Published By John Davies
Vimy Ridge, Souchez. 1/15 Bn London Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Civil Service Rifles). 22 May 1916.
In the second half of May 1916 the 1/15 Bn London Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own Civil Service Rifles) was billeted at Camblain l’Abbé and had been assigned as brigade reserve. From 14 May the enemy began a bombardment of the British lines and this was thought to be a prelude to an offensive. Late in the afternoon of 21 May the bombardment intensified, 40 artillery batteries firing over 70,000 shells in 4 hours along a 1800 yard front, it was the most fierce barrage of the war so far. At 7.45pm the enemy detonated a mine under the British lines accompanied by a barrage trench mortars, high explosive and tear gas shells. The anticipated assault began and the enemy quickly overran the front line.
The 1/15 Bn was called forward from reserve and moved up to the front. It was a difficult route, in the darkness, up Cabaret Rouge (Map A) communication trench which was very shallow and crowded; there was also a barrage of tear gas to contend with. At about 10.15pm on 21 May, orders were received that the battalion was to be involved in a counter-attack to re-take the captured British lines. By about 1.00am on 22 May they had moved to their start positions, they were to attack and hold Ersatz Avenue (Map B to the south of Souchez, zero hour was 2.00am. There was little time to prepare and only vague information as to where the exactly Ersatz Avenue was located and there wasn’t any information as to enemy strength. Nevertheless the battalion was organised into battle order and the attack went ahead on time. It was a failure. The men came under a murderous machine gun and rifle fire, as well as artillery, from the old British front line and had no option but to take cover in shell holes. Reinforcements were sent up, they couldn’t get in touch but did manage to get into Landwehr Avenue and Granby Street (Map C) and consolidate a position. Here they remained for the rest of the day – there were 2 bouts of shelling, 1 in the afternoon and a second from 9.00pm-11.00pm. just as they were being relieved. They moved back to Camblain L’Abbe arriving there at 4.00am on 23 April. Casualties were Officers, 2 missing, ORs 9 KIA and 73 wounded.
GOOGLE MAPS – Centres on Cabaret Rouge British Military Cemetery, Souchez – located on the line of Ersatz Avenue and about the middle of the ground the 1/15 Bn fought over.
WAR DIARY 1/15 Bn London Regiment (Prince of Wales Own Civil Service Rifles)
B&O 1916. Arras. Vimy Ridge. 1/15 Bn London Regiment Civil Service Rifles. 22 May 1916.