Published By Ben Hillidge
Arras. Heninel. 7 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 21-30 March 1918.
21-22 March 1918
The 7 Bn KSLI were at the most northerly end of the battlefront for Operation Michael, Kaiser Offensive. On 19 March they had been relieved in the front line and had gone into Brigade Reserve. When the enemy bombardment began early on 21 March the battalion was stood to and ordered up into the reserve trenches in the Hindenberg Line at Wancourt and Heninsel south east of Arras. As they made their way forward they were heavily shelled by gas and high explosives. Over 80 of the men were either wounded or gassed – victims of the new German artillery tactics to target communication and reserve lines. They arrived in the reserve line at 8am where they remained for the rest of the day and night being intermittently shelled. All around them fighting was going on. Units to either side of the brigade began falling back. By evening the battalion itself was ordered back to a new partially prepared reserve line – the trenches were only 2 feet deep and the men set about improving them. The following day, 22 March, was a similar experience. They held the line, with intermittent shelling but were not attacked, whilst around them the situation deteriorated. To the right of the battalion the enemy penetrated the line and a defensive flank was formed facing to the south. At midnight orders came through to withdraw to the third line.
23-27 March 1918
The battalion withdrew at 3.30am and by 6.30am had taken up a new line along the road just to the north of St Martin sur Cojeul. Here they dug a shallow trench. No attack came but the enemy could be seen moving forward near Heninel and occupying the old Hindenberg Line where they set up a MG about 300 yards distance away which caused much trouble and many casualties.
On 24 March the enemy made determined attacks against the battalion front. The first came late morning, preceded by a bombardment, but was driven off by rifle and Lewis Gun fire. A second attack came during the afternoon, this time the enemy laid down a thick smoke screen but again, it was driven back. A short time later a large party of the enemy was seen approaching the wire bearing a white flag. This was likely a ruse and the party was dispersed with rifle fire. Over the next 3 days things quietened down. The defences were reorganised and readjusted with the battalion moving further south to trenches at Henin sur Cojeul. The trenches were in a dreadful state with no wire and they set to improving them as best they could and especially the wire. During the 27 March considerable enemy movement was observed, there was also much shelling of the rear area, another attack was imminent.
28-30 March 1918
The enemy assaults recommenced at 3.00am on the 28 March. The enemy bombardment shifted to the battalion front. The support and reserve trenches were worst hit. The first enemy assault came at 5.15am and was beaten off, a second came at 7.15am. This time the Germans got into the line and began bombing their way up the trench and dividing the two front line companies. By late morning the flanks of both companies had been compromised and, to prevent being surrounded, they were forced to withdraw to the reserve line. Here the battalion now had to fight off assaults from their old front line. In the early afternoon enemy artillery pieces were observed being brought up. Communications by now had broken down and it was impossible to bring friendly artillery to bear. With their strength depleted it was impossible for the battalion to counter the attacks and at 5.00pm they were ordered back to a new defensive line further to the rear.
Casualties for this period were Officers 4 KIA, 9 wounded, 3 missin; ORs 47 KIA, 174 wounded, 157 missing. The high number for missing was due to the rapid withdrawals, and high casualties, wounded men could not be evacuated and were left behind.
Private 26409 George L (Llewelyn) Williams, 7 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. DoW 22 March 1918, Bac du Sud British Cemetery – was probably wounded on 21 April and was evacuated.
Private 21270 Edward W (William Edward) Lyndom, 7 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, DoW 29 March 1918, Dury Crucifix – not known when he was wounded but most probably on 28 April.
GOOGLE MAPS Satellite view centres on Heninel
References and Sources WAR DIARY 7Bn KSLI. Regimental History of KSLI.
B&O 1918. Kaiser Offensive. Operation Michael. Arras. Heninel. 7 Bn KSLI. 21-30 March 1918.