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cagnicourt

The Capture of Cambrai, October 9th, 1918

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cagnicourt

Here is an article I would like to share about the capture of Cambrai. (90 years on already!) I have no idea how to ad images, which I have plenty.

GRAVEL

The Canadian Mounted Rifles in Cambrai

October 9, 1918

On August 26th 1918, the 1st Army (British) with the 100,000 strong Canadian Corps in the lead, attacked the enemy at Arras. The ultimate objective was Cambrai, an important transportation and communication hub 30kms deep behind enemy lines. Cambrai had been occupied by the German Army since the early days of the war, in 1914. Operating on the right of the Canadians was the XVII Corps of the 3rd Army (British).

Five bloody weeks later, on October 1st, 1918, the Canadians have reached the gates of Cambrai. The canucks occupy the Cambrai suburbs of Cantimpré and de Selles and dig in facing the l’Escaut canal, a waterway that is the last obstacle separating the Canadians with Cambrai proper. After weeks of campaigning, both camps are exhausted. The canal becomes the new front line for a little more than a week. From their positions, the Canadians become familiar with the outline of the ruins of the railway bridge, as well as the Cantimpré and de Selles locks, which bridge the canal. (Since August 26th, 1918, the Canadians lost an estimated 9,000 soldiers killed to reach this spot, since the advance from Arras began – three dead for every meter of advance. Most are buried in military cemeteries on either side of the D939 highway, the main artery that connects Arras with Cambrai.)

The assault against Cambrai is renewed at 04 :30 A.M., October 8, 1918, when troops of the 3rd Army (British), on the right of the Canadians in Cantimpré, attack and capture the village of Niergnies, south-east of Cambrai. At 01 :30 A.M. the next day, two separate offensives are undertaken (one by the Canadian Corps and one by the 3rd Army) in an attempt to encircle the besieged city. The 2nd Canadian Division attack on the left and captures Morenchies and Ramillies on the l’Escaut Canal, to the north-east of the city while British troops attack from the south and head towards Cauroir, a village due east of Cambrai.

While this pincer movement was evolving, it was unknown if Cambrai, which was now in a 'pocket', was still held in force. Seeing that the attack of the 2nd Division was going well at Morenchies, the 3rd Canadian Division, which was holding the front facing the L’Escaut canal in Cantimpré and de Selles, is ordered to cross the canal and establish bridgeheads in Cambrai. This done, the Division was to push patrols to reconoiter Cambrai, and act as a screen to protect engineers who were tasked with bridging the canal de l'Escaut. Representing the 3rd Canadian Division was the 4th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles (4th CMR) at de Selles and the 5th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles (5th CMR) at Cantimpré. (The Canadian Mounted Rifle battalions were dismounted and fought as infantry.) The war correspondent JFB Livesay, who was at Cantimpré, tells the story that at 03 :00 A.M., on October 9th, 1918, the order was given for the 5th CMR to cross the canal. Two unidentified soldiers of the 5th CMR swim across and reach the other side. They attack (using grenades) a suspected machinegun post near the eastern aproach to the railway bridge. The post was found to be vacant, and, it was further discovered, that the Germans abandoned Cambrai a few hours before. Reacting with great dash, the officers of the 5th CMR order their men across the canal. Arm in arm, the men of the 5th CMR cross, as best they could, the ruins of the railway bridge to reach the far side and consolidate a bridgehead.

At 06 :00, the construction of temporary bridges at the two locks was well underway by the Canadian Engineers. While this was going on, the 4th CMR cross at the de Selles lock and establish their own bridgehead, mirroring the advance of the 5th CMR. From the bridgeheads, both battalions pushed patrols into Cambrai. A half-hour later, the 5th CMR reach the famous Place d’Armes in the centre of Cambrai. By this time, the city is completely encircled when the British capture Cauroir, and, to close the pincer movement, the 2nd Canadian Division cross the L’Escaut canal near Morenchies and take the village of Escaudoeuvres, a village close to Cauroir. By midday, the 4th and 5th CMR, in the pocket, reach the train station on the eastern edge of town. It is a sad victory, as Cambrai was vandalized by the retreating enemy and many fires are raging. The Canadian Corps become a band of firemen. Livesay tells us that thirty-five German soldiers of the Guards Reserve Division are apprehended before they can complete the destruction of the city. On a positive note, he reports that the capture of Cambrai was taken without a casualty.

The 5th CMR is the unit that has the honour of actually liberating Cambrai and reach the famous Place d’Armes in the centre of the city. When a journalist attempted to congratulate an officer of the 5th CMR on the work done by his men he replied: “Don t say that. It isn’t the Fifth Canadian Mounted Rifles; it isn’t even the Eighth Brigade or the Third Canadian Division. It’s the good old Corps that s captured Cambrai ; you know our motto, One for all and all for one”. This officer was very gracious to his comrades. He remembered the thousands of Canadian dead who are at rest along the road from Arras to Cambrai.

The British, who entered Cambrai from the south, were disappointed to find the CMR battalions in possession of Cambrai. Following this, it seems that the Canadians were ordered to evacuate and scede their place to troops of the 3rd Army, who were robbed of taking Cambrai, which was, after all, a very important strategic prize. I got a chuckle when I read the October 10th, 1918, entry in the war diary of the 4th CMR.

October 10, 1918 : Well we had no business taking Cambrai. Someone else, presumably the 3rd Army, wanted the city – volunteered to take it - and were very peeved that the canucks were occupying and defending the place. We are ordered to clear out, which we do, and are all clear of the place by 13.30...

P.S.

The old railway bridge over the l’Escaut canal still exists. It seems that it was repaired post-war. It is now obsolete and a newer road bridge (that accomodates the Arras-Cambrai road) runs parallel to it. The significance this bridge has to the liberation of Cambrai is lost to Cambrai and Canada. This said, as long as it stands, it should act as a memorial to the 9,000 Canadians who died on the way to it during the campaign of August-October 1918. If you are in Cambrai, go see it. (When you travel from Arras, it is on your left when you cross the l'Escaut Canal.)

This work is dedicated to the two unidentified men of the 5th CMR who braved the canal during the early morning hours of October 9th 1918. They were the first into Cambrai.

Michel GRAVEL

Conrwall ON

Canada

30 septembre 2008

post-27032-1222788032.jpg

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Guest drjohndraper

To Cagnicourt,

I am very interested in your portfolio w.r.t.Cambrais in Oct. 1918.

My Great Uncle, Brig. General Dennis Draper 3rd Division, 8th Batallion, 5 C.M.R.s entered the city in October 1918 and I have a keen interest in anything that I can find relating to his war efforts.

Kind regards

drjohndraper

e.mail: dr.johndraper @yahoo.ca

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wainfleet

An interesting account. I had not heard that the Canadians were required to clear out so the British could "take Cambrai". One can understand their annoyance, but no doubt the High Command required the 3rd Army to be in Cambrai ready for whatever the next step was, and the CMR to be somewhere else for the same reason. What looked to the troops on the ground like someone else being deliberately given the glory was probably for a specific military purpose, which of course they would not be aware of.

There is a well-known series of photos of troops entering Cambrai, usually captioned as Canadians. I have never believed this as they have no cloth battalion patches on their sleeves, nor, where one can tell, do they seem to have collar badges. All Canadian units were wearing these by this time. It looks as if these photos must be of the British 3rd Army troops entering from the south.

Regards,

W.

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SpiritofRemembrance

Hi, I am researching Harwood Elmes Robert Steele who was awarded his Military Cross in part for his action on 8 Oct 1918 at Niergnies. He was a good friend of my Grandmother and I grew up calling him Uncle Harwood. I would appreciate any information on him.  Thank you.

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Esdorn

I'm a little late to the party (10 years give or take), but an excellent article. I came across this looking for more detail after reading Livesay's account. A bit pitiful all the acrimony at the time about "pinching" Cambrai from the Imperial forces.

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drjohndraper

A family member, Brigadier Dennis Colburn Draper, at the time , the CO of the 5th CMR, led the Canadian Contingent into Cambrais in October 1918 - liberating the city.

 

For this, he received the gratitude of the residents and one of two medals, commemorating the event.

I am  interested in Travelling to France this autumn to join in the celebration of the event, but have had no luck in gaining a response from Cambrais city hall regarding the proposed trip.

Any advice?

Thank you in advance

Dr. John Colburn Draper

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adk46canada

One bit of clarification, Draper at the time of the capture of Cambrai commanded the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade in which the 5th CMR served. He took over command of the brigade in June 1918. He commanded the 5th CMR for two years from June 1916 to June 1918.

 

Regards

Bill Stewart

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drjohndraper
On 30/09/2008 at 10:24, cagnicourt said:

 

Thanks Bill,

A little rusty on the file, but you are absolutely correct.

Was he, in fact the author, of the comment?

” it isn’t  just the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles; it isn’t even the 8th Brigade or the 3rd Canadian Division......”

Any information you have to share on the General, personally, or the 5th CMR would be appreciated.

thank you.

i am brand new as a member of this forum.

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drjohndraper
24 minutes ago, drjohndraper said:

A family member, Brigadier Dennis Colburn Draper, at the time , the CO of the 5th CMR, led the Canadian Contingent into Cambrais in October 1918 - liberating the city.

 

For this, he received the gratitude of the residents and one of two medals, commemorating the event.

I am  interested in Travelling to France this autumn to join in the celebration of the event, but have had no luck in gaining a response from Cambrais city hall regarding the proposed trip.

Any advice?

Thank you in advance

Dr. John Colburn Draper

 

2 minutes ago, drjohndraper said:

Thanks Bill,

A little rusty on the file, but you are absolutely correct.

Was he, in fact the author, of the comment?

” it isn’t  just the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles; it isn’t even the 8th Brigade or the 3rd Canadian Division......”

Any information you have to share on the General, personally, or the 5th CMR would be appreciated.

thank you.

i am brand new as a member of this forum.

 

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drjohndraper

Hi Bill,

 

Yes, 

‘I believe that he took over command of the 5th CMR, June 2nd /1916 after the death of Lieutenant George Harold Baker, a Montreal lawyer, and perhaps, a friend of Draper’s Battle of Mount Sorrel.

please correct if necessary.

thank uou

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adk46canada

Dr. Draper,

 

I do not have much information but I will share what I have. Pre-war he was a captain in the 13th Scottish Light Dragoons Regiment as of 1912. He was in charge of musketry instruction. His attestation papers listed him as a farmer and unmarried. At Mount Sorrel, he took over from Baker, who was the only sitting MP to die in battle. He ran unsuccessfully in the Federal election of 1917 as an Union candidate in the Brome riding. He was awarded a DSO and bar and a Companion in the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG). The later was a common award for successful brigade commanders. Post-war he was the controversial chief of police of Toronto. From his actions, he seemed like a shrewd judge of what his troops wanted. For instance, he used money raised from donations to buy beer for the troops on the way to and from the Somme. I am sure it was much appreciated.

Regards

Bill Stewart

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Keith Rydings

I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR SOME TIME TO FIND SOMETHING THAT WOULD TELL ME HOW MY UNCLE DIED CLOSE TO CAMBRIA ON OCTOBER 3, 1918. HIS NAME IS "CORPORAL JOHN RYDINGS" AND WAS WITH THE 5TH CMR. HE IS BURIED IN THE BOURLON WOODS CEMETERY WHICH IS CLOSE TO CAMBRIA. ANY SUGGESTIONS WOULD BE VERY APPRECIATED.

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MaxD
Esdorn

Regarding Brig-Gen. Draper. Here is quite a famous photo (I believe it's him) in Cambrai. You may find it interesting. Regards, Darrell

image.png.75db8f3d92b9dafd2b464181245b4067.png

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