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Looking for Map References - Battle of Arras 28th March 1918

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Hi,

This is my first time posting on this forum. I have been fascinated with the amount of research and detail on here. My grandfather was wounded at the Battle of Arras on 28th/29th March 1918. I am trying to trace the movements of his regiment and where he may have ended up. I have read the posts by RobertBR and was wondering whether there were map references for the locations - I am ideally looking for lat/long as I hope to plot them onto a map using R programming.

 

My grandfather was Pte William H Fegan 555524 in the 16th London Regiment. He was sent to the Western Front on 20th Feb 1918 and went over the top at Arras on 28th March. He was blown up by a shell in no man's land. He told my uncle (when he was 88):

“When I came round, I couldn’t see a soul, either British or German. There wasn’t anything moving on the landscape, so I didn’t know which way to go. I could walk, but must have gone in and out of consciousness several times. I eventually fell into a railway cutting where there was a British dressing station. They gave me a shot of something, but wanted to kill me later on, I found out, because I would not stop singing at the top of my voice.”

 

It would be great to locate the dressing station too.

 

Thank you

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Fattyowls

Hi SJK and a warm welcome to the forum. As you have seen the amount of knowledge on here is remarkable; I wouldn't be surprised if you will end up with enough information for a small book.

 

The battle of Arras that led to William being wounded was a phase of the first German Spring offensive which began on 21st March 1918. This punched a big dent into the front lines,  with the Germans advancing across the 1916 Somme battlefield and almost to Amiens. The city of Arras was the northern hinge of the offensive and the Germans attacked here on the 28th in Operation Mars, which probably led to the events that William described. Because it was a defensive effort he probably didn't go over the top, unless he was involved in a counter attack; the war diary should tell you more. There had been two previous battles of Arras, first in late 1914 with French troops as part of the attempts by both sides to outflank each other and second in the spring of 1917 as the British and Dominion forces attacked here in support of the French Nivelle offensive. The stubborn defence of Arras by William and the rest of the defenders blunted the German drive, after which they tried again further north.

 

If all this sounds like I know what I'm talking about it's because I clicked on the link at the top of the page to the Long Long Trail website, in my view the best resource about WW1 on the electrical interweb. The battles section will tell you which divisions were involved and if you look up Williams battalion you can work out which brigade it was in and then which division. The forum chums will be able to assist with any questions that arise from this I am sure.

 

I really like the story about him singing at the top of his voice. I'll look forward to finding out more.

 

Pete.

 

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PRC

I'd also suggest their Brigade War Diary - the 169th. These diaries cover a shorter period but they pull together all the sub-units. In my experience appendices and maps seem to go walkies from Battalion level war diaries, but they will tend to turn up in the Brigade level ones. The added bonus is that you tend to get both sides of messages.

The relevant period for the 169th Brigade is January to March 1918.

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C14056026

If you have an Ancestry subscription, (or nip into your local library if you are a member, nearly all of them subscribe to Ancestry and you can e-mail extracts), then you should be able to see these diaries for free.

 

The relevant reference for the Brigade Level Diary is WO95/2959/1.

Battalion is WO95/2963/2

 

The Divisional War Diary - the 56th, will include Divisional Artillery which tend to be a good source of maps showing unit locations and there is always the possibility of air reconnaissance photos. Having said which, the situation was still fairly fluid and your relative could have been fighting with an ad-hoc composite unit.

 

Hope that helps,

Peter

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clk

Hi,

 

Welcome to the Forum.

 

From his service papers it looks like William was admitted to 2/1 London Field Ambulance on 28th March 1918. If you were to look at their diary (TNA here) and the ADMS 56 Division diary (TNA here) they should contain information about the medical arrangements, including things like the locations of dressing stations. The diaries will also be on Ancestry - search page here.

 

Regards

Chris

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MBrockway

Good general map from the OH for the Battle of Arras positions on 28 Mar 1918 to get you started ...

2015.210684.Military-Operations_0118.jp2

 

He was in 1st/16th Londons (QWRs) in 169 Brigade of 56th (1st London) Division, XIII Corps, First Army.  They were near GAVRELLE.

 

This will give you the wider context, but it's obviously not suitable to lift detailed map references from.  Trench maps may be in the battalion war diary (linked above), or more likely diaries of the higher units: see previous para [Edit: and Peter's suggestions above]

 

Mark

 

 

 

Edited by MBrockway

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MBrockway

Another good map from the OH showing the XIII Corps Defensive Scheme for the sector ahead of the German Offensive.

 

Most of the strongpoint post names ('OPY', 'BEATTY', 'BRADFORD', 'BIRD', 'MILL', 'EAST', 'DITCH' etc.) are just about legible.

 

The annotations going vertically across the left, centre and right of the map are truncated by my cropping but read 'GREEN LINE (under construction)', 'BATTLE ZONE' and 'FORWARD ZONE' respectively.

 

 

5a7486cb54bd6_OH1918IISketch8(cropped)XIIICorpsDefensiveSchemeMar1918.jpg.f19f7429ef5b399829a695b3cddf5a75.jpg

 

The same area on an early March 1918 trench map is here:

http://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=15&lat=50.3387&lon=2.8810&layers=101465059&b=3

 

Mark

 

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Fattyowls

There's a thread here which has part of a panorama from 12 months before which shows the northern part of the area where William was serving. It may be that Silentarius who started the thread has the extension of the panorama to the right which would show more or less all of the brigade frontage.

 

Pete.

 

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Don Regiano

SJK. 

 

Welcome to the forum.

 

There is a detailed report on the action on 28 March 1918 in the battalion's war diary (including the disposition of the various companies at the start of the action).  If you have access to Ancestry, it begins on this page:

 

https://www.ancestry.co.uk/interactive/60779/43112_2963_2-00000?pid=616787&backurl=https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?_phsrc%3DIdQ360%26_phstart%3DsuccessSource%26usePUBJs%3Dtrue%26indiv%3D1%26db%3DUKWarDiariesWWI%26gss%3Dangs-d%26new%3D1%26rank%3D1%26msT%3D1%26gskw%3D2963/2%26_F0007CF4%3Dlondon%26MSAV%3D1%26uidh%3Duc3%26pcat%3D39%26fh%3D11%26h%3D616787%26recoff%3D%26ml_rpos%3D12&treeid=&personid=&hintid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=IdQ360&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true#?imageId=43112_2963_2-00174

 

You can also get an idea of the layout of the trenches and the current day mapping here:

 

http://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=16&lat=50.3292&lon=2.8850&layers=101465059&b=1

 

You can use the transparency slider to show the trench map and the current map as you desire.  It will also give you the lat/long of any points you may be interested in.

 

Reg

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Guest

Thank you all so much, the amount of detail is fantastic! I have a lot of reading to do - really looking forward to it and to finding out more. 

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Fattyowls

SJK, keep us posted as to how you get on. I have an interest in the area for several reasons, one of which is that the brother of one of my footballers was killed on the 29th March south of the river Scarpe astride the Arras - Cambrai road. In the official history of his unit the day was described thus - "If ever a lid was taken off hell it was March 29th 1918".

 

Pete.

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RobertBr

 SJK

Wecome to the forum. I see you found my earlier posts. I have just been looking at other information prior to the 2018 aniversary. The link in MkBrocways post will take you to a trench map which is pretty accurate. I attach a modern (2008) French Map marked up with Towy Post so you should be able to work out positions by comparing the two. Trench Map co-ordinates are quite simple to work out once you get used to them. There are topics on the GWF covering them. There is also a Trench Map to Lat/Lon Converter again you shoulbe able to locate this on the forum. The 2/1 London Ambulance was at St Catherines (G.15.a.40.35) just North of Arras on 28th March.

 

Gavrelle.jpg.b9692c2a5533ec4bc5829bb4fbc8c99b.jpg.

Queen's Westminster Rifles 28th March 1918 (From 169th Brigade Report)

 
Initial dispositions: Towy Post and a portion of Naval - Marine Line.
            NB LRB wereon their left in Mill Post, Bradford Post and the Naval - Marine Line.
                2nd Londons were in the Red Line

 

5 a.m. Navel - Marine Line bombarded by 5.9cm and heavies.
6 a.m. SOS received from Towy Post but it was not yet under attack.
7.15 a.m. pigeon message from Terry post "Under attack",

 

'B'Company made a stand at Company HQ in Support Line to Towy Post.
7:50 a.m. They and Towy Post had been flanked. Captain Lowndes, Second Lieutenants Friend and Prince
 + 5 other ranks made their way down Towy Trench back to Naval Line.

 

QWR still held Naval Trench between southern Brigade Boundary and Gavrelle Road.

Both  flanks of Keillar Post were pierced so QWR were withdrawn to the Red Line, this was completed 11 a.m.

 

The Brigade was then reorganized with QWR in the Red Line form Gavrelle Rd to the Southern Boundary with their HQ at
HQ at the junction of the Red Line and Towy Trench.

 

2 p.m. The Red Line was bombarded severely, this continued to a degree all afternoon.
Enemy aircraft fired on red line during the day.

 

During the night the 169th Brigade was releaved by the 167th Brigade. The QWR moved to Roundhay Camp.

Note the 2nd Essaex of the 4th Division held the line below the Southern Boundary i.e down to the R Scarpe.

 

The QWR reported 214 casualties on the day. 17 OR were killed 32 were wounded 17 were 'wounded missing' and 148 missing, some may have turned up.

 

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Sue Picken

This has been a very helpful string as I too am trying to find exactly where my great uncle, George Meers Watson, died. I know it was just north of Arras, as he was in the 56th Bn machine gun corps. I have visited the Arras memorial where his name is displayed, and I can guess from family legend that there was initially a grave with a wooden cross that was later lost in the fighting as one of his mates took a photo and gave it to my Nana. So I am trying to pinpoint where he might have died. Looks like it is somewhere on the line running south east from La Targette to Roclincourt. Any further help or advice will be appreciated, as we plan to visit soon to commemorate 100 years since he died.

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RobertBr

Sue

 

The  War Diary should be avaialble at the NA WO 95/2943/2 or on Ancestry (Search for 2943 under Military). Its unlikely that you will be able to find the exact position, the best you can hope for is a map or co-ordinates where some were deployed

 

I have previously posted about the battle in which your Great uncle died. See Mars Offensive.   It does show some MG locations.

 

Machine Guns were often treated like artillery. They were back from the front and fired on fixed bearings. Several guns on similar and cross bearings could project a wall of bullets across the path of advancing infantry. The cross fire system was used against hostiles advancing arround Gavrelle on the 28th

 

Having said that it is probable some would have been in more forward positions and the outposts which were overrun.

 

Bob
 

 

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Sue Picken

Hi Bob, thank you so much for this, its been really helpful. I see your grandfather died on the same day - their anniversary is tomorrow, and it certainly brings it all to the forefront. I have tried to research George Meers Watson  before but not on this forum so without success so i am very grateful for yours and others help on this. I will be visiting in April to go to the battlefields again generally, both the Somme and Ypres, and will be leaving my great uncles story in Arras, with hopefully, many gaps filled in. best wishes, and thanks again, Sue

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wjohnmilroy
On 04/02/2018 at 23:47, RobertBr said:

 SJK

Wecome to the forum. I see you found my earlier posts. I have just been looking at other information prior to the 2018 aniversary. The link in MkBrocways post will take you to a trench map which is pretty accurate. I attach a modern (2008) French Map marked up with Towy Post so you should be able to work out positions by comparing the two. Trench Map co-ordinates are quite simple to work out once you get used to them. There are topics on the GWF covering them. There is also a Trench Map to Lat/Lon Converter again you shoulbe able to locate this on the forum. The 2/1 London Ambulance was at St Catherines (G.15.a.40.35) just North of Arras on 28th March.

 

Gavrelle.jpg.b9692c2a5533ec4bc5829bb4fbc8c99b.jpg.

Queen's Westminster Rifles 28th March 1918 (From 169th Brigade Report)

 
Initial dispositions: Towy Post and a portion of Naval - Marine Line.
            NB LRB wereon their left in Mill Post, Bradford Post and the Naval - Marine Line.
                2nd Londons were in the Red Line

 

5 a.m. Navel - Marine Line bombarded by 5.9cm and heavies.
6 a.m. SOS received from Towy Post but it was not yet under attack.
7.15 a.m. pigeon message from Terry post "Under attack",

 

'B'Company made a stand at Company HQ in Support Line to Towy Post.
7:50 a.m. They and Towy Post had been flanked. Captain Lowndes, Second Lieutenants Friend and Prince
 + 5 other ranks made their way down Towy Trench back to Naval Line.

 

QWR still held Naval Trench between southern Brigade Boundary and Gavrelle Road.

Both  flanks of Keillar Post were pierced so QWR were withdrawn to the Red Line, this was completed 11 a.m.

 

The Brigade was then reorganized with QWR in the Red Line form Gavrelle Rd to the Southern Boundary with their HQ at
HQ at the junction of the Red Line and Towy Trench.

 

2 p.m. The Red Line was bombarded severely, this continued to a degree all afternoon.
Enemy aircraft fired on red line during the day.

 

During the night the 169th Brigade was releaved by the 167th Brigade. The QWR moved to Roundhay Camp.

Note the 2nd Essaex of the 4th Division held the line below the Southern Boundary i.e down to the R Scarpe.

 

The QWR reported 214 casualties on the day. 17 OR were killed 32 were wounded 17 were 'wounded missing' and 148 missing, some may have turned up.

 

The CWGC show 48 QWR died on 28/3/1918 most probably there as on Arras memorial. 

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wjohnmilroy

SJK as well as detail given by Robert and official war diary there are maps details and reports in Heriques history of QWR see pic. 

Ps about 48 QWR died tomorrow at Gavrelle 100yrs ago resisting the German spring offensive. 

IMG_7528.JPG

IMG_7529.JPG

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Chris11

I hope you don't mind me joining this conversation, rather than starting a new one. What I am searching for seems so closely aligned that it seems sensible to tap in here rather than start all over again. 

My grandfather John Robert Jones was a Bombardier in the Royal Field Artillery posted to the 56th London division. I have a picture of his gun crew. The gun was hit by a shell and he was the only one to survive. Based on his medical records I believe this occurred at Arras. Anecdotally he was on the battlefield for two days before being found. I think that is consistent with what I've read about the battle and aftermath, but others might suggest not since I have found different accounts slightly confusing.

He ended up in a hospital near Boulogne, which possibly was then hit itself, either way he was shipped back to the UK and then posted to the reserves as not being in a fit state to fight. He died in 1936, from complications from his injuries, but a nice side to the story is that the person who found him on the battlefield actually attended his funeral. 

It would nice to be able to confirm for sure that it was this battle, but mostly there may be people out there related to the other members of this gun crew who have never seen a picture of them before, so it would be nice to add names to faces and maybe help other people.

As the 56th (Londons) Division seem to have been part of the First Army, there doesn't seem to be much record of their involvement at Arras, since the German objective seems to have been to inflict damage to the Third Army. Any information on this would be interesting as well.

Finally, I'd be interested to know if SJ Kerr has got any further information over the last year?

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clk

Hi Chris11,

 

Welcome to the Forum.

 

The Long, Long Trail gives a broad overview of 56 Division - see here, and the units involved in the phases of various battles here. The war diary for the Commander Royal Artillery (56 Division) is available from the National Archives (link), and would be given more context by the diary for 56 Division Headquarters (General Staff). If you know the Brigade RFA that John served in (280/281/282/283), hopefully you will find a diary amongst these results. From that diary you may be able to identify when his gun was hit, and from that, use the CWGC website to try to identify the men who were killed. Searching using just the date, and 'Regiment' = Royal field Artillery, should enable you to download a spreadsheet, where a number of men are shown, for example, as serving with D/283.

 

The war diaries may contain map references. If in the CWGC records there is a 'concentration' tab, that would also probably show a map reference.

 

Good luck with your research.

 

Regards

Chris

 

 

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RobertBr

Chris11

 

Welcome

 

By 1918 the 56th Divisions Field Artillery consisted of two Brigades (280 & 281) each consisting of three batteries of 18 Pounders and one of 4.5" Howitzers, 6 guns per battery. There would normally be about 700 men per Brigade. So you really need to try and find out what Brigade/Battery your Grandfather was in. If you have any medals look around the rim for information.

 

My post  Mars Offensive. describes the battle in some detail which may help in understanding the battle. It was the second phase of the great offensive of the Spring of 1918 and as Ludendorf stated was a failure.

 

A great number of the artillery casualties occurred in the early morning of 28th March when the gun lines were shelled first with gas and then HE. 

 

I suggest you start a separate topic in the Soldiers forum to seek more information about your Grandfather. If you put his name and 56 Division RFA in the topic title it should find the right Pals to help you. Include as much information as you can especially his service number. I would be particularly interested in the photo you have (it might just include my Grandfather).

 

Bob

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clk

Hi Chris11,

 

17 minutes ago, RobertBr said:

By 1918 the 56th Divisions Field Artillery consisted of two Brigades (280 & 281)

 

That being the case, and presuming that the rest of his gun crew died on 28/29th March 1918, then it looks like at that time he may have been with 109 Battery, 281 Brigade RFA.

 

image.png.aca0842e4a0ccd922be2cbc7a2912f2c.png

 

Regards

Chris

 

 

Edited by clk

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Chris11

Bob,

 

Many thanks, I will take your advice, but what you have said here is still very useful. My mother (daughter of the said John Robert Jones) is 95 and didn't really know her father as he died when she was 12, but in later years has taken some comfort from finding out more information about him.

 

I didn't say previously but we do know he was in 281 Brigade, and I know he wasn't on Howitzers, so I presume (from what you've said) for this battle he was on 18 pounders.

Do you have any intelligence on who might have found him i.e. was it likely to be a stretcher bearer or a regular soldier? Anecdotally he was on the battlefield for two days, and that seems consistent with his medical records. Have I read it right that most likely the German army had both advanced over him and retreated during those two days? 

 

In case you're interested in the gun crew picture its here:-

76 Royal Artillery Gun Crew. Photo believed to be taken before Cambrai 1917. Their gun was hit by a shell (believed to be at Arras) and only one of these men came back.

 

Also I'd be interested in your expert opinion on this question. If this photo was taken before Cambrai in Dec 2017, is it correct to assume that most likely it was the same gun crew at Arras? Are we making too big an assumption based on the fact that my grandfather carried this photo in his breast pocket for the remainder of the war in honour of his friends. Or would the crews have been shuffled around between battles, even before injuries were taken into account.

 

Thanks again for your help and information.

Chris.

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Chris11

Chris (clk),

Wow, that looks quite credible, except that it would make the gun crew 7 and there are only 6 in the photo. Perhaps (and I am not an expert) they moved up to 18 pounders and took on an extra an extra crew member.

 

John Robert Jones service number was 930220 for the record. I can confirm he was in 281st Brigade, but the battery is unknown. Do you know if 109th battery was an 18 pounder? I am sure he wasn't on a Howitzer.

 

Chris.

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clk

Hi Chris,

 

11 minutes ago, Chris11 said:

John Robert Jones service number was 930220 for the record

 

He has some surviving service papers - Findmypast link. They should also be available on Ancestry. What are the medical records you have?

 

Regards

Chris

 

Edit:

The record shows that he was posted to A/281 on 15.7.1917. Looking quickly at it, I didn't see a reference to 109 Battery though. It seems that he was admitted to 54 General Hospital on 31.3.1918 suffering from shell shock.

Edited by clk

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Chris11

Chris (clk),

 

The records I am drawing my medical info from are the British Army WW1 Service records, accessed from Ancestry. These appear to be the burnt, but not destroyed records. My mother downloaded these some years ago. She did a lot on the family history side, but didn't cross reference against records of battles to find out where he might have been when, as I am now doing.

It appears that I probably have all that exist there.

Thanks again.

Chris.

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