I am a frequent visitor to the History of the Great War website and I am always fascinated in the timeline of events which are so clearly marked out for each month of the war.
The Battle of Arras took place in the spring of 1917 and was one of the principal assaults undertaken by the British Army on the Western Front. Under Allied control, but situated just a few kilometres from German lines, the town of Arras formed a significant vantage point and was a regular target for German weapons.
Due to the increased hostilities in the area, by early 1916, Arras had very little civilian population remaining. Much of the town had been destroyed and it was, to all intents and purposes, a British town, which managed its business in both French and English.
A view of devastated ground near Arras, 1917
|© IWM (Q 87756)|
On the 23rd April 1917 and following days of poor weather and freezing conditions, The Second battle of the Scarpe began at 04:45.Casualties were expected to be high and a field hospital had been stationed near to a quarry, an area known colloquially as 'Thompson's Cave' after Colonel A.G Thompson, the architect who designed it. It was expected to deal with hundreds of wounded soldiers and indeed, the Battle of Arras collectively saw the worse bloodshed of the war with thousands wounded or killed.The hospital was fully functioning and was fitted out with waiting areas for the wounded, an operating theatre, and a mortuary.
German and British wounded going to the dressing station, together. April, 1917
|© IWM (Q 7801)|
Despite German counter-attacks ,by the morning of 24 April, the British held the areas around Guémappe, Gavrelle and the high ground overlooking Fontaine-lez-Croisilles and Cherisy.
Battle of the Scarpe.
British cavalry resting alongside the Arras-Cambrai road, April 1917.
|© IWM (Q 2031)|
Voices of the Great War
Listen to an IWM Podcast 27: Arras and Vimy Ridge
As always, I am indebted to the Imperial War Museum for the chance to read the personal accounts of the soldiers who were at Arras and Vimy Ridge and for the opportunity to share these pertinent photographs taken at the time by war photographers.