This past weekend we had the pleasure of taking two families to the battlefield of Arras to see where their relatives had fought and died during the battle of 1917.
Our first family was following their uncle Captain Geoffrey Laird Jackson of the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade (pictured left). Jackson was the eldest son of Brigadier General Geoffrey M. Jackson who had commanded the Sherwood Foresters and was the managing director of the Clay Cross Colliery Company. He was educated at Harrow and was in the cricket XI in 1911, 1912 and 1913 captaining the side in the last year. Jackson also played first-class cricket for Derbyshire whilst still at school, making his debut in August 1912 against Nottinghamshire. Upon finishing at Harrow he went to Balliol College, Oxford, playing three first-class matches for the University and one county championship match for Derbyshire in 1914.
Geoffrey Jackson was commissioned into the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade at the outbreak of the First World War and was sent to France in October, 1914. Geoffrey served with the battalion in many of the major battles that took place until he was finally invalided home suffering from gas poisoning at Second Ypres.
Returning in December 1915, he was mentioned in dispatches and served continuously until he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Arras by a piece of shell after leading his company in the successful capture of a series of bunkers south linked to the Hyderabad redoubt north of Fampoux. Geoffrey died before he could reach the dressing station.
Rifleman Tours followed in the footsteps of the 11th Brigade of the 4th Division of which Geoffrey and the Rifle Brigade were a part of. Starting at the 9th Scottish Memorial on the Pont du Jour we explained the advance by the British divisions on the 9 April up to the green line on the Pont du Jour. With map references, we were able to point out where Geoffrey was originally buried prior to being moved to his now resting place of Highland Cemetery. We then moved onto the Sunken Lane north of the village of Fampoux.
It is from here that Geoffrey and the rest of the 1st Rifle Brigade formed up before advancing on the Hyderabad Redoudt located 100 yards across an open field. ‘B’ Company, being commanded by Jackson, was to take the dugouts south of the redoubt in the Sunken Road which were rushed along with the redoubt. In the process, Geoffrey’s company captured a high German Artillery General whose large seven entrance bunker contained much intelligence in the form of maps and documents.
The redoubt was taken with the aid of a football kicked into its centre by Corporal Bancroft.
It was in occupying trenches that had been targeted for an artillery bombardment by the Germans that Captain Geoffrey Jackson mortally wounded.
The family found that the tour answered a lot of questions for them and all were quite moved when looking across the field from the Seaforth Highlanders’ Memorial in the Sunken Lane toward the then position of the redoubt and dugouts on the Sunken Road.
The tour progressed with a visit to Browns Copse Cemetery looking at the grave of Lt Donald Mackintosh of the Seaforth Highlanders who had charged the town of Roeux with its heavily fortified chemical works.
The battlefield tour then progressed from here to Monchy le Pruex. This small town that sits on a small hill, was taken in the battle of Arras by the 37th Division with the aid of tanks and cavalry and was probably one of the first places where the British army first engaged in street fighting.
In the centre of the town is one of the five Newfoundland Caribou Monuments which comemorate significant engagements fought by the Newfoundland Regiment, some of which were successful and some which were not, but all exemplified the spirit and determination of its soldiers, many of which did not come home. Here at Monchy, 20 held back a significant German counter attack which kept the town on allied hands.
We then went on to look at the actions of the 20th Royal Fusiliers and the relative of our second family, Private Frederick Bates.
Frederick (pictured left) was a farm worker and joined the Royal Fusiliers with his brother who served in the same regiment. He saw action on the Somme at Mametz Wood and again at High Wood. Having been slowly edging their way across the battlefield as part of the 19th Brigade they are ordered to take a section of trench called ‘Tunnel Trench’ close to the town of Fontaine laz Croisilles.
We were able to show the family where Frederick and the brigade formed up prior to the attack and the position they hoped to take. Unfortunately the barrage was not very strong and they only managed to advance 100 yards before they were fired upon by machine guns and artillery.
Supporting them were the Welsh Fusiliers who amongst their ranks was the war poet Siegfried Sassoon. Sasson was shot through the shoulder by a sniper and it is from here he is sent back to England and eventually to Craiglockhart.
Unfortunately Frederick is killed in the attack and is buried not far from where the attack started from in Heninel Croiselles Road Cemetery. Here the family placed a wreath on Frederick’s grave.
Our final stop on the Arras battle front was at Bullecourt where two battles were fought. The first battle was fought after a 24 hour postponement of the 11 April. Hubert Gough, the commander of the British 5th Army, believed that this northern section of the Hindenburg Line was ripe for the taking and with the aid of 12 tanks this could be done without the need of a bombardment. The tanks never arrived for the first assault hence the delay and were slow on turning up for the second assault forcing the Australians to attack without them.
This attack was a disaster and they went again on the 3 May this time without the tanks. Although finally a success, the Australians suffered 10,000 casualties. Today, the statue of an Australian ‘Digger’ looks out over the old battlefield from the Australian Memorial Park.
On the 9 April it was fitting that we returned to Highland Cemetery where our first family consisting of 24 members, three generations, gathered to place a wreath on Geoffrey Jackson’s grave and pay their respects.
Of all the battlefield tours that we carry out, the ones with personal visits are both rewarding and inevitably the most emotional. It is good to see that these soldiers who gave their all are not forgotten and that their memory lives on.
Lest we Forget