April 1917 had brought the Canadian Expeditionary Forces a hard won victory at Vimy Ridge and from that success the 18th Battalion held positions on the East side of Vimy Ridge through the month of May.
The 2 week previous to the action in question the Battalion had been relieved on the 13th of May and proceeded to a Reserve Camp at Neuville-St. Vaast for 7 days wherein they were involved with bath and pay parades and a host of training. The General Officer Commanding of the Canadian Corp, General Sir Julian Byng, inspected the Battalion and the War Diary relates:
“The G.O.C. expressed great surprise that, considering the heavy fighting and hardships passed through during the last month, it was possible for the men to turn out so clean and in such fine condition.”
After that inspection the Battalion relieved the 27th Battalion at the RIDGE LINE trench which was an observation line in which they were working on completing the trenches. Most likely this was a series of trenches that sat on top of Vimy Ridge, looking east over the area of Lens and were being improved in case of a major German counter-attack in an attempt to regain the strategic ridge that allowed the Germans to observe and dominate so much of the area the ridge allowed the Germans to observe. Work was suspended on the trenches on the 21st and it appears that the Battalion enjoyed the relative safety of this rear trench as the War Diary states for the days May 23rd to 26th inclusive the simple diary entry: “Nothing unusual occurred.”
The Battalion took positions approximately east of the small village of Acheville on the night of May 26th/27th having relived the 28th Canadian Battalion. The 27th brought German artillery activity during the entire day and then on the early morning of May 28th the Germans attempted a trench raid.
Above is a map giving an overview of the area of the action. Acheville is almost directly east of the town of Vimy and when using this map in reference to the map below one can discern the tactical situation. The 18th Battalion lay astride the road west to Acheville (map reference points 17 and 18) which led directly to Vimy. Given the size of the raid it appears to be a company attack involving 2 platoons as a form of a probe to gauge the reaction of the Canadians along this section of line.
This map with notations shows in more detail the disposition of the 18th Battalion during the night of the action. D and C companies held the left and right flank of the front line trench respectively. B Company was in reserve with A Company acting as Battalion Headquarters security. It is not noted on the map but the Canadian Brigade artillery appears to have guns just behind the D Company trenches as related by Lieutenant Fisher in his report.
The War Diary describes the action:
Enemy Artillery active all day on our line.
1.00 a.m. Enemy opened barrage on Battalion H.Q. MT. FORET QUARRIES, our Support Line at T.23.a.6. and our Front Line. The barrage on the Front Line lifted at 1.15 a.m. then two raiding parties, each estimated at 25 or 30 men, one on each side of the MT. FORET – ACHEVILLE ROAD, were seen approaching our wire. Fire was opened by M.G’s and rifles. Unable to get through the wire and checked by our fire the enemy retired. Of the party on the left frontage two of the enemy succeeded in getting through the wire, one of whom was severely wounded and taken, and the other gave himself up and was immediately sent back to Brigade H.Q. In the evening a dead German was brought in.
On the right frontage wiring was in progress and a N.C.O. and 6 men were well out front of our wire, when the barrage opened the N.C.O., Cpl. L. Skilton, gave orders for the party to retire. Immediately after the raiding party were seen and dispersed by our fire.
As soon as all quietened down a search party went out but failed to find the three men of the protecting patrol who were found not to have returned. Two rifles were found in a shell-hole but no other trace of them.
The night raiding party came on the road and immediately to the right of it. The left party about 250 yards from the road.
At daybreak Huns were seen carrying in casualties and stretchers were seen during the day on the BOUVRY ROAD also our observers report seeing 10 or 12 dead lying in no-man’s land today at T.18.c.6.5. Our casualties during the raid were 3 men Missing, 1 man Killed and 1 man wounded.
Of the reported casualties the toll from the German trench raid may have been 6 soldiers killed in action. The War Diary does not specify the names of the missing soldiers but a review of the casualties leading to death the following soldiers were found to have perished on the 28th and 29th.
His Circumstances of Death Card simply indicates he died on the 28th in the Acheville sector. His body was recovered and buried at La Targette British Cemetery, Neuville-St. Vaast, Pas de Calais, France. It is possible that Private Billington was one of the missing men of the protecting patrol mentioned in the reports below.
Private Dorken’s Circumstances of Death card states the location of the Battalion at the time of his death as being at the Mount Foret Quarries. He too, has no known grave and is commemorated at the Vimy Ridge Memorial.
Private English’s Circumstances of Death Card simply indicates he died on the 28th near the Mount Foret Quarries east of Vimy. His body was recovered and buried at Orchard Dump Cemetery, Pas De Calais, France. Private English may have been a member of the protecting patrol.
Private Heathers’ Circumstances of Death Card indicates he was “Killed in Action” but specifically states in the ‘Location of Unit at Time of Casualty’ field the following statement: “Repulsed enemy raid at Mount Foret Quarries, North East of Vimy.” He is memorialized on the Vimy Memorial indicating that his body was never found or identified.
This may indicate that Private Heathers was the man listed as being killed in the action and was not a member of the protecting patrol that went missing.
Private Hughes appears to be the soldier mentioned as being the one wounded reported in the War Diary. No mention of any casualties were made in the War Diary on the 27th of May so it is likely Private Hughes is the soldier that was wounded. He subsequently died of wounds that day according to the Circumstances of Death Card. He is interned in the Barlin Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
These soldiers may account for 4 of the 5 men listed in the War Diary in that action on the morning of the 28th. But the total number of men killed in action for the 18th Battalion may not have been accurately reflected in the War Diary. The following man perished on the 29th:
The following reports fill out some of the information of the action.
The following report was attached to the appendix of the May 1917 War Diary and written by Corporal L. Skilton, no. 409655. Below is his report and also the other reports regarding this action that were available in the online War Diary resources of the LAC.
Report on Enemy Raid on No. 11 Platoon 18th Batt. Frontage Night of May 27th – 28th, 1917
Time: 12:45 a.m.
Received orders from C.S.M. Williams [possibly this soldier] to post covering party of six men to protect a B. Co. wiring party on the left flank.
Sgt. F.G. Kenee, 675067 [KIA 10/11/17 in Passchendaele] and myself had just placed party when enemy barrage opened on our lines. Immediately afterwards our own barrage replied. Instantly I gave order to return to our lines. Three men failed to reach our line. Time about 1 p.m.
About 3 minutes afterwards enemy party of 20 to 30 strong was seen making towards our wire on our left flank. Platoon opened up with rifle fire. One man of enemy party shouted an order and enemy retired at the double. Only one red flare was fired on our platoon frontage.
Immediately after bombardment quietened I organized search party of three men and S.B. to search for missing men. Only trace of men was two rifles which they found in a shell hole in front of our wire.
Corp. L. Skilton
Lieutenant Dunsford added a short note to the bottom of Corporal Skilton’s report and was to further expand his observations in a separate report:
May 28th, 1917
At dawn this morning (28th) enemy was seen carrying in dead and wounded.
O.C. G Coy
Lieutenant Dunsford wrote the following report expanding on his brief note from Corporal Skilton’s report:
During bombardment Enemy attempted to raid our extreme left near road. AAA.
Came as far as our wire and then ran back. Three of our men where were out in No Man’s land on covering party are missing. AAA
Search has been made for them but only two rifles were found. AAA.
About 20 or 30 men were in German party. AAA.
M Dunsford Lt.
O.C. “B” Coy
(Casualty Report Later)
Report by Acting Colonel Louis Elgin Jones of the 18th Battalion:
4th CANADIAN INFANTRY BRIGADE
Report on Enemy Raid on our Trenches early Morning
of 28th May, 1917.[i]
At 1.00 a.m. 28th instant, enemy opened a heavy barrage on Battalion Headquarter – MONT FORET QUARRIES – our Support Line and our front line. The barrage on the front line lifted at 1.15 a.m. Then two raiding parties, each estimated at 25 or 30 men, one on each side of the MONT FORET – ACHEVILLE Road, were seen approaching our wire. Fire was opened by Machine Guns and Rifles. Unable to get through the wire and checked by our fire, the enemy retired. Of the party on the left frontage, two of the enemy succeeded in getting through the wire, one of them was severely wounded, and later the other gave himself up, and was sent immediately to Brigade Headquarters. The other passed through the R.A.P.[ii] In the evening a dead German was brought in.
On the right frontage wiring was in progress and a N.C.O.[iii] and 6 men were well out in the front of our wire. When the barrage opened the N.C.O. gave orders for the party to retire. Immediately after the raiding party were seen and dispersed by our fire. As soon as all quietened down a search party went out but failed to find three men of the protective patrol who were found not to have returned. Two rifles were found in a shell hole but no other trace of them.
The right raiding party came on the road and immediately to the right of it: the left art about 250 yards from the road.
At daybreak Germans were seen carrying in casualties and stretchers were seen during the day on the BOUVOROY Road; also our observers report seeing ten or twelve dead lying in No Man’s Land todat at T.18.c.6.5.
Our casualties during the raid were:-
3 men missing.
1 man killed.
1 man wounded (in Reserve Line).
(Sd.) L.H. Jones, A/Lieut.-Col.
Commanding 18th Canadian Battalion
[i] Source: 18th Battalion War Diary. Appendix No. 14.
[ii] Regimental Aid Post. The first point of treatment and triage for wounded soldiers. Generally adjacent to Battalion Headquarters
[iii] Lance-Corporal L. Skilton.
Report by Lieutenant James Mathew Fisher, D Company:
At 1.30 AM last night centre platoon bombing post reported a large party of Germans advancing in extended order on our wire. A few minutes after report came in enemy opened heavy barrage on our front line which played on us for 15 minutes. He then placed it on reserve trench as soon as barrage lifted enemy could be plainly seen trying to get through our wire. A few rounds rifle-fire and few bursts from machine-guns and he beat it for his own line. Only one German got close to our parapet and he threw a bomb which exploded in from of BDE [brigade] gun doing no damage.
The BDE gunners certainly deserve credit for their good work last night.
After the raid much talking was heard on enemy side.
No enemy came near left platoon.
One dead German in our wire. I am having the body brought into our trench for identification.
J.M. Fisher, Lieut.