March 15th 1918

There has been much written on the Battle of Cambrai – a battle that started so well, yet ended in disappointment. It has certainly enhanced the reputation of the Indian troops, amongst whom is Capt. Regie Carr-White (Indian Army). He sent us a capital account of his experiences at Cambrai with Hodson’s Horse, including these remarks on the achievements of other Indian troops who fought there:

“Later, we heard what the other cavalry regiments had done, and nothing beats what the 2nd Lancers (Indian Army) did. They charged German trenches mounted, and got into them with the lance, and some of their troops had to jump the wire. I admit the wire was low and the Germans hadn’t had time to rig up much, but in full marching order it was some feat…

These Lancers had the heaviest casualties, and their casualties amongst the horses were enormous. I believe for days afterwards there were droves of horses wandering about grazing between the German and British lines. One feels sorrier for the horses than for the men, and a badly wounded horse is a beastly sight.

The Guards’ Colonel, I believe, wrote to the Colonel of the other Indian cavalry regiment in our brigade and said ‘The Guards will be proud to fight alongside the Indian cavalry any old day’…”

Some well-deserved recognition has now been recorded in the House of Lords (as reported yesterday in the ‘Daily Telegraph’):

Regie’s admiration for the Indian troops knows no bounds:

“Nobody takes into account the fact that they had just come from the Indian hot weather (120 degrees in the shade in some places) into cold which was unbearable to them. They had no real warm clothing, they had to put up with gas and shells and bombing such as they had never conceived, and every form of beastliness. After all, the majority when they join are very, very simple peasants, some have hardly ever been in a train…

The men that went with Jack Smyth on his VC show, probably the bravest in this war, never flinched or turned back. The more I think of those first Indian Divisions that came to France, the more I am amazed at what they put up with and did.

The Indian cavalry here in France haven’t had any leave for three years, and there is no doubt they are now very home-sick and longing to get back, but still they are as cheery as ever.”

January 5th 1918

The battle at Cambrai, which was launched on November 20th 1917 with over 400 tanks, was reported in our newspapers as a great success.

The role of the cavalry has been a small one in this war, but it was hoped that they might have played a significant part if a breakthrough could be achieved. Capt. Reggie Carr-White (Indian Army), who was in reserve with Hodson’s Horse, found himself in the thick of the action when on November 30th there was a German counter-attack, his breakfast being rudely interrupted:

“An orderly came in with a message telling us to ‘stand to.’ Our horses were out at exercise, and we didn’t know where they had gone to… Meanwhile another message came in, telling us to move at once. . So we all hustled about and packed our things; in the meantime the horses came in and we moved off within the hour…

Nobody knew why we were being moved – the optimists, like myself, thought that we had broken the German line; and the pessimists thought the opposite had happened.”

The closer they got to the action, the clearer it became that the pessimists were right.

“We trotted about another six miles and then halted again, and watched a fine but very sad spectacle. We were in a valley, and about 500 yards in front of us was a low ridge. Along the top of this a British Cavalry regiment was galloping, with German crumps bursting in amongst them. Many of the troops got direct hits on them, and one could see a troop galloping along and suddenly it would practically disappear as a shell burst in it, then a second or two later one would see a few of them straggling forward and a small mound left behind. It made me feel a bit sick. But not a man checked, and all galloped steadily on…

My squadron was the rear squadron of the regiment, and I was about 100 yards behind B squadron, whom I saw trotting along quietly through a gap in the wire in front, and disappearing over the ridge. As I came to the gap and topped the ridge, an extraordinary sight met my eyes: galloping horses everywhere, many of them riderless, and there were many dead horses and men on the ground. Into this medley the Germans were putting crump after crump. B squadron was retiring at a slow gallop and in perfect formation…”

Reggie was told to retire with his squadron and find another way round, to avoid the artillery fire. It was a very confused situation, under shell fire, with people from numerous regiments and “tanks barging about.

They came back to a British-held trench. Reggie was possibly understating it when he said,

“It must have surprised them to have two squadrons of cavalry jumping over their heads.”

An alternative route was taken and they eventually found their way to the top of a low ridge where the rest of the regiment were digging in, alongside the Guards who successfully attacked and took Gouzancourt.

Digging in meant it was time to send the horses back and for the cavalry to become infantry, ready for another German attack.  There were still some British tanks involved in the action, although being a cavalry man, Reggie clearly has mixed feelings about this new form of combat.

“Just then several of our tanks rolled up and seemed uncertain where they were. It was pathetic how perplexed those tanks looked, nosing about liked puzzled rhinoceroses and they made us feel quite sorry for them… They then seemed to become inspired and waddled off, one after the other, towards the Germans.”

But there is no doubt in his mind that those who operate these tanks are brave men.

“One may make jokes about them, but in my opinion the fellows inside are the bravest fellows on earth. Shell after shell burst all round them, and finally of course, several got direct hits on them, and before long four of them were burning like great bonfires. Later in the day I met one of the officers, who had been in one. He told me all the crew in his had been killed and he was very cut about himself.

The Guards and a regiment of Indian cavalry attacked Gauche Wood, dismounted; they followed behind the tanks and took the wood fairly easily. In places they got in with the bayonet.”

From the map it is clear that the German counter-attack had made deep inroads, before being repulsed by our troops to the line shown, just west of Villers-Guislain.

 

December 30th 1917

Capt. GK Rose – Capt. WH Moberly – Capt. CSW Marcon

Three Old Dragons of the 2/4th Ox & Bucks have kindly sent their picture, just in time to be included in the December edition of our magazine.

Capt. Geoffrey Rose tells us that the 2/4th Ox & Bucks near Arras were involved in a raid to draw the attention of the Germans away from Cambrai, just before the attack was launched there on November 20th. Capt. Walter Moberly and his company were chosen to carry out this diversionary attack, which was made on November 19th.

The attack was preceded by a gas attack using a mixture of lethal and non-lethal gas, which were “intermingled both by the Germans and ourselves with high explosive shells; the effect of each assisted the effect of the other. If one began to sneeze from the effect of non-lethal gas, one could not wear a gas helmet to resist the lethal; the high explosive shells disguised both types…

It was planned to fire lethal gas against the enemy for several nights. On the night of the raid and during it, non-lethal only would be used. The two gases smelt alike and the presumption was that on the night of the raid the enemy would wear gas-helmets…

B Company, though they missed the gap through the enemy’s wire, entered the trenches without opposition and captured a machine-gun which was pointing directly at their approach but never fired…

As often, there was difficulty in finding the way back to our lines; in fact, Moberly… after some wandering in No-Man’s-Land, entered the trenches of a Scotch division upon our right. His appearance and comparative inability to speak their language made him a suspicious visitor to our kilted neighbours. Moberly rejoined his countrymen under escort.”

Much has been written of the great attack made at Cambrai on November 20th, involving over 400 tanks.

Drawing by Geoffrey Rose