gun put the en­emy to flight and the pla­toon was able to cap­ture the four field guns, four ma­chine-guns and eight pris­on­ers with­out them­selves sus­tain­ing any ca­su­al­ties. For his brav­ery, Pri­vate Rick­etts, who was only 17 at the time, be­came the youngest win­ner of the Vic­to­ria Cross in the British Army.

When the Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment dug in at dusk on the 14th, it had taken 500 pris­on­ers and 94 ma­chine­guns, eight field guns and large quan­ti­ties of am­mu­ni­tion. But this had not been ac­com­plished with­out suf­fer­ing heavy ca­su­al­ties. At dawn next day, the Bat­tal­ion could muster only 300 ri­fles.

Sep­a­rate at­tempts by three di­vi­sions to es­tab­lish bridge­heads over the canal­ized Lys on Oc­to­ber 16 and 17 for an ad­vance to the River Scheldt failed in the face of de­ter­mined Ger­man re­sis­tance. Fi­nally, on the night of Oc­to­ber 19-20, a ma­jor as­sault by three di­vi­sions abreast suc­ceeded, the New­found­lan­ders raft­ing across in the pre-dawn hours of the 20th.

The Cour­trai me­mo­rial

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