Spring Offensive - The Attack on St. Quentin by the 2nd Bn. Manchester Regt. 14th April 1917

 

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This attack by the 2nd Manchesters was in support of the French who were to attempt to capture the strongly held city of St.Quentin. The battalion’s objective was a German trench on some high ground north of the city called Dancour trench. Lieutenant-Colonel Luxmoore, the Manchesters’ Commanding Officer, a very experienced officer, who had been on active service since the Battle of Mons in August 1914 quickly realised, that merely to reach the "start line" for the attack would involve his men coming under very severe artillery fire.

Accordingly, the battalion took a circuitous route on its way to its assembly point, unseen and therefore comparatively safe from enemy fire, eventually reaching the recently captured village of Fayet. Here they rested in a shallow valley called "Squash Valley" whilst awaiting orders to move into the outskirts of St.Quentin where they were to form up ready for their attack on the German trenches.

At 12.30 p.m. the battalion moved out of the valley on to some higher ground before descending through "Fig Wood" to their assembly point. Not unexpectedly, as the battalion came into the view of the Germans in St.Quentin, it came under a very heavy artillery barrage suffering casualties. However, as befits a Regular Army battalion, its discipline was such that these were kept to the minimum

At the assembly point and still under fire, the battalion quickly formed up and began its charge up rising ground with Owen and "A" company leading the attack towards the objective-Dancour trench. The trench was quickly reached and found to be empty!

About a fortnight later, whilst out of the line, Colonel Luxmoore noticed that Owen was shaky and was in no fit state to lead his men. On the instructions of the battalion Medical Officer, Owen was sent again to No. 13 C.C.S at Gailly (and eventually to Craiglockhart War Hospital.)

In July 1918 when Owen was in Scarborough, he wrote "Spring Offensive" much of which can be related to the surroundings and events of the 14th April 1917 attack on Dancour trench. Lines 1-4 and 27-46 of the poem can be said, perhaps, to relate to the battalion’s experiences at "Squash Valley" and its descent under fire through "Fig Wood" to the assembly area.

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